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Solidarity among journalists defeats a "Silence the Truth" system

September 21st, 2020
topic:Rule of Law
by:Katarina Panić
located in:Croatia
tags:free press, Investigative journalism

Zagreb-based investigative journalist Ana Malbaša travelled to Varaždin in north-western Croatia on the last day of August. She went to a local hospital to meet a psychiatrist whose former patients – young girls and women – accused him of sexual abuse. She asked him questions. He rejected the allegations.

Giving the man a chance for his side of the story to be heard, the journalist collected all necessary materials in preparation for "Provjereno", an investigative news show on national broadcaster Nova TV. The new season of the show was just about to start. Suddenly, the Municipal court in Varaždin banned the show from broadcasting the story, explaining that the psychiatrist "could suffer irreparable damage".

“I was unpleasantly surprised. I have not yet experienced a court injunction in my journalistic career. But I got the support of the Nova TV to investigate the story further while we wait for a response to the appeal that our lawyers filed to the court”, Ana, the journalist, told FairPlanet.

NO COURT CAN PREVENT THE JOURNALISTS FROM DOING THEIR JOB

The story was broadcast on September 3rd. The day after however, the TV station cut it from the video and removed all related articles form its website due to the court decision.

This didn’t deter the journalistic investigation, however.

"We are familiar with the existence of the court decision, although it was not officially delivered to us. Croatian investigative show 'Provjereno' continues to research the story, and we already have new information. We will inform the authorities and the public in the foreseeable future", Nova TV stated.

"No court can forbid a journalist from investigating a topic in an attempt to satisfy justice. A journalist also investigates judges, re-examines bad laws and their enactors, the work of public bodies, and even fights even certain irregularities in the services such as the police. A real journalist goes to the end to find out the truth! No surrender!", Ana wrote on her Facebook.

WHERE ONE STOPS, THE OTHER CONTINUES

Meanwhile, some other media outlets had taken over the story before Nova TV deactivated all related content. Moreover, they have continued to investigate the case by themselves, seeing that Nova TV (and this organisation only) was temporarily stopped by the court.

“There was no legal obstacle for other media to get involved in the story. There was no dilemma either whether to do so since it is an important topic, and there are serious allegations. Local media usually contribute to topic revealed by a national media covering some accompanying parts. Still, this time they had to continue where the team of the show ‘Provjereno’ was stopped”, varazdinski.net.hr editor-in-chief, Goran Štimec told FairPlanet.

Varaždin-based journalist Višnja Gotal had never heard of the case before, not even rumours. However, she realised that the story was an old one, but was hitherto kept quiet.

“The name of the psychiatrist appeared on social networks as soon as the text came out, and other victims began to appear”, Višnja told FairPlanet.

That is why her editor asked her to do a story on institutions that chose not to react (the Croatian Medical Chamber in the first place), although they have information for years.

“When I found out the court forced Nova TV to remove all the pieces about the case, I warned the editor the same could happen to us. We had a dilemma whether the story should go or not. We only considered if they could ban us from publishing too. We concluded that they could not because it was Friday afternoon and the courts do not work until Monday”, she explained.

SAD BUT TRUTH: INSTITUTIONS REACT IF COMPELLED BY MEDIA

The case dating back to 2009 is now actually at the beginning of being institutionally reviewed. Yet, it would probably still have been hidden if the media had not been involved. Firstly, the Ministry of Health announced they would send inspectors in Varaždin. Not proactively, but after being asked by journalists. Secondly, the hospital moved the doctor from psychiatry to the palliative clinic. Not instantly but some ten days after the story was published. Thirdly, the police opened the investigation after dozens of new victims appeared.

“It seems the authorities did not make some decisions when they should have been made. Those who had some knowledge, today claim that this is not the case, to protect themselves from the question of why they did not do what should have been done”, Goran added.

The system seems to have overlooked that there is more than one media outlet in the world, and the fact that there is a solidarity among journalists. Despite considerable differences, the media community sent a strong message: no one can prohibit telling the truth.

“Moreover, a story that is already scary and strong enough, by being banned has become even more important, if it is possible at all”, Višnja concluded.

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
Author
Croatia
The story was broadcasted on September 3rd. The day after, the TV station cut it from the video and removed all related articles form its website due to court decision.
"We are familiar with the existence of the court decision, although it was not officially deliverd to us. Croatian investigative show 'Provjereno' continues to research the story, and we already have new information."
"No court can forbid a journalist from investigating a topic in an attempt to satisfy justice."