STA, 9 April 2019 - Reports that Croatia tried to prevent Slovenian media from reporting on Croatia's intelligence activities in Slovenia prompted strong reactions from senior officials, with PM Marjan Šarec calling a session of the National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry summoning Croatian Ambassador Boris Grigić for talks.
It was POP TV which reported on Monday that the Croatian government had used an intermediary to try to prevent the private broadcaster's news portal from revealing last week that the Croatian intelligence agency SOA was behind the tapping of the phone calls between Slovenia's judge and agent in the border arbitration in July 2015.
The recorded conversations were leaked the same month only to have Croatia declare the border arbitration process "irrevocably compromised".
POP TV also said "one of the most influential Croatian media houses and a good friend of numerous Croatian politicians tried to prevent or even bribe a director of a foreign multinational to put pressure on POP TV."
The reports prompted Prime Minister Marjan Šarec to call a session of the National Security Council today after he had expressed concern over the news, saying that "these are serious accusations, which call for appropriate explanations."
The session was called by Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and also featured, in addition to key ministers, President Borut Pahor, parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan, and MP Franc Breznik of the largest opposition party, the Democrats (SDS).
Also attending were Damir Črnčec, the state secretary in the prime minister's office in charge of national security, and Rajko Kozmelj, the director of the national intelligence and security agency SOVA.
The Government Communication Office said that the council had condemned any attempts at influencing freedom of the Slovenian media.
It said it expected from Croatia to refrain in the future from acts which were in opposition with the EU values, the rule of law and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said that the ministry had already summoned the Croatian Ambassador to Slovenia Boris Grigić for talks. Cerar will be meeting on Wednesday Slovenian Ambassador to Croatia Smiljana Knez, who has also been summoned to Ljubljana.
Cerar said that foreign countries' interference and pressure on the Slovenia media were unacceptable, declaring that Slovenia would be unyielding in defence of the freedom of speech.
Židan said before the session that it was a serious issue which "encroaches upon the essence of the EU, which must function on the basis of trust and solidarity and not on unlawful practices in any case."
The pressure on POP TV was also condemned by several parties, including the heads of the deputy groups of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) and the opposition Left, Franc Jurša and Matej T. Vatovec.
According to POP TV, the high-ranking media official who had tried to put pressure on the broadcaster was Ivan Tolj, a 51-year-old Franciscan priest, who is a Croatian representative of the Styria Media Group.
Only Breznik gave a statement to the press after the session, saying that the participants had not received much more information than the media had already possessed before the session.
He proposed that SOVA representatives listen to the recordings and prove the influence of the Croatian government on Tolj, and to find out whether the report was true or not.
"But we did not get this proof," he said, adding that Šarec did not allow that, which makes Breznik believe that the session was about "minor information serving the prime minister in his daily political debates".
The General Police Administration meanwhile confirmed for the STA that it was conducting a pre-trial investigation of a suspected criminal act in relation to the wiretapping scandal and the alleged attempts by the Croatian government to influence the Slovenian media.
POP TV said that two of its journalists had been interviewed today by police officers. According to the broadcaster, the police is investigating the suspicion of criminal acts of wiretapping of journalists and corruption.
While the police did not provide any names of suspects, POP TV said that Tolj was among them.
The SOA denied the reporting by POP TV labelling it as "untruthful and a tendentious construct", and as a continuation of the media campaign in Bosnia-Herzegovina designed to smear the SOA and Croatia.
The Croatian government also rejected "fully and most resolutely" all reports on attempts on any influence on the Slovenian media.
Croatian PM Andrej Plenković told the press in Zagreb that his government had "no possibilities or ambition to influence reports in the Slovenian media", as reported by the regional TV station N1.
According to unofficial information, the Slovenian government will continue with all activities aimed at implementing the decision of the border arbitration tribunal "regardless of the new facts".
The issue will also be discussed tomorrow by the parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Commission and expectedly the Foreign Policy Committee as part of questions from MPs.