National tradition throughout former Yugoslavia is to seek heroes before changes occur. There are no changes in conscience of journalists, nations, any groups. Instead, this is still based on the fact that someone has to die for something and only then we’ll draw the line and say it’s enough. I plan to continue with journalism and will continue to work from Switzerland but ultimately, neither me nor my family have any more patience. We may not risk our existence here and I do not want to be a dead hero.
In rankings for 2015, Croatia is in 63rd place, while a year before she was ranked as 58th. In our neighborhood, Slovenia is in 40th spot and Serbia is four places ahead of Croatia, on 59th spot, Hungary is 67th, Bosnia and Herzegovina is 68th, Italy is 77th and Montenegro is 106th. Guest of the New Day is journalist Željko Peratović.
Report on media freedom was published this year. This report emphasizes assault against you which was characterized as attempted murder. What did actually happen and is this case one of those that indicate how difficult and dangerous is to be a journalist in Croatia?
Assailants were not charged with attempted murder in spite of investigation. Prosecutor’s office decided to qualify the assault as attempt to inflict serious injuries. My suggestions were not accepted during this investigation. In considered one of the defendants to be the organizer of the assault. He was charged of threats against a journalist. I am a correspondent of Reporters sans frontiers who were shocked with what happened to me. They issued a statement warning that no actions were made following the case.
Serbia is 59th, Croatia 63rd and Bosnia and Herzegovina 68th. Is this a realistic reflection of level of media freedom and can it be estimated so?
Persons who work on this index use a number of factors and most, i.e. least points are awarded for murder, attempted murder and similar. There are also numerous other influences such as censorship by the government and publishers and therefore the report for 2015 is a realistic one. I believe the report for 2016 for these countries will be even more severe and worse. Serbia that improved will drop in the following year since we are witnessing numerous problems and complaints of journalists against current Prime Minister Vučić. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a problem with freedom of media in Republic Srpska. Croatia has problems with Ministry of Culture and we can all see what public television is being transformed into.
Speaking of the most fundamental issue, what is the position of government in these cases? After the assault, Tomislav Karamarko who was opposition leader at that time, stood by you, while there were no reactions from the ruling SDP. Did anyone contact you after that?
At that time Karmarko reacted through his deputy Jelić, mayor of Karlovac, as well as the President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović through her adviser Buljević, who was available to me while I was receiving threats. However, she did not consider it appropriate to meet me afterwards but at the same time she was meeting with others. I am not a government’s journalist nor am I under anyone’s influence but the President was meeting with other journalists whose ideology was convenient for her. At that time Bernardić from SDP did react but he is opposition to Milanović within the party. I contacted minister of justice Šprlje, who told me that he has no influence of the Prosecutor’s office. I also called minister Orepić (police), who told me that he doesn’t have the time to meet me. I any case, in mid-summer I am moving to Switzerland with my family, I will be summoned to these proceedings and I do not want this to be perceived as my escape. I will certainly continue to cooperate with institutions.
What is your assessment of media on regional level and is there a lack of professional solidarity when pressure occurs, both in Croatia and in Serbia?
Actually, my example is the best one since Croatian Journalists’ Association did not protect me. They did support my criminal charges for attempted murder but at the same time there is a legal department within the Association that was supposed to provide me with attorney and ultimately failed to do so. Even now, in comments for report of Reporters sans frontiers my case is not mentioned. It is unbelievable that this is happening. It is probably the same situation in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and the most tragic thing is that journalists have only themselves to blame.
Freedom in media depends on heroes and individuals or is it a matter that concerns the whole society? To what extent must a society be dedicated to freedom in order not to be reduced to heroes or individuals?
Of course it does not depend solely on heroes. National tradition throughout former Yugoslavia is to seek heroes before changes occur. There are no changes in conscience of journalists, nations, any groups. Instead, this is still based on the fact that someone has to die for something and only then we’ll draw the line and say it’s enough. I plan to continue with journalism and will continue to work from Switzerland but ultimately, neither me nor my family have any more patience. We may not risk our existence here and I do not want to be a dead hero.
Can you explain why is it important to have a high standard of media freedom in a certain country and why a journalist must not be afraid to do his or her job?
It is important. We had reactions from western ambassadors precisely because of this issue. It is a universal issue since the media, journalism and journalists are the seventh power, guardians of democracy and controllers of democratic processes. If they are scared and if it comes to the point where they censor themselves then the government and various economically powerful people may do whatever they want. Simply, journalism and free media are decisive for democracy in the western, i.e. free world.