Croatia, a small Southeastern European country with a population of around four million people, enjoys a wide range of digital native media outlets, both for-profit and non-profit entities. The emergence of the internet and of digital native media organisations has forced traditional media outlets to expand their businesses online. When it comes to non-profit organisations, these reject sensationalism, pay great attention to social and human rights and cover topics often neglected by mainstream media, while struggling for survival.
in the Directory
Regarding press freedom, no journalists have been killed since 2008, and no journalists have been imprisoned. Journalists are often exposed to online harassment, threats, hate speech, SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation) and other kinds of lawsuits and, in rare cases, physical violence, but this rarely stops them from publishing information.
Defamation is a criminal offence in Croatia, and is seen as being regularly invoked by politicians and other actors to discourage journalists from informing the public about their affairs. In 2021, the Zagreb Municipal Civil Court issued an injunction to the non-profit website H-alter, barring the outlet from reporting on a local childcare clinic and its director.
“Public institutions have a right to challenge news reports in civil court, but the Croatian judicial system must ensure that such actions do not turn into censorship,” says Gulnoza Said, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator.
“While the media scene has become diverse and dynamic, the government is failing to protect journalists against legal attempts to muzzle them, and against organised crime. The government itself represents a threat to press freedom,” notes Reporters Without Borders in its Press Freedom Index.
Meanwhile, the Croatian Journalists’ Association awarded their Journalist of the Year Prize (2022) to Boris Dežulović. Dežulović has had a lot of experience with threats, violence and lawsuits, and he took the opportunity to send a message to all journalists: “Do not agree to censorship, blackmail, to anything but the truth and your own head!”
Market structure and dominance
The Croatian media landscape is defined by three major broadcasters: HRT (Croatian public television) and two foreign-owned, free-to-air commercial TV stations – Nova TV (United Media) and RTL (Central European Media Enterprises (CME)). In addition, the country has traditional print media outlets which also publish online, almost 100 radio stations (only four of them are available on a national level) and digital native media outlets.
Concerning Croatia’s broadcasters, two major events happened in the last two years. Kazimir Bačić, then-Director General of HRT, was accused of corruption and bribery and stepped down. In the autumn of 2021, the Croatian parliament appointed a new director general, Robert Šveb. Various media outlets wrote about irregularities in the former business activities of Robert Šveb, accusing him of being in a conflict of interest, but he denied everything and no further investigations were carried out.
In June 2022, CME (the previous owners of Nova TV) returned to the TV market with the acquisition of RTL Croatia from the RTL Group. The policy of the new administration did not lead to any noticeable changes in news coverage.
Both print and television news need an online presence to maintain a relationship with their audiences. As part of larger media companies, they have managed to expand their work and launch other websites, covering topics such as lifestyle, entertainment, business and so on.
How media is funded
When it comes to digital media, mainstream media outlets are mostly financed through advertising, which is why they sometimes resort to sensationalism and clickbait. To avoid sensationalism, some digital media outlets are introducing subscription models, assuring their readers of a higher quality of journalism. Some commercial media organisations also apply for grants. For example, one of the country’s leading digital native media outlets, Index.hr, has received Google Innovation Challenge funding of approximately €150,000.
During the Covid-19 crisis, which saw advertisers pulling back for a few months, commercial media organisations faced large financial losses. The government provided financial packages, and many of these outlets applied for support.
From 2013 to 2015, under the mandate of a left-wing government, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia carried out a programme for the financing of non-profit media organisations. The programme’s launch saw the non-profit media sector experiencing a “kind of boom”, but also attracted criticism, notes the publication Kulturpunkt in an overview of the non-profit media sector. “The commercial media, in particular, saw the programme as state support for unfair, ie non-market, competition,” it says.
One of the greatest opponents of the programme was the extreme-right politician Zlatko Hasanbegović, who became Minister of Culture in 2016. During his short mandate, he abolished the institutional support programme and reduced the remaining support to the non-profit sector to insignificant amounts.
Thirteen profiles of digital native media organisations from Croatia are included in the directory. They mostly specialise in one topic or several related topics under a common umbrella, such as education, human rights, gender rights, workers’ rights, agriculture and so on.
All the outlets use Facebook as their main social media platform. They also use Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, but not so actively as Facebook. TikTok is used by media geared exclusively towards a young audience. Some of the organisations produce podcasts, but rarely send newsletters.
For non-profit media outlets, the most important revenue sources are grants – from local or national governments, European Union (EU) funds, or foreign governments. For-profit media outlets focus on advertising but sometimes also apply for grants, and are open to grants from for example Google or Meta.
Most non-profit media outlets are supportive of each other, for example by linking to other organisations on their websites. They also collaborate on different projects. The associations Kulturtreger (Booksa.hr) and Kurziv (Kulturpunkt.hr) have been running a community archive called Abeceda nezavisne kulture (ABC of Independent Culture), documenting independent culture in Croatia. In another example, the organisations Tris and Lupiga worked together on a project called Reflektor, which aimed to increase public awareness of the social position of vulnerable groups through professional journalistic work that resists stereotypes, humiliation and abandoned policy frameworks.
Non-profit media outlets mostly seek to reject sensationalism and work exclusively for the public interest, paying great attention to social and human rights as well as politics, by pointing out systemic irregularities. These publications publish stories that are often neglected by the mainstream media, especially when it comes to the protection of human rights and environmental issues. Very often, non-profit media outlets pioneer topics and break stories that subsequently catch the attention of mainstream media titles.
As mentioned, the greatest challenge for non-profit media outlets is financing. Many of them face the same problem; they do not know how they will survive. Davorka Blažević, Chief Editor of Tris, and Iva Tomečić, Chief Editor of Crol, say the same thing: “If something does not change soon in the financing system, we may have to think about shutting down the website.”
“When applying for EU funds, we need to wait for the money for a long period of time, and we need to start with a project. So, we need to loan the money,” adds Davorka Blažević.
The role of the media in everyday life is extremely important. Accuracy, authenticity and investigative journalism are of crucial significance at this moment in history, especially for digital native media publications. In Croatia, more funding to support the sector is crucial in order to keep democracy and media pluralism afloat.
Last updated: January 2023