Thursday, June 21, 2007

All Over For Feral?

Readers of Feral Tribune haven't been in a position to appreciate the weekly satirical magazine's take on Marko Perković Thompson's concert, or, for that matter, on anything else: after 15 years as an independent publication (separating from the Split daily Slobodna Dalmacija when the state took SD over in 1992) the newspaper has controversially been forced to cease publication due to an unpaid VAT bill of €68,000.

From a British perspective, it might be hard to see why the press are liable for VAT at all, but from a Croatian one, that might not be the point: a statement from the Social Democratic Party last week alleged that the government chooses not to pursue the tax debts of certain publishers 'because of the ideological character of their publications' (not to mention those owned by the state - the daily Vjesnik and the national broadcaster HRT), while sticking to the letter of the law in the cases of more oppositional media such as Feral.

Although the government announced its intention to reduce VAT on magazines to 10% from its current level of 22% when news of Feral's debt crisis broke earlier in the month, the magazine is already unable to service its existing debt - a financial situation which its editor Viktor Ivančić blames on 'a cruel corporate diktat' by which large corporations avoid advertising in media which are opposed to government politics.

However, among the widespread hand-wringing on Feral's behalf, there's one note of caution from Jurica Pavičić, a former contributor: namely, if the market is so unforgiving towards publications like Feral, why have its editors never followed the lead of Bosnia's Dani or Serbia's Vreme and elevated it from often puerile satire into a mature news magazine? A case in point is the Croatian weekly Globus - which began as a sensationalist tabloid flirting with the radical-right party HSP, but developed after a change of editor into the focus of support for Mirko Galić's Forum 21 initiative which aimed to detach HRT from direct state control.

Nonetheless, it would be a sad day for Croatian civil society if Feral finally petered out, seven years after losing its 'natural enemy' with the death of the nationalist president Franjo Tudjman. The Galić era, meanwhile, did its petering out some months ago when he took up an ambassadorial post in Paris and was replaced - eventually - by Vanja Sutlić. It's taken some time for HRT to assume its post-Galić shape, but the decisive stroke may have come today when the director of HTV Marija Nemčić resigned - along with her radio counterpart Ivanka Lučev - leaving both no 2 positions free for Sutlić appointees.

Nemčić's resignation is likely to have repercussions in the news department (don't forget 2007 is an election year) - and also at entertainment, long thought of as a Nemčić stronghold under its current editor Aleksandar Kostadinov. The Gazette won't be surprised if the new Mr Music Man turns out to be Mario Sedmak, who'd look like a safe pair of hands after the success of the Strictly Come Dancing and Just The Two Of Us formats.

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