Centre for Media and Communication Research, University of Zagreb
The Croatian media market is characterised by a strong television sector, concentrated national press with falling print runs, and a growing sector of born online and legacy online news providers.
A key media issue over the past year has been the threat to the editorial independence of the public service broadcaster (HRT) after a large number of journalists and editors were demoted or reassigned and the head of HRT was replaced following parliamentary elections. Members of the new conservative government coalition have also threatened the financial stability of HRT with plans to reduce its licence fee by the end of this year. In addition, the government has cut subsidies to non-profit media.
At the same time, HRT has gradually been losing its long-held primacy in news to commercial rivals. Nova TV, owned by Central European Media Enterprises (CME), a Bermuda-based company with TV stations in six Central and Eastern European countries, leads in terms of weekly news reach (64%), followed by the German-owned RTL (60%), and HRT now in third place (44% for TV broadcasts and 58% including radio).
In the newspaper market, the most popular title is the tabloid 24sata (39%) owned by the Austrian company Styria. Jutarnji list, Croatia’s largest circulation daily broadsheet, is also popular (30%) and is part of the largest Croatian print media company Hanza Media, formerly Europa Press Holding. But, as elsewhere, the role of print has declined rapidly as online and mobile news becomes more important, especially for younger groups. Between 2008 and 2013 print circulation of daily newspapers fell from 640,000 to 300,000 copies per day.1 Advertising spending in print media fell from €104m in 2008 to just €36m in 2015, while online spending rose from €4m to €22m over the same period.
In terms of online news, the top brand (Index.hr) is a digital-born news portal preferred for its strong (centre-left) opinions. Legacy media companies are also popular, notably the website of a tabloid newspaper 24sata which is valued by its audiences for amusing and entertaining content. By contrast Jutarnji.hr is recognised by its users as the best for understanding complex issues.
Audiences in Croatia are averse to paying for the news or being distracted by ads online, which makes it even harder to develop a viable online business model for news, despite increasing online news audiences. Traditionally low newspaper subscription habits offline have not been reversed in the online environment.
Dnevnik.hr (39%) is the digital presence of offline leader Nova TV news programme and the largest television source in the digital media environment. The online presence of the public service broadcasters HRTi has a modest 10% weekly use, reflecting the relative failure of their online news strategies as well as possibly disillusion with changing editorial policies. In the top 10 online sources legacy outlets (two television stations and four newspapers) co-exist with digital-born brands like Index and Net.hr, which have become an important part of the digital landscape.
Meanwhile, in an atmosphere of low trust, increasingly negative news, and political populism, many Croatians are turning to social media (56%) as an outlet for their concerns and as an alternative to traditional media.
Croatia exhibits overall low levels of institutional trust in government and political institutions, but positive correlation exists between regular television use and trust in government. Our survey responses place Croatia in the bottom third of countries both for trust in news overall 39% (24th) and for being free from political influence 15% (32nd).