The most recent case of an illogical and shameful judicial verdict is that of the publisher of the non-profit portal Virovitica.net Goran Gazdek, according to which he must pay MP Romana Nikolić the amount of HRK 7,500 together with default interest, on grounds of caused damages. This serial prosecutor demanded as much as HRK 20,000, suing other publishers and winning other cases.
CJA’s President Hrvoje Zovko said that these shameful lawsuits are meant to annul journalism and journalists, as well as suffocate media freedom. He especially emphasized the case of another serial prosecutor, a judge of the court in Osijek, Ante Vrban, who filed as many as five lawsuits against the portal Telegram, demanding damages in the amount of HKR 150,000 per each.
- I do not know how Judge Vrban came to that amount of damages for his mental anguish, but I know that he cowardly sues journalists, yet he did not find fit to sue Zdravko Mamić (Croatian football manager, notorious for numerous criminal inditements), said Zovko and added that Vrban sued Telegram’s editor-in-chief Jelena Valentić and Drago Hedl, one of the best Croatian journalist, actually targeting at financial destruction of Telegram, which is one of the flagships of independent journalism in Croatia.
Zovko also referred to the case of a former Social democratic party (SDP) MP and now Social Democrat, who had a final verdict for death threats to a colleague but has since been rehabilitated and is considered non-convicted, and thinks journalists should keep quiet about the whole case.
- Romana Nikolić is a real serial prosecutor who sues and wins every single case. Recently, the Municipal Civil Court in Zagreb ruled that Hanza media should pay her the amount of HRK 40,000 plus the costs of the trial. Then she filed a lawsuit at the Municipal Court in Metković, and received damages in the amount of HRK 20,000, from a local portal. Five years ago, she sued 24 sata for an article entitled "Bernardić Grants Important Function to Politician Convicted in Case of Death Threats” and demanded a retribution of HRK 75,000. The proceedings were finalized, and in the end, she was awarded damages in the amount of HRK 15,000 plus HRK 748,00 in court costs. She also sued Telegram and demanded a retribution of HRK 20,000 from them, and then she also sued Glas Slavonije, but reached an agreement with them, said Zovko, adding that legal provisions allow thugs to sue journalists, and these legal provisions are ridiculous and should be nullified. Zovko called on the minister in charge not to close her eyes to such shameful verdicts and harassment of journalists.
CJA’s Vice President and owner of Virovitica.net portal, Goran Gazdek, said that this verdict was probably not a precedent among those nearly a thousand currently active lawsuits.
- What the case tells us is that all politicians, from both ruling and opposition parties, are the same when it comes to bullying the media and warning them to be careful what they write. Whenever they have the opportunity to additionally earn money on something that is not clearly defined by law, in addition to their already hefty incomes and perks, they do so, because there is no instrument of expertise to establish the alleged damages they claim against journalists, said Gazdek and agreed with Zovko that for journalists, a legal and judicial framework that allows them to do so is way more perilous.
- In this particular case, the prosecutor is a public figure, a politician and a member of parliament. The public has the right to know everything about her, even if she is rehabilitated. But, she was also convicted of a death threat. What is important and worrying in this case is that not only we, but also other media, were found guilty, although we published accurate information. Namely, she made a death threat to a colleague and was convicted of it. In the meantime, she has been rehabilitated, so she is considered non-convicted and thinks that journalists should not mention this note from her biography, which is completely absurd, said Gazdek and suggested talking to other publishers who must compensate the serial prosecutor for demanded damages, so that they act together publicly and address the institutions and European colleagues.
CJA’s Vice President Branko Mijić stated that what is happening currently to Goran Gazdek, and what happened to Davorka Blažević just recently, to Feral in the past and to what Drago Hedl, Boris Dežulović and Hrvoje Zovko and many others are equally exposed, are joined by Telegram and Večernji list and Jutarnji list and Novosti, it is not accidental, and even less harmless.
- Such prosecutions of journalists are systemic and institutional because they do not involve ordinary, everyday citizens, but they are exclusively and always a form of tool used by members of society who due to preferential treatment, which they undeservedly enjoy, are often called the establishment, said Mijić and added that all this carries a common denominator – censorship.
- When HRT’s director Robert Šveb recently told the parliamentary Committee for information and the media that "there is no censorship or list of banned guests on HRT", he was not telling the truth, especially when he was talking about the reasons why his predecessor, Kazimir Bačić, twice fired CJA’s President Hrvoje Zovko, although HRT has already lost the lawsuit against Zovko. Šveb repeated Bačić's hoax that Zovko attacked a disabled person "within HRT" (which was denied by the same person as a witness in another court case) and did so in front of the parliamentary committee without checking it, misleading the public. The fact that Zovko is still on trial for violating the reputation and honor of HRT, and that Kazimir Bačić is still a respectable employee of state television, even though he was caught and accused of handling EUR 50,000 in bribes, and that such shame is not talked about and discussed on the programmes of what, by definition, should be a public service that works in the interest of the citizens of this country, speaks in itself of the existence of censorship on HRT, said Mijić.
CJA’s Secretary General Ema Tarabochia stressed the need to work urgently on legal provisions that allow prosecutors to abuse journalists.
- We believe that the public should know everything about public figures, what they did and how they execute their roles, and that the provision on rehabilitation in the case of Romana Nikolić is disputable and the right to forget is disputable as well, Tarabochia stated.
Lawyer Boris Kozjak said that the court ignored the arguments used in the case of Romana Nikolić's lawsuit, although they stated that they could not be responsible for the communicated text, as evidenced by the case law of the Council of Europe’s Court of Human Rights.