Mapping Digital Media - Croatia

Car, V., Andrijašević, Ivana (2012). Mapping Digital Media - Croatia. online.

Abstract: Regarding digital switchover, Croatia is well ahead of the curve. Experimental broadcasting via digital signals began in 2002 and the last analog television signals were switched offin September 2011. The country has the highest free-to-air digital terrestrial coverage in Europe, exceeding 99 percent of national territory, and it is the main television platform for the majority of the population. Television remains the dominant medium for both information and entertainment, and viewing time has been relatively stable over recent years. Among alternative platforms, cable television subscriptions also experienced a growth spurt as a result of digitization. Its penetration is now matched by IPTV, which, around the time of switchover, was the preferred mode of television in some 15 percent of households. However, according to recent survey data, the internet is the most trusted medium for news and information. Although broadband rollout was slow to get going and the proportion of the population active online is still relatively small, growth in the number of users has shown no sign of leveling out and the figure nearly doubled between 2005 and 2010. Broadband take-up has also increased exponentially in recent years, catalyzed by a new legislative framework for universal service implemented in 2004. Radio has experienced a marginal decline in listenership, but print media have been hit hardest by the global economic downturn and audience migration online. Except for the leading national tabloid, all major titles have experienced significant contraction in circulations. But this has not corresponded to declining audience reach as digital editions of newspapers are among the most popular websites in the country, and increasingly accessible on a variety of platforms. To this extent, digitization has increased the availability, reach and number of news and information sources in Croatia. Of the top ten most popular Croatian-based websites, seven are news-focused and four of these feature in the top ten most popular websites overall. What’s more, two of these are independent websites not owned or operated by traditional media. There has also been a “democratization” of access to news, with controversial stories seeing the light of day through digital channels. Traditional media have on occasion been compelled to take note of these stories, which might not have surfaced in the public domain were it not for digital media. However, there is still some way to go before the promise of digital news is fulfilled. Th ere is a dearth of news analysis online and still limited deployment of interactivity and multimedia resources. And in spite of the success of television switchover in terms of access, it has so far resulted in only a handful of new channels, the majority of which are entertainment-focused. All of these are provided by commercial broadcasters and at the time of writing, the public broadcaster had yet to launch the two new channels that were scheduled to start broadcasting in 2011, including a dedicated news channel. The increased competition that has resulted from digitization looks set to continue a trend of commercialization in public broadcasting. There have also been indicators of tabloidization across television news in recent years, with bulletins becoming shorter and covering a greater number of topics in less depth. This report also fi nds that the benefits of new media diversity are still largely restricted to a media-literate minority. Online civil and political activism tends to be the preserve of groups and citizens who were already active and engaged in the pre-digital era. However, activity is growing and social networking—Facebook in particular—has become the key mobilization tool. Th ere are also significant homegrown activism platforms which have worked in tandem with Facebook and the mainstream media to bring issues to critical mass audiences. This has occurred in a handful of cases to date, with one notable protest producing tangible results at the level of policy and reform. In 2008, an online campaign against the new national examination for school leavers evolved into mass demonstrations by students. The Government responded by admitting its failures in preparing and managing the project, which was postponed for another year. Other online-led initiatives against tuition-fees and corruption in public institutions have been notable in their reach but produced little or no response from policymakers. Websites promoting the rights and interests of minorities in Croatia have also emerged but have not yet had a significant impact on the coverage of such issues in the broader media. Overall, it is clear that digital civil society in Croatia still depends on television for its publicity power. Opportunities for civic engagement are also being neutralized by the pressure on journalists to produce ever greater volumes of news output within ever shorter timeframes. Multi-skilling in the newsroom has come at the expense of accuracy in reporting and original newsgathering. The culture of copy-paste journalism that has emerged is particularly acute in the online news domain. New technologies have also led to a growing instinct among editors to prioritize the visual elements of news output. Th is has favored soft news over hard news and has fosters the “internetization” of print media, with newspapers increasingly adopting the format and style of online editions. Investigative journalists have benefitted to some extent from the digital explosion of sources, and the increasing online availability of offi cial data. But uncovering political corruption, fraud and other illegal activities still depends on old-fashioned personal contacts. And digitization does not seem to have diminished the threats and occasional violence against investigative journalists, particularly in the arena of organized crime. In terms of dissemination, no prominent blogs publish investigative reporting, and stories published through other new platforms tend to be overlooked by the mainstream media. Investigative stories online have occasionally touched a nerve in the public consciousness, or generated suffi cient awareness to force the mainstream media’s hand. In certain cases the gestation of such stories online has made it easier for conventional media to cover them. They can avoid potential lines of fire by following up on investigations that are already in the public domain, rather than launching new investigations. But the reach of online news is constrained in the first instance by a lack of resources which has meant minimal investment in operational journalism. The sector’s long-term sustainability remains in the balance as advertising migration has yet to provide a viable business model for online news. At the same time, conventional media have suffered significant loss of advertising revenue following the global economic downturn in 2008 and it remains to be seen how far this will be recovered. Overall, traditional media brands continue to hold sway over the public agenda and operate with an increasingly concentrated market. More than 90 percent of daily newspapers are owned by just two multinational conglomerates. Recent legislation has introduced measures to limit cross-media ownership and media concentration in general, but these have so far proved relatively weak and ineffectual. Similarly, legislation aimed at enhancing the transparency of media ownership has born little fruit and no action has yet been taken against companies who are in breach of the rules. In other areas, however, the government has been proactive in responding to the social and economic challenges posed by digitization. Since 2005, for instance, a portion of the license fee for public broadcasting has been ring-fenced to support pluralism and diversity within local broadcasting. In respect of switchover, the government took the unusual step of offering financial support to all citizens purchasing digital signal receiving equipment. Alongside this, a dedicated switchover call-center was set up to offer information and advice to viewers and a help scheme facilitated access for the elderly and disabled. One of the most important elements of the successful switchover was coordination of the process by the Central State Administrative Office for e-Croatia. Regular meetings between all stakeholders established a discussion forum for stakeholders, the sharing of information and, eventually, collaboration over problems thrown up by implementation. Recent media legislation has offered clear definitions of the public interest and new distinctions such as that between linear and non-linear broadcasting. Although the broad structure of regulatory authority has remained unchanged, both licensing and content regulation are generally perceived as independent, fair and transparent. Public consultations are commonplace, even if it is not always obvious how much influence they have on actual policy. In the final analysis, this report finds that policy has been responsive to digitization and that the process has done much to democratize and pluralize Croatian media. It has not yet, however, neutralized the power of dominant media organizations, or indeed the influence wielded by political elites and advertisers. Th ere is also evidence that in response to digitization, journalism across sectors has become increasingly tabloid and oriented towards soft news, and there are uncertainties as regards the sustainability of public interest media.