World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd 2003 - Trade Union of Croatian Journalists

<center>World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd 2003

Owners pressurize - (some) journalists are slaves


By: Jasmina Popovic

The traditional definition and role of informative media is being lost more and more. Not because this is what journalists want, but because such are the interests of the owners. In the British media, the owners are American movie and entertainment companies, and thus advertisement is more important than ever. Therefore the following question arises: How to publish a negative critique in a British newspaper, if the financier of the movie is a company, which co-owns it? The French are afraid that they are the next in line, and that journalistic autonomy will die out unless something is done immediately. In Italy, Berlusconi has been more and more successful in pressurizing the media, but Italian journalists are still among the loudest in defending their territory. In their internal newsletters, Australian journalists publish sad stories about owners that want to offer them cheap levels of pay, and if they cannot accept this situation, the owners will take those who are not journalists, but who can type press releases, make compilations and download humorous stories from the Internet for a small amount of money.

Informing the public, objectively and timely, is now more difficult than ever in the history of modern media. Manipulation has taken effect, a state of affairs shown in full force by the war in Iraq. Taking sides, cheering, lobbying, discrediting the other side - all this has replaced previous rules and made the consumers of media products complete victims, as well as converting American journalists into the real "socio-political workers" of socialist times. Apparently, freedom of the media made the freedom of journalists more distant than ever. The International Federation of Journalists deals more and more with the protection of precisely that space, (which journalists used to cover): the right to publish articles, comment on events, attitude without consequences, to protect the work of journalists from the relentless interventions of editors and owners. Today, when anyone with money can start up a media of his/her choice, the hired workers - journalists - are the worst affected.

In many of the transitional countries new media owners get over-intoxicated by the levels of power which they possess and all too often use this control at the expense of journalists. In Croatia for example, it is possible for a mother to phone the TUCJ office and complain about her child, a permanent freelancer (economically-dependent worker), working 10 - 12 hours every day without any rights and without decent remuneration. This "child" usually approaches his/her thirties already working as a journalist for a couple of years without any rights, but at the same time cannot fulfil his/her college obligations and will most likely remain an eternal third-year student. He/she is one of thousands of people who think that education is not necessary to be a journalist, until they find themselves - after years of service without any tools, trade and qualification - at the unemployment office. In Croatia, journalists who fill the media with their commentaries and critiques of the government or the opposition and who provide deep analyses of the entire international community can still be given any kind of a contract, or no contract at all. They may be unpaid for months, their texts and written opinions can be changed without their consent but with their signatures remaining attached to the text. With their lack of education and with their insecurities, they agree to not having the necessary social and professional rights, and thus endangering and undermining everyone who does not want to work under such conditions.

The existential insecurity has made the owners of the media the owners of journalists, and they frequently demonstrate this situation in a very public and clear manner. Journalists are being used as a cheap and easily replaceable workforce, and they accept jobs that do not come under their job descriptions - from cleaning offices to gathering advertisements; they accept to be underrated and underpaid. Sometimes, whether through ignorance or because of toadyism, they enter "wars" that employers sometimes wage among themselves, and pick sides as if it were connected to aspects of public interest.

They are always surprised when the owner fires them, because they think that they are precisely the ones that the "boss" cannot do without. And, of course, they are deluded. There are always cheaper and younger "models" around, and the fact that someone agreed a big fee in a media does not mean that the owner plans to do the same for anyone whose work he uses. Accepting to work in unregulated companies, with unregulated relations and rights, the journalists do not witness freedom of the media, but instead their weakness and lack of solidarity reveals itself when juxtaposed alongside the unyielding power of the owner.

The only thing that can maintain a free media is a clear and correct relation between the employees and the owner, regulated relations in the editorial offices, and clearly stated rules and obligations of journalists and other media workers. Even the developed Europe is fed up with the story about freedom of the media. Along with May 3rd, the International Day of the Freedom of the Media, the European Federation is asking for another day, one that would highlight and promote the importance of the struggle for freedom of journalists. There is no freedom without settled social and professional relations. Europe needs to be unified...

<center>Trade Union of Croatian Journalists


A special report came to us from the local Radio Vrbovec, which participated in TUCJ's action, “Five Minutes of Thundering Silence”. A journalist from Radio Vrbovec, our colleague Dragan Vickoviæ, was on assignment at the time - laying out the new wine yard in the family of Ivan Jagatiæ in Vrbovec. During the Five Minutes of Thunderous Silence, the journalist only stood and did not work, which the labourers around him took in a friendly manner.

The fourth action of the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists on May 3, the World Press Freedom Day, entitled “Five Minutes of Thunderous Silence”, succeeded completely. Journalists from the media throughout Croatia joined this already traditional action of the TUCJ. This year, numerous radio stations stood out in particular. The five-minute silence resounded in the airways covered by radio stations in the whole territory of Croatia

Journalists in editorial boards of daily papers and agencies also upheld a five-minute work stoppage, as a symbolical protest. At all protest meetings, the proclamation of the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists was read, on the occasion of May 3rd, in which TUCJ pointed out the necessity of regulating the position of journalists and media workers in Croatia.

The proclamation of the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists (which is enclosed separately as a whole) was published (as a paid 1/4 page advertisment) on May 3rd in all the daily papers. Only Jutarnji list (owned 50% by German company WAZ) did not publish the TUCJ proclamation. Some daily papers, like Novi list, Glas Slavonije, Vjesnik and Slobodna Dalmacija gave their contribution to the marking of the World Press Freedom Day by placing the TUCJ proclamation in the textual part of the paper, without additional charge. Veèernji list (a daily paper with the largest circulation in Croatia, and 98% owned by Austrian company Styria) did not leave the text-advertisement out of the strictly advertisements area. The most solidarity-based contribution to the World Press Freedom Day was given by the regional daily Glas Istre, which (subsequent to the decision of the chief editor, colleague Eni Ambroziæ), published the TUCJ proclamation entirely free of charge. Glas Istre is also the only daily paper which, in mid-April, published one part of a brief press release of the Executive Board of TUCJ, regarding the need to protect the dignity of the journalistic profession, endangered by the increasing commercialisation, and frequently professionally indefensible interventions of editors into texts.

After an energetic TUCJ protest, the Jutarnji list promised that it would fix its mistake of not having published the advertisement, correctly ordered for May 3. The paper agreed to publish the advertisement on Friday, May 9, on a quarter of a page, in the textual part of the paper, no further than page 15, which would be the contribution of the editorial board to the World Press Freedom Day. The Croatian Journalists' Association, on the other hand, did not even put the TUCJ proclamation on its web page, nor did it announce that it would do so afterwards.

If one can generally judge the quantity and placement of texts in newspapers and magazines, this year the World Press Freedom Day showed that newspaper publishers in Croatia do not care much about this day, which is as a matter of fact their own day. In most cases, even courteous texts on behalf of the World Press Freedom Day were missing. This actually shows to what extent the journalists - the real pillars of the freedom of the media - are (not) respected in the present day era of penetration of advertisements even to the pages reserved for commentaries. Journalists, despite everything, gave their contribution to the World Press Freedom Day in all types of media. Members and non-members of TUCJ have accepted this action as their own, expressing through this symbolic protest their desire and need for human and professional dignity, which is too frequently endangered.

TV stations, from state (to be public) Croatian Radio-Television to most local TV stations also joined the TUCJ action.

Still, regardless of everything, TUCJ makes more and more progress each year, in every respect. More and more colleagues join the TUCJ action. This year, journalists and media workers from neighbouring countries Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro and Macedonia also joined the action. The International Federation of Journalists, (IFJ), also supported the action of TUCJ, and announced it to their members.

The list of the media from Croatia, which have reported on the progress of the action, some of them already in the first dozen minutes after the five-minute symbolical protest, is impressive. The list of all the media, which participated in the action, is a lot longer.

<center>On behalf of May 3rd - the World Press Freedom Day

The Trade Union of Croatian Journalists

Freedom of the media in Croatia has been won; we still need to win the freedom of journalists and the protection of their core human rights. Because of frequent breaches of these rights, the position of journalists and media workers in the Croatian media is worrying. Despite the responsibility and the difficulty of work, they are too often underrated, poorly paid and exposed to the pressure and self-will of the owners of the media.

Through this year's action, the Five Minutes of Thunderous Silence on 3rd May 2003, from 11:55 to 12:00 hours, the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists is warning that the protection of core human rights and freedoms of journalists and media workers is necessary. It announces the start of the collective bargaining process, and asks and expects support for:

  • The signing of the Collective Agreement for Journalists and Media Workers of Croatia, which would regulate the minimum social and professional rights for thousands of journalists and media workers in all types of media at the national and local level, regardless of the size and ownership structure of the media.
  • Protection of permanent freelance collaborators (economically dependant workers) - totally deprived media workers in the grey economy - who work full working hours for years without pension and health insurance, with irregular remuneration payments.
  • Fulfilment of professional freedom for journalists - by protection from professionally unjustified interventions into their work - so that the public can be certain that it gets correct information without censorship, and that media owners become aware that ownership of the media does not include ownership over journalists and over the truth.

  • The right to the truth belongs to the public. Journalists want and need to be objective intermediaries.
    Support our actions - because they serve you!