Feral Tribune recovers after financial collapse

After two weeks of uncertainty, Feral Tribune, a political and satirical Croatian weekly, is back in business. The newspaper, praised for its public role and investigative journalism, had not been published since mid-June due to unresolved debt.

Croatia-based Europa Press Holding (EPH) has stepped in to help Feral Tribune and clear its debt. EPH is now the new owner of the satirical weekly, but the company — which owns more than 20 publications — promises not to interfere in the paper’s editorial policy.

Because of poor circulation records in the past years, Feral Tribune has a VAT debt of 136,000 euros. The newspapers’ inability to compete on the new commercial market has resulted in the debt — and the Finance Ministry’s decision last month to freeze the newspaper’s bank account.

Feral Tribune has never been a typical newspaper. During the 1990s, it was the only independent newspaper that criticised the nationalist government and then-President Franjo Tudjman. The paper always had provocative, cynical covers depicting cartoons, and was famous for its sense of humour. However poisonous the cover pages were, the response from officials in the past decade was equally harsh. Editors were accused of being traitors and foreign spies, and were investigated. All charges were eventually dropped.

In the 1990s, the Croatian public considered Feral Tribune a beacon of democracy and freedom of speech. When media pluralism in Croatia was in its infancy, Feral Tribune was publishing stories of corruption scandals and war crimes, following the basic rules of investigative journalism. After the democratic changes in the beginning of 2000, Feral Tribune still kept its cynical and critical approach. This turned some of the newspaper’s former political allies into enemies.

The paper began as the satirical supplement of regional daily Slobodna Dalmacija. When Slobodna Dalmacija was earmarked for privatisation, Feral Tribune journalists and editors decided to go their own way.

They managed to maintain their independence and journalistic dignity, but the debts they racked up to the government could not be ignored. Editor-in-chief Viktor Ivancic said the newspaper could not attract many advertisers, as companies grew furious over investigative reports about them that ran in the newspaper.

At the same time, the 22% VAT rate on all services in Croatia is too high for smaller media outlets, some say. A lower rate for publishers has been proposed, though the government has not yet made a decision.

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