Same as last year, Hanza Media has the highest number of lawsuits, 479 of them, with the average indemnity demands of 13.333 euro per lawsuit. Styria follows them with 203 lawsuits – the amounts of indemnity requests made to them result to almost € 2.7 million. In active litigation, the amount of claims ranges from several thousand kunas to even more than one million kunas, while the longest active litigation is currently in its 12th year.
Out of the total number of 924 lawsuits, 892 refer to civil actions against publishers, their editors and journalists, for compensation of damages due to violations of honor and reputation based on published texts and articles, while the remaining number of 32 lawsuits refers to currently active criminal proceedings. Among prosecutors, apart from natural persons unknown to the general pulic, the most prominent are persons from public and political life, followed by legal entities, politicians in power, even judges themselves.
Only against Hanza Media, there are 33 currently active lawsuits, filed by 15 judges for a total amount of € 295.000.
A total of at least € 10.5 million is claimed in lawsuits covered by the CJA survey. The fact that a large number of these lawsuits are aimed at intimidating the media and encouraging censorship and self-censorship among journalists, is shown by the amounts of initial claims in civil proceedings, which are often much higher than those that have been legally adjudicated.
This year, 23 media outlets responded to CJA's survey on numbers of lawsuits. These media usually have legal aid, but almost 89% of the surveyed media answered that lawsuits make it difficult for them to do business, while 37% of them find it hard or very hard to deal with the lawsuits - these are usually small and non-profit media, and such lawsuits often lead them to the edge of the abyss.
"The number of 924 lawsuits against journalists and the media shows that the judicial persecution of the media and journalists in Croatia is still ongoing and that there is no end in sight. It is important to note that the actual number is higher because we received this data from only 23 media outlets. We want to warn the domestic and international public, loud and clear, that lawsuits are the most common means of intimidating journalists and the media in order to give up serious investigative stories," said Hrvoje Zovko, president of the Croatian Journalists' Association. He added that the aim is "to destroy the media financially with high indemnity claims." What is particularly worrying is the fact that high-ranking state officials, local sheriffs and even judges themselves are involved in filing lawsuits. This war of lawsuits against journalists and the media is a great shame for Croatia, a member of the European Union. "
According to the official data from the Ministry of Justice, requested by the CJA, the total number of active criminal cases in which the defendants are journalists, in all courts in Croatia on December 31st 2020, was 125. Also, during last year, 489 new civil actions were initiated against journalists for compensation of damages, and a total of 840 lawsuits have not yet been resolved.
The overview of the proceedings' ouctome is very interesting: during 2018, 2019 and 2020, in criminal proceedings against journalists, a total of 38 decisions were issued, rejecting a private lawsuit or indictment, as well as 51 decisions suspending the proceedings. Two dismissal verdicts and 25 acquittals were handed down. Only 12 cases resulted in a conviction against a journalist, from which it can be concluded that, on average, every tenth journalist was convicted of the crime for which he or she was charged.
The CJA itself has three active lawsuits. The Croatian Radio and Television service is conducting a criminal dispute against CJA's President Hrvoje Zovko, as well as a lawsuit for damages of €33.333, demanding €26.666 directly from CJA, and additional €6.666 in the same lawsuit, but against the president of CJA's Branch on HRT, Sanja Mikleušević Pavić. Let us remind you, this is a unique case of lawsuits by the public media service against its own employees, but also against a professional journalists' association.
As stated in last year's survey by CJA, completed by 23 media outlets, there were 905 active court cases in Croatia in February 2020. Although this year's figure is just slightly higher, the fact that there are so many active lawsuits is worrying. Many of these proceedings involve SLAPP (Strategic lawsuit against public participation), lawsuits aimed at censoring, intimidating and silencing critics by burdening them with court proceedings, a serious and dangerous mechanism that threatens media freedom.