After a boisterous election campaign for the president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA), in which Saša Leković was elected president, results of the election for the journalist of the year upset the audience: Branko Mijić won with 214 votes, Željko Peratović was second with 186 votes and the third was Ljubica Gatarić with 110 votes, and 120 (19%?!) ballots were invalid. When the explanation for awarding Branko Mijić with the award the Journalist of the Year was read: ”Branko Mijić is a person who as the editor in chief of Novi List put the interest of the editorial board and the integrity of journalists ahead of the interests of the Board and owners.”, it caused commotion and dissatisfaction among one part of members who threaten the CJA with a scandal and new disputes.
Who lies the most in Croatia? Politicians and journalists…This almost anecdotal piece of information, was the result of a survey recently carried out among primary school population and was an example of a deep-rooted negative public perception of Croatian journalism and the media in general. The most common complaints refer to the deterioration of professional standards, the lack of educated journalists, pandering to audience by writing about trivial topics and the lack of trust in the impartiality of the media. The path of Croatian journalism from “the seventh force” to the widespread phrase “Today, a journalist can be anyone.” was really short.
The profession holds co-responsible the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) for such devastating and essentially incorrect assessment of the public. They blame the Association for its insufficient commitment in promoting professional values and protecting the dignity of journalists. The boisterous election campaign for the president of the CJA that has just finished, and in which Saša Leković won, among other things is also remembered for numerous candidates, unhidden lobbying of interest groups and public discrediting of competition on social networks. The campaign clearly expressed the intensity of the accumulated discontent and frustration among the membership, but it also expressed the wish that the new leadership starts with the promised change of policy and organisational structure.
Instead of reconciliation a served dispute
There was no better opportunity for the leadership of the CJA to start promised changes than the prestigious ceremony and the first-class media event such as the election for the Journalist of the Year, and the award ceremony for the best investigative reporter and lifetime achievements. A lot of effort has been invested in the symbolism of reconciliation that early afternoon on May 5th 2015 in the Journalists’ Club. The Journalist of the Year Award 2014 was given to the columnist of Novi list Branko Mijić – “the prodigal son” who resigned in 2006 from the CJA disgruntled with non-journalist awarding criteria due to which journalist Drago Hedl wasn’t given the same award that year, but he was awarded this year with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The journalist idyll didn’t last for long. It lasted until the results for the Journalist of the Year Award were read and reasons for the award explained. Emphasizing transparency and regularity of voting, the president of the CJA Mr. Saša Leković read the data that upset the audience; Branko Mijić won with 214 votes, the second was Željko Peratović ( who won the Investigative Journalist of the Year Award ) with 186 votes and third was Ljubica Gatarić with 110 votes, and there were 120 ( ! ? ) invalid ballots . When the explanation for awarding Branko Mijić with the Journalist of the Year Award was read: ”that Branko Mijić as the editor in chief of Novi List put the interest of the editorial board and the integrity of journalists ahead of the interests of the Board and owners.”, commotion and dissatisfaction were visible among one part of members who threaten the CJA with a scandal and new disputes.
A life-long journalist of Večernji list and the member of the CJA Željko Valentić said reasons for such situation: “It’s amazing how predictable the behaviour of the Executive Board is during the award ceremony and how non-transparent and out-of-date the voting method is. There is no need to waste words on the voting method. It is evident that voters mock at the election. How is it possible that journalists, who by the nature of their work are intelligent and literate people, aren’t able to fill out a simple ballot? The candidate Mr. Invalid ballot got more votes than respectable colleague Gatarić and therefore I’ll ask to verify the structure of invalid ballots. In addition, I don’t dispute journalist work of the colleague Branko Mijić in the year 2014, but this same colleague in 2011 supported the Management of Novi List headed by Faggiani in breaking the strike organized by the syndicate of Glas Istre and three years after that he systematically supported Management’s work!? How isn’t he embarrassed to mention the Kamenski workers in this context. It bothers me and I am not alone in this opinion, in this heroisation of opportunism. We reward the journalist’s annual work that should be examined as a whole, rather than a change of mind. Consequently, I will ask for the written reply of the CJA at the beginning of the week with the intention to point out the invalidity of voting method and unclear rewarding criteria.’
Wad the winner’s name known before the award ceremony?
One of the objections was that the name of the winner was announced in public before the ceremony, which is contrary to the traditions and the Regulation on awards. As an evidence, it is stated that the editors of the HRT program ‘Govornica’ invited in the morning journalists Branko Mijić and Željko Peratović as guests of the show and as possible winners of the Journalist of the Year Award. When asked how this is possible, one of the editors Silvana Skočajić said: “We were guided by the subjective impression, and the winner’s name we heard at 1:00 p.m. when the journalist Branimir Zekić called us from the award ceremony. “ When a logical question was posed, why in that case, they didn’t also call the journalist Ljubica Gatarić, who also equally competed for the Journalist of the Year Award, Mrs. Skočajić answered: “Well, we estimated that on the basis of forecasts of members of the CJA and the question on how did they vote, their colleague Gatarić didn’t have a chance.” It remained unclear how many members they had to interview in order to get a clear statistical probability about the winner, but I guess there is also something in ‘the impeccable journalistic intuition.
Indeed, many contacted members of the CJA said similar remarks about non-transparent voting, unclear criteria for candidacy and awards, procedure violation and contrary to good customs, allegedly handling of the winner’s name in public before the formal proclamation, though they refused to talk about that in public, and the impression was to avoid confrontation and because of the oppressive atmosphere. Even the laureates Branko Mijić and Željko Peratović didn’t want to comment, and one of the few people willing to comment the event was the prominent journalist and the winner of the Journalist of the Year Award in 2012 Nataša Škaričić: “There is no doubt that the CJA is organized as an undemocratic cloaca, that has functioned in that way up to now, and that everything is possible. However, I don’t know anything about the election for the Journalist of the Year that would make me a competent interlocutor. The only thing I can say with certainty is that it should checked out what does it mean that the deadline for voting was extended “voluntarily” and if someone legally and with arguments disputes this election. If not so, and if there is no valid legal evidence that the Statute of the CJA is perhaps violated, then it will all remain at the level of another typical CJA gossip and dispute among journalists. Regarding the election of colleague Mijić, he himself publicly said that he was proposed due to something that pops up from the previous framework for awarding, although there were much more drastic examples of candidacy for completely non-journalistic work in the past. If this has bothered someone, then let it become a reason to define more clearly criteria for candidacy.”
It’s an interesting fact that these thoughts aren’t recent and they have their own continuity. The practice of CJA regarding the voting and awarding has been the reason for disputes among members for years. A brief quote explaining the reason for refusing the Journalist of the Year award in 2007 written by this year’s laureates Drago Hedl goes in favour to the above mentioned situation: “The situation in which CJA is now, is maybe a good opportunity to discuss methods of nominations, nominations and elections for the Croatian Pulitzer. This debate could have been started ten years ago, when the family of Veselko Tenžera asked to delete his name from the nomination the Journalist of the Year.” Ancient questions, old issues and the same solutions.
Everything is fine, everything is perfect
The General Secretary of the CJA Vladimir Lulić , at first taken aback by the news of the “rebellion in his own house”, eliminates any possibility of irregularities in the procedure and violation of the Award Statutes: ”No, the procedure wasn’t violated. We sent numerated ballots to Croatian Posts on the 23rd March 2015 in the afternoon, and ballots were sent to members on the 24th March in the morning, with a deadline of 30 day to vote. Having circled the name of the chosen candidate, members had to specify the number of their membership card and they had to personally sign the ballot. A survey question on the survival of the newspapers Novinar was also attached. Until the 24th April, 613 ballots were received, but 17 more ballots were taken into consideration as all ballots sent from the 24th to 29th April were taken into account, so there was a total of 630 ballots. All ballots were counted at the Feldman & Matić Law Office in the presence of employees of the CJA Secretary Office and lawyers. I don’t know why it was such a problem for the members to fill out properly the ballots, and the number of invalid ballots is approximately the same every year (which is not true, in the last ten years, this is the highest number, author’s note). Finally, taking into consideration invalid ballots, the colleague Branko Mijić would win, with a slightly smaller difference (4 votes less, author’s note), but still he would be the winner. Well, the same story every year. Somebody is always unhappy, so it is slowly becoming a tradition of every election.” Basically, the procedure is formally satisfied, nobody understands reasons of members’ dissatisfaction, and with a more sensitive tone the president of the CJA Saša Leković, who was in Bruxelles for bussiness, talked about the topic.
In a written reply he points out that he is not familiar with the current dissatisfaction of the membership as “he didn’t receive any official letter of similar content”, and therefore he sent a mild rebuke to members that “it has become a tradition that the dissatisfaction of any kind is expressed informally and where there is no need or benefits for that.” At the same time, he pointed out that he wasn’t associated with the organisation of voting and the explanation of electing the Journalist of the Year, as he took over the duties on the 25th April and he “only had the honour to proclaim the winner whose name he found out at the ceremony.”
When the president of the CJA Leković was asked how he interprets the controversial explanation for the award, as one part of the membership thinks that it is a “heroization of opportunism”, he said that question should be posed to members “who chose Mijić”. However, he said that “one of the tasks of the CJA will be a thoroughly analyse of the existing procedures and their amendments, if necessary, with the aim to establish transparent, logical and clear relations, that members will be able to check “.
In the end, it’s hard to escape the impression that membership and leadership very differently perceive issues in the functioning of the CJA and that there is a deep communication gap between them. Disturbed human relationships, clans and interest groups, long ‘cemented’ structure and policies of the CJA that doesn’t easily initiates qualitative changes, threaten with a complete loss of the real significance of this umbrella organizations.
The fact that they have been initiating some changes in awarding the most valuable award without any success for years – until it has become a traditional place of disputes and a worthless event that has been covered by Croatian media very modestly – obviously hasn’t worried enough any ruling structure of the CJA, and it probably won’t, as long as someone who will write about the CJA wins his Croatian Pulitzer.
Heroisation of opportunism
Having checked alleged journalistic inconsistencies of Branko Mijić and his “support given to the Union of Glas Istre during the strike, it was found that Mr Valentić’s states weren’t baseless: in mid-2011, the Union of Glas Istre sent a denial of the interview with Albert Faggiano in Novi list, in which Faggiano claims that’ all Union’s requirements are about the money’. But the former chief editor of Novi list Branko Mijić refused to publish the denial, explaining that the denial is “not related to the allegations in the interview,” even though warnings about criminal activities and poor business intentions of the owner of Novi List, Albert Faggiano, were mentioned in that denial . The Union of Glas Istre sharply blamed Mijić for that subsequently publicizing an announcement on the portal Danas.hr. Furthermore, inside information from sources close to the newsroom Novi List testify that Branko Mijić nourished during all that time”a very close relationship with Faggiano until March 2014, when the State Attorney’s Office confirmed the indictment against him’. At the same time, they also claimed that, after the workers’ representative in the Supervisory Board Damir Cupać and the Union of Journalists Novi list at the beginning of 2013, filed a criminal complaint against the Board of Novi list, Branko Mijić allegedly avoided publishing the news about it for weeks.
In support to Valentić’s claim that the explanation of the award in disputable, is also the fact that while voting for the candidacy of Branko Mijić, two members of the Executive Board of the Rijeka branch of the CJA did not agree with the contents: Fiore Vežnaver and Damir Cupać. The irony of all that is the fact that Branko Mijić in 2006, resigned from the membership of the CJA because of the non-journalism criteria of awarding the Journalist of the Year award , and now he was awarded under that same criteria and became the target of criticism.