One would think that the firing or hiring of a journalist (or any employee, anywhere) is a matter that is not newsworthy and that any breaches of employee’s rights in the process are private legal matters to pursue. However, when the firing or hiring alerts one to blatant breaches of human rights, to the fact that employer’s Codes of Ethics may be in violation of the country’s Constitution as well as UN convention on Human Rights then such cases are newsworthy and such cases require action with view to protecting democracy – especially when we are dealing with a major public information source such as state-run radio and television. And, when it comes to Croatia – a country still obviously in transition from communist totalitarian regime of former Yugoslavia, then the citizens’ vigilance upon the state of democratic processes is all the more justified and necessary.
On January 5, 2015, Croatian Radio & TV/HRT Director-General Goran Radman summarily dismissed journalist Karolina Vidovic Kristo, saying that her employment contract was terminated because she insulted and disparaged him by putting his name in the context of the former totalitarian Socialist Yugoslavia and mentioning his previous position as director of the then Television Zagreb.” Reportedly the dismissal was preceded by in-house debates about banning the reporter from participating in the Croatian Catholic Radio’s program “Why I believe”, and which ban the HRT management made in line with the HRT Code of Ethics.
To refresh the reader’s memory, Karolina Vidovic-Kristo came under a sharp public spotlight in early 2013 after she was suspended as the editor of a cancelled TV program “Picture of Croatia” for the Croatian expatriate community over a broadcast entitled “Pedophilia as Basis of Sexual Education?” in which she expressed fears that Croatia’s school sex-education curriculum was being influenced by those who used pedophiles in research of child-sexuality/ Kinsey Report.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, as recognised by article 19 of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights/UN), and an integral element of a democratic society. As the European Court of Human Rights has expressed it:
Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential freedoms of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for every individual’s self-fulfillment … it is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no ‘democratic society’ (Case of Plon [Societe] v France ECHR 200 ).
As noted above, although Croatia would be a signatory to the ICCPR, article 35 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia guarantees “respect for and legal protection of a person’s private and family life…” and in its article 38 it “guarantees freedom of thought and freedom of expression”, there are evidently no efforts being invested by the state authorities to ensure that the Code of Ethics implemented by the state-funded Croatian Radio & Television (HRT) reflect the implementation of commitment to these human rights.
In its statement dated 22 January 2015 the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights “on the summary dismissal of Karolina Vidovic Kristo and the responsibility of the Director in Chief Goran Radman for the situation at HRT”, the Committee agrees “that Karolina Vidovic-Kristo was right when she alleged that the Code of Ethics for journalists and creative staff and the General Rules were in violation of the Constitution of the RC and international standards of human rights, which also include the right to freedom of speech, opinion and religion”.
Article 47 of the Code of Ethics of HRT states that “Journalists and creative staff must be aware of the fact that everything they do, write or send to the public will be deemed to be an act of HRT”.
“Therefore”, stated a Croatian journalist, “not only our religious convictions, but everything we do in public, all our free-time activities presented in the public, are deemed to be acts of HRT, although they are not presented in the name of HRT but in our own name. Indeed, this gives the impression that we are someone’s property.”
All those present at a meeting discussing the HRT Code of Ethics agreed that these positions taken in the Code of Ethics and the General Rules are a violation of fundamental human rights and the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, and that in fact, “they deprive journalists of elements of their creativity and character.”
Indeed, one may go a step further and say there are cases in Croatia where a person is punished for expressing their personal opinion! And the case of Karolina Vidovic-Kristo is evidence to that. Indeed, which country bar a totalitarian state permits the practices of denying an employee a private life, expression of private opinions? In which country can a fact-based opinion expressed about ones work supervisor/manager/colleague lead to summary dismissal!? Where are the proper mechanisms to assert as to whether an opinion offends or insults someone or whether, in fact, the opinion is expressed in good faith in order to further a greater cause, a greater good; in this case – a furtherance of democratic practices!?
This is absolutely shocking!
In communist Yugoslavia, people knew only what the communist government wanted them to know; communist operatives were required to live and breathe communist party lines.
Director in Chief of HRT was appointed by the Croatian parliament and his political affiliation was ensured by the majority seats in the parliament, hence leading to leaving the public informing through that media outlet biased to the advantage of the outgoing president Ivo Josipovic and the former communist party members and affiliates currently leaning towards the Social Democrat, left-leaning, government that is evidently failing miserably at monitoring the implementation of and compliance with democratic principles contained in the Constitution and beyond.
Be that as it may, the Director in Chief of HRT/Croatian Radio and Television (Goran Radman) must be held accountable and responsible for maintaining and promulgating the Code of Ethics for the employees that are, more likely than not, in blatant breach of the country’s constitution and laws on freedom of expression and human rights. This matter cannot be fixed by changing that Code of Ethics to comply with legislative requirements, it can only be fixed by the sacking of the Director in Chief and replacing him with another person whose priority is compliance with the legislation and democracy. On that note, I am pleased that the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights is supporting the initiative of Mr Branko Hrg MP to the parliament that Goran Radman, as Director in Chief HRT be dismissed. My Lord, he should have been suspended from duties, pending an investigation, the very moment Karolina Vidovic-Kristo had alerted to the likely and serious constitutional and human rights violations within the HRT Code of Ethics! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps.(Syd)