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Croatia: Journalist Calls For Reform Of State-Controlled Media

Washington, 19 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A leading Croatian journalist says his country needs to radically reform its state-controlled electronic media if Croatia is to make any significant progress toward democracy.

Damir Matkovic, an editor with Croatia Television, made the comment Wednesday at a briefing in Washington at the United States Institute of Peace -- a non-profit research organization focusing on promoting peace and democracy around the world. Matkovic is also the president of Forum 21 -- an association of Croatian journalists lobbying for the establishment of independent public television in Croatia.

Matkovic says it is unfortunate that radio and television in Croatia remains firmly under the control of the government in exactly the same way it was under communist rule. He says that in the seven years since Croatia became independent, neither the ruling party nor the opposition has proposed any meaningful changes to state-controlled broadcasting and its transformation to the public service.

Matkovic says he founded Forum 21 a year ago because he thinks impartial, responsible and professional journalism is essential for the development of democracy in Croatia.

Explains Matkovic: "The role of the media is extremely important because it could serve as a vehicle (for) dialogue. The media can promote certain idea of a civil society where citizens are there, not only to fulfill orders, but also to discuss the issues of general concern." Matkovic says it is critical for Croatia to develop a system of reporting domestic news that is objective and free of political control. He says journalists are often not allowed to determine what items are newsworthy nor do they have control over how to report on most news topics.

He says: "I would like to decide myself what (news) I will shoot. I would like to decide autonomously what is news and what is not news. I don't want to receive orders, regardless of what party is in power. We must finally disconnect this phone which connects us with the presidential office and the parliament."

The Croatian Embassy in Washington had no immediate comment when reached by RFE/RL's correspondent.

Matkovic says Forum 21 drafted a new law to reform the television and broadcasting system in Croatia and managed to get it introduced into parliament this year. But he says the law was essentially co-opted by the ruling party and was rewritten to keep everything essentially in place the way it was. A new broadcasting law was officially made into law in October, but he says it really changed nothing.

Despite this seeming disappointment, Matkovic says he is encouraged by the fact that journalist's concerns were at least being heard by the ruling party, and that Forum 21 was able to get the draft law into the system.

He stresses: "As journalists, we must respect our code and not the orders of politics, regardless of which party or coalition is in power."

According to Matkovic, making the transformation from state-controlled to independent electronic media would be fairly easy as the infrastructure and funds for such a change are already in place in Croatia. He says the only thing lacking is political will.

He says: "We could do it in one afternoon. There is no problem to write a good law. We already have all the necessary infrastructure. So, this is why we believe the problems of broadcasting can be resolved very easily in our country."

Matkovic is in the U.S. on a eight-day visit sponsored by the United States Information Agency.