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Independent newspaper closes, alleging bias after government refuses to write off debt; a "massive blow to media pluralism", says EFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 19 June 2007 media release of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), an IFJ regional group:

Journalists Condemn Closure of Croatia's Pioneering Feral Tribune as "Massive Blow"

The European Federation of Journalists has deplored the closure of Croatia's weekly Feral Tribune calling it a "massive blow to media pluralism."

"The closure of a paper that has for years been a flagship for press freedom in the region is a massive blow to media pluralism", said EFJ Chair Arne König. "In a time of increasing financial pressure, punitive taxation policies can have a devastating impact. For years Feral Tribune has been a symbol of the challenging and independent journalism upon which democracy relies. We call on the Croatian authorities to do more to safeguard pluralism in this hostile commercial environment."

Feral Tribune distinguished itself as the Croatian paper with an abundance of awards. Its journalists challenged the political giants of the region when the war and chaos overwhelmed the Balkans in the 1990s. Its biting journalism exposed the actions of the regime of Slobodan Milo?ević in Serbia and tested the patience of Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman at home. Its reporting, whether in war or in peace time, was always challenging, said the EFJ, and often at high risk.

"The battles fought by Feral Tribune were all about democracy and fundamental rights," said Arne König. "Even now we appeal for action to try to save and nurture the journalism it pioneered."

The Croatian government recently blocked the paper's bank account to collect a VAT debt of ?68,200 and another move was announced to collect a further debt of ?136.426. This proved to be a fatal blow to the finances of the paper where journalists have not received salaries for months. The paper's management accused the authorities of double standards because in the past the Croatian government has written off VAT debts to some state-owned media. The paper also accused large advertisers of discriminating against them.

The EFJ affiliate, the Croatian Journalists' Association, called on the authorities to help keep Feral Tribune's alive. "Even those who do not agree with Feral Tribune editorial policy should defend Feral's right to survive," said Dragutin Lučić Luce, CJA President.

The editorial board of Feral Tribune said that "Feral's disappearance from the newsstands will be, whether one likes it or not, a symptom of the future in which journalism will be accorded the miserable role of servitude."

The EFJ represents over 260,000 journalists in more than 30 countries.

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