SLAPP lawsuits create an environment of censorship, Source: Depositphotos

SLAPP-ing Croatian journalism

SLAPP-ing Croatian journalism

That method has become the preferred choice, by far, for silencing criticism and free speech in the country

Few people realize it, but European Union statistics show that regarding SLAPP lawsuits the Republic of Croatia comes out at the top ranking in the bloc. Lawsuits are filed in this country on such a scale that they are already considered a systemic problem, and journalists and newsrooms, at least those that have managed to survive, have had to hire entire legal teams and use pre-determined techniques to try and avoid this problem.

Strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP for short, is a term first found in American law practices during the 1980s and 1990s as an answer to the preexisting attempts at misuse of judicial procedures.

What makes SLAPPs so bad?

The purpose of SLAPPs is usually not to have the plaintiff succeed in court. Rather, the initiation and duration of court proceedings, their costs, and various mechanisms of obstructing and delaying the proceedings are used as tools to intimidate the defendant and force him to give up participation in an issue of public interest.

SLAPP lawsuits are a blow to free society and are often based on predetermined moral boundaries of the individual. The media, non-governmental organizations and various civil societies carry the burden of presenting the truth to the public and conveying information about what can be considered improper or illegal activity or, simply, activity for the benefit of an individual, instead of on behalf of society.

SLAPP epidemic in Croatia

According to the latest data, Croatia had at least 945 active SLAPP lawsuits against the media and journalists in 2023. The largest part refers to "procedures for compensation of damage due to damage to honour and reputation that are conducted against publishers, their editors and journalists due to published texts and contributions".

In Croatia, the most common plaintiffs are people from public and political life, and in terms of active court proceedings, Hanza and Styria are the most sued media groups. The longest court case is certainly the one against Večernji List newspaper, which has been going on for 33 years. As for the media companies themselves, Hrvatska Radiotelevizija was declared "the biggest addict of SLAPP lawsuits against its own journalists, due to as many as 36 lawsuits filed", of which the most famous one is by far the one against Hrvoje Zovko, the president of the Croatian Journalists' Association.

Among the many bizarre cases of SLAPP is the one against Paul Bradbury, a Briton who has been living in Croatia and has been promoting the beauty of the country for 30 years. Bradbury tirelessly criticizes the work of the Croatian Tourist Board (HTZ), which has already filed two SLAPP lawsuits against him in response.

The first one refers to the case of Paul's comments about the Croatian tourist community when he said that "the same number of tourists would come to Croatia even if HTZ were cancelled tomorrow". The second charge was brought up because Bradbury played with HTZ's slogan "Croatia, full of life", replacing the word "life" with the word "uhljebs" (a Croatian pejorative word that describes people who have gotten a public job not by their merit but by their connections). For these two charges, the Croatian Tourist Board demanded a total compensation of 13,270 euros.

Within the last couple of years, both Croatia and the European Commission have passed a series of laws that they plan to implement, in order to reduce the number of SLAPP lawsuits and to ensure media freedom and democratic debate, without the fear of consequences.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU.



Growing City


Smart City


Green City


Social City


New European Bauhaus




ECP 2021 Winner TheMayorEU