There has been much debate about media legislation, media pluralism and diversity in Croatia during the past twenty years that reflects the transformation of media and media policies. As a consequence, media laws have been changed and amended several times in this period while the new amendments are also in preparation (see chapter 2.4 and 4.2.6). The current government announced within their previous mandate that a new media strategy will be created and that the new media laws will be changed accordingly, but these changes are still awaited and meanwhile critique from professional associations is growing.
In 2010 Croatia successfully concluded the process of digital switchover which created space for the Council for Electronic Media to publish tenders for new licences. In the last couple of years, the number of media organisations and their ownership structure stabilised. According to the Registry data available on the website of the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM), in 2020 there were 31 TV channels (ten with national concessions, four of them publicly owned), 151 radio stations (six with national concessions), fifteen media-on-demand service providers, 114 satellite/Internet audio-visual providers and 60 non-profit audio-visual and/or radio programme providers. According to the web data of the Croatian Post and Electronic Communications Agency (HAKOM), there were 88 providers of access to Internet services operating in Croatia in 2019.
Diversity and plurality of the media are particularly promoted by the Fund for the Promotion of Pluralism and Diversity of Electronic Media, established by the Law of Electronic Media provisions that included the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS Directive) solutions. The fund is administered by the Council for Electronic Media (VEM), and financed by 3% of Croatian Radio Television licence fees. It supports production and broadcasting of public interest programmes in local and regional radio and television channels, which serve local communities and sometimes use local dialects in broadcasting (e.g. in the Istria region). This support goes to the promotion of the production and broadcasting of electronic media content of public interest on local and regional levels, which is important for the right of citizens to public information, the rights of national minorities, promotion of cultural creativity, and development of education, science and the arts. Support from the Fund is used to promote the production and release of audio-visual and radio programmes of public interest of television broadcasters and/or radio broadcasters at local and regional level, of non-profit television, radio broadcasters and non-profit electronic publications (digital news/internet portals), as well as employment of highly qualified professionals of those broadcasters.
Although Croatian legislation includes regulations on quotas and responsibility of broadcasters and media owners with regard to the diversity of contents, systematic monitoring is restricted and therefore it is difficult to assess the extent to which the provisions of different laws are respected. The Council for Electronic Media ensures monitoring in relation to programme obligations through direct and indirect measures. In 2019, it issued 34 measures to TV, radio and electronic publications in the form of warnings, penalties, and revocations of concessions.
Media production in the arts, humanities, cultural history and identity is mostly broadcast on the PBS Croatian Television First and Third Channel and Croatian Radio Third Channel (the latter completely devoted to culture). The HT1 channel has also complemented its news broadcasting by devoting 3-5 minutes to cultural information. While the daily press covers social / political events extensively, the amount of published information on cultural life has been gradually diminishing. The number of specialised bi-monthly magazines that write extensively about art and culture has reduced, and reporting on cultural life has shifted to diverse cultural portals dedicated to different cultural fields. However, with the cuts to funding in the non-profit media, the cultural media portals are also in a precarious situation. According to data from December 2019, the Ministry of Culture and Media supported the publication of 106 programmes of local, regional or national (printed and online) cultural journals with 3 722 000 HRK (496 266 EUR) which is a significant decrease in comparison to 2016 when it amounted to 4 988 000 HRK (approx. 665 066 EUR) (Primorac and Obuljen Koržinek 2017).
The question of anti-trust measures has been greatly discussed in the context of the process of joining the EU, prompted by requests to harmonise legislation with European standards. In 2011, debates concentrated around the amendments to the Law on Media and the Law on Electronic Media, which included changes regarding transparency of ownership. An amended version of the Law on Croatian Radio Television was passed in July 2012 that simplified and improved the management structure even though this Law was criticised for a serious democratic deficit in terms of the independence of the PSB from the government. The amendments to the Law on Media in 2013 introduced changes to the penalties for law infringements that were a result of aligning the Law with the Directive on the services in the Internal Market. The draft of the new Law on Electronic Media that entered the parliamentary procedure in 2020 should bring more transparency in media ownership, regulate of the obligations of publishers, protect competition and regulate issues specific to video-sharing, on demand platforms and electronic publications.
The debates in the last few years included discussions on the lowering of working conditions of journalists (in print, TV and electronic media), the quality of broadcast content in public and commercial media, and the issue of lowering of financing for non-profit (electronic) media. This is reflected in the results from the data collection of the Media Pluralism Monitor (MPM). In relation to the assessment of the risks to media pluralism, Croatia scores a medium risk for Basic Protection (45 percent) and Political Independence (58 percent) areas as well as high risk for Social Inclusiveness (67 percent) and Market Plurality (69 percent) areas (Bilić 2020). The Market Plurality domain scores high risks in the indicators covering online platforms’ concentration and competition enforcement, news media concentration and owner and commercial influence over editorial content. Social inclusiveness contains high risk indicators in areas of access to media for women and minorities, as well as in a lack of strategic thinking for promoting media literacy (Bilić 2020: 17).