The Russian invasion of Ukraine was the most important news topic in 2022 and early 2023. But COVID-19’s impact is reflected in a turn to entertainment programmes, with some uptick in advertising revenues but with most growth going to online. The structure of the news industry remains largely the same – with offline use dominated by two foreign-owned TV news channels together with the public broadcaster.
Croatian publishers are continuing to suffer from the impact of COVID, given their heavy reliance on advertising. While the overall advertising market saw some increase in the past year, up from €200m in 2021 to €239m in 2022, €110m went to online advertising with 21% growth in 2022 and a forecast of a further 12% increase in 2023. The largest share (41%) was display advertising, with 30% going to social networks (Facebook and Instagram account for over 90%) and 20% to search engines.1 In terms of the division between media outlets, TV holds the lion’s share of advertising while print continues to decline.2 The proportion of our survey respondents paying for online news remains persistently low at 8%, so it seems increased efforts to increase subscriptions have not been very successful.
The major commercial TV companies have been foreign-owned for over two decades, with the United Group operating the cable news channel N1 and the top ranked free-to-air station, Nova. Meanwhile the Czech-based CME has owned RTL TV for the past year. When it comes to print, Austrian and German companies dominate the market. The tabloid 24 Sata owned by the Austria Styria group is the best-selling newspaper and also attracts large numbers of people online.
The public broadcaster HRT has stable and independent financing through a compulsory licence fee, but also has some advertising income. However, the recent annual report to parliament by the newly appointed Director General of HRT highlighted the need to focus on cutting costs to secure the company’s future viability. While HRT claims it is editorially independent as required by law, it is less trusted than the leading commercial operators, and many industry and academic experts highlight its continuing pro-government bias.
The past year saw increased competition for prime-time news audiences between the three national TV channels since they all now broadcast their main evening news at 19.00. According to the routine monitoring figures from the regulator, the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM), while NovaTV news took the lead in the first week of the change, HTV evening news was among the ten most watched programmes in February 2023. HTV 1 had the largest all-day audience during February (18.1%), followed by two foreign-owned commercial stations, NovaTV (14.5%) and RTL TV (14%). In prime time the order is reversed with RTL TV in the lead.
There are though some signs of a weariness with news in the past year. The Russian invasion of Ukraine revived memories of the trauma of Croatia’s battle to break from Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and following COVID and now Ukraine there may be a turn to entertainment. The most watched television programme in February 2023 was the Croatian Eurovision Song Contest competition, and the past year was marked by the Croatian football team’s bronze medal in the World Cup.
Journalism continues to be a difficult profession in Croatia and the economic pressures imposed by the pandemic on the news industry only added to the lack of job security faced by many. While physical attacks on journalists are unusual, threats and verbal attacks continue, especially against those with opposition or liberal viewpoints as well as investigative journalists. According to the Croatian Journalists Association, there were more than 900 lawsuits for damages to reputation or honour still active in the past year and these add to the pressures on freedom of expression.3 Even if most of those eventually fail in court this can take years. And since large amounts of damages are usually sought against individual journalists or the publishers (often online portals) they have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and contribute to self-censorship.
Following widespread coverage of corruption cases linked to governing party HDZ officials, the government plans a clampdown on leaks to journalists. The measure would target leaks by officials to the media of similar content from high-profile corruption investigations. Unsurprisingly, the plans have been met with protests from the public and journalists.
Centre for Media and Communication Research, University of Zagreb
We introduced education quotas for the first time in Croatia as part of our efforts to make data as representative as possible of national populations. As a result, 2023 data will be more accurate but not always directly comparable with previous years.
Pay for online news
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Overall trust in news is at a similar level (34%) to that seen in many other Southern and Eastern European countries. This year’s fall reflects a further decline after the pronounced COVID-19 bump seen in 2021. Trust is highest among legacy broadcast brands such as NovaTV (63%) and RTL (58%).