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Pressure on Journalists Increasing Instead of Decreasing
TUCJ President’s Speech at Varna Conference (May 9-10, 2014): Pressure on Journalists Increasing Instead of Decreasing My name is Anton Filic, I come from Croatia and I am President of the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists (TUCJ). On occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd 2014, TUCJ again called its members (about 2000) and all the journalists and media workers in Croatia (about 4500) to participate in TUCJ’s traditional symbolic action Five Minutes of Roaring Silence. With this action Croatian journalists traditionally draw attention of their readers, viewers and listeners to ever worsening conditions of work for journalists and the media workers. This negative trend has damaging effect on the journalistic profession on right of the public to quality information. World Press Freedom Day, as we know, was established in 1993 when the UN General Assembly proclaimed it as a reminder to all the governments of its member-countries to their duty of respecting and supporting core human right to freedom of information. But, in Croatia, backward process of silencing journalists seem to be in course and thus also the process of eliminating independent and critical journalism. Last example of this trend is recent court decision (first instance) to punish our colleague Slavica Lukic, journalist at the daily paper Jutarnji list, with 26.000,00 Croatian kuna (about 3,5 thousand euro) for the criminal act of „shaming“ a politicians. The fact is that all the facts that the journalist published were true and correct, but the judge decided that this truth was not of public interest. Such law and such verdict are real shaming of Croatia and its freedom-loving tradition. That is why TUCJ and the Croatian Journalists' Association (CJA) demand that Government annuls this provision of the Criminal Law. In just several days more than 1600 supporters of this demand signed the petition - among them journalists, intellectuals, cultural workers and members of the public. „Shaming“ is just one but not the only problem on the Croatian media scene. Another very serious one is annulling labor rights. For ten years TUCJ has been trying to negotiate national collective agreement for journalists and media workers of Croatia in order to protect basic labor and professional rights of journalists. There is no progress in these negotiations. On the contrary, employers started to cancel existing collective agreement in the media companies, so today very few company level agreements are fully implemented, some are topic of negotiations, some are „frozen“ or only partly valid. Another problem are false freelance collaborators in the media. One of these categories are so called RPO collaborators, allegedly independent entrepreneurs and in fact journalists forced to work with full obligations of staff workers but without staff rights. They regularly work full time in the employer's premises, on employer's computers, and upon employer's orders, but are formally considered freelancers who work at home. In fact they work as staff journalists but without proper employment contracts and without staff workers rights. They are obviously discriminated because they can be sacked any moment, without any procedure. Although they get their payment regularly and have the right to annual leave, they have no right to collaborate with any other media company and they work under constant fear and stress because of insecurity of their work. These forced freelancers are deprived of their basic rights. Also, because of social insecurity they do not dare to start a family and have children. Also, they cost employers less than staff employees of the same category, because they pay lower taxes and obligatory benefits for pension and health insurance. So, some estimates show that through these forced freelances media employers deprive state budget and health and pension funds of about 20 million kunas (about 2,7 million euro) annually. Namely, „well-intended“ employers advised their collaborators, „independent entrepreneurs“ how to pay lowest possible taxes and benefits. In the case of the so called RPO collaborators it is obvious that these allegedly independent collaborators are in fact dependent workers who should get employment contracts based on the Croatian Labor Law. But state institutions, especially Labor Inspection, keep their eyes closed. By doing so they contribute to the fact that Croatia becomes the only country where it is practically impossible to organize a journalists' strike because freelancers are forced to be strike-breakers. The best proof for this was 26-day strike at the highly circulated daily paper Vecernji list where most of the staff journalists were on strike, while the texts for the newspaper were submitted by forced freelancers. I am glad to say that in the neighboring Slovenia with more or less the same legislation, court decisions forced media employers to sign employment contracts with such permanent- collaborators. The basic question is – what conditions for objective reporting do have journalists who are daily threatened with lay-offs and cancellation of collaboration, who are not paid for their overtime work or work on Sundays, on holidays etc. As in many other countries, one of the most serious problems is loss of jobs in the media. Many media have ceased to exist – weeklies Nacional and Forum and dailies Vjesnik and 21. stoljeće – so today we have some 750 journalists registered at the Unemployment Agency (some 350 are newcomers and some 400 are old unemployed journalists). The number of staff journalists is constantly decreasing and the number of unionized journalists with it, and it makes it more difficult for us in the TUCJ to protect rights of journalists. Situation in the Croatian media, especially those in private ownership (which is rather non-transparent) has been deteriorating due to the practice of a number of media owners to invest in other businesses, mostly real estate, and due to bad investments lost a lot of money. The price of these bad investments is of course paid by – journalists. Exactly, due to these reasons today the publishing of the daily papers Novi list, Glas Istre and Jutarnji list comes into question, and this means danger of losing some additional 500 jobs in these dailies. And, in all the media drastic cuts in expenses are obvious which makes investigative journalism die-away and so called „copy-paste“ journalism come instead. Commercialization, sensationalism, triviality, and superficiality squeeze out relevant contents. Due to all these trends journalists will meet more difficulties in fulfilling their honorable role of guardians of democracy. To conclude: Without free journalists there is no freedom of the media. And without freedom of the public information, free and democratic society cannot be built. That is why we have to react now and in the future always whenever we feel that this freedom is threatened. At the end, I use this opportunity on behalf of all Croatian journalists, to congratulate this significant jubilee, 120. Anniversary of journalism in Bulgaria to all our Bulgarian colleagues. I am very honored and glad to have had the opportunity to personally participate in this celebration.
 Zagreb, 3. svibnja 2014.