The degree of media coverage of a nation’s security and military is a good indicator of the level of democratisation of that country. This paper by Pero Jurisin recounts the history of media coverage of security issues in Croatia. Throughout Croatia’s history, freedom to openly discuss military issues has been marked with recurring attempts by the media to publicise security issues, and ongoing official suspicion of a free media. While public discussion of security has increased recently, it is still plagued by lack of transparency.
Croatia has an historical legacy of lack of transparency and official suspicion of the role of the media in the scrutiny of the military. During Croatia’s decades as part of Yugoslavia, there was a modicum of public discussion about military budget issues and some publication of military data. However, on balance, the Yugoslav national decision making process about military issues was not transparent.
In the 1990s, the media began to publicise military secrets and excesses of the former Yugoslav army amid the general euphoria brought about by the dismantling of Yugoslavia. However, during the subsequent creation of the Croatian army, the process of organising and financing the new army was completely non-transparent.
During the 1990s, almost all of the Croatian media was under government control. Questions about suspicious arms transactions, use of the military for non-military purposes, financing of defence, command structure, military employment policies and involvement of uniformed personnel in crime were labelled as treason. A number of journalists were put under surveillance by military intelligence.
In recent years, the media became more independent of the state and began to discuss military issues openly. However, recent media coverage of a number of military scandals alienated both the government and the public, leading the media to conclude that coverage of “big” issues causes too much emotional reaction among some Croats. According to a recent nation-wide poll, the Croat public is more interested in issues of unemployment, economic recovery, revision of the privatisation process and crime. Military and security issues were not among the list of major public concerns.
By 2003, a number of security/military issues began to be publicised:
These open media discussions are promising. However, Croatian national leadership continues to prevent full public discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of participation in international security organisations and armed conflicts.
The continued lack of transparency in media coverage of security and military issues in Croatia illustrates the persistence of historical patterns. Current Croatian media coverage of security is a case of “two steps forward, one step back”, with the government retaining the ability to apply a chilling effect on the media at will.
Author: Pero Jurisin
Source: Jurisin, P. 2003, âSecurity and Mediaâ, Paper presented at Security Sector Reform and Media: A regional conference on defence and the freedom of information, 14-15 November 2003, Belgrade.