Ruling SDS Criticised for Attacks on Mainstream Media in Slovenia

By , 10 Apr 2020, 11:23 AM Politics
Ruling SDS Criticised for Attacks on Mainstream Media in Slovenia pxhere CC-by-0

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Govt points to ex regime in response to CoE criticism of pressure on media in Slovenia

SDS under fire following dispatch about communist origins of Slovenian media

MEPs defend freedom of press, disagree over communist media dispatch

Govt points to ex regime in response to CoE criticism of pressure on media in Slovenia

STA, 8 April 2020 - Responding to criticism coming from the Council of Europe (CoE) over pressure on the media in Slovenia, the government has argued the situation is a result of Slovenian media having "their origin in the former communist regime".

While the CoE has been highlighting pressure on media occurring under the new government and named the state as the "source of the threat", the government wrote that it welcomes that the CoE Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists is taking a stronger interest in the media situation in Slovenia.

It added that the CoE's attention should be drawn to the broader context of the media situation in the country, including historical facts in the development of the media market.

"The majority of the main media in Slovenia have their origins in the former communist regime, and even in the late 1990s the positions of editors-in-chief were held by the former members of the infamous security service UDBA," says the letter accessible on the website of the CoE Platform.

Sent to the CoE by Slovenia's Permanent Representation to the CoE on Tuesday, the letter also says that up until 2004 the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija had been run directly by "former communist structures".

The letter says that "more or less all attempts to create new media that would not be based on the legacy of of the totalitarian past have failed" because new media had not received money from advertising. One of the few media that survived was Catholic Radio Ognjišče, surviving above all because listeners supported it with their contributions.

The situation changed partly only in the period between 2004 and 2008, "when for the first time the parties originating in the former regime lost the authority for four years", the letter says of the period when Janez Janša was prime minister for the first time.

"During this period, the law governing the operations of RTV Slovenija also changed with a view to promoting greater plurality of the media space. As a result, in some media that in one way or another are financed by all citizens, individuals who were not connected with the former totalitarian party also took on leading roles."

However, already in 2008, when the Borut Pahor government took over, there was "tremendous persecution of all editors and journalists who were not part of the former regime's network," the letter says, referring to editor dismissals at the STA and RTV Slovenija, and saying that similar actions had been taken in some private media.

The letter also says that media in Slovenia had during this time undergone ownership consolidation. "With the consent of left governments, the majority of the main media have been sold to individuals who are known to the general as Slovenian tycoons, many were also members of Forum 21," an outfit established by former President Milan Kučan.

"Journalists themselves also contributed to their increasingly poorer public image. Jumps from journalism to politics are, unfortunately, too common for the public to fully trust the integrity of journalists," the letter says, naming here MEPs Tanja Fajon and Irena Joveva.

"There are not isolated cases of political rewards for journalists who appeared in public as the greatest fighters among journalists against parties that did not arise from the network of the former regime," the letter says, naming Rok Praprotnik and Dejan Karba.

The government expresses satisfaction in the letter that Slovenia had finally become the subject of international interest in terms of freedom of the press and the general state of the media in the country, saying that "warnings of the unbearable situation of the Slovenian national broadcaster should also be taken seriously".

It says that initiatives for a more rational spending of public funds are being misinterpreted. "While many media companies are struggling to survive... RTV Slovenija has hired an additional 400 people in the last 10 years alone, bringing the total number of the institution's employees to approximately 2,300."

The letter was sent to the CoE, after the latter issued an alert in response to Janša's tweet on 20 March. Janša tweeted "Don't spread lies, @InfoTVSLO. We pay you to keep us informed in these times, not to mislead the public. Apparently there are too many of you and you are paid to well."

Janša tweeted this after TV Slovenija aired an interview with a trade unionist who criticised the government's decision to raise the salaries of ministers and state secretaries.

Janša's tweet was criticised also by the Journalists' Association (DNS), the Journalists' Trade Union and the leadership of RTV Slovenija. The union and the DNS interpreted the tweet as a threat to RTV Slovenija employees about possible loss of employment or other repressive measures that may befall them unless they report in a way that suits the government.

This was the second alert by the CoE Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists issued to Slovenia in the past two weeks. On 27 March, the Platform said that investigative journalist Blaž Zgaga had received death threats from far right groups.

In response to that alert, the government said it "strongly rejects and condemns the case of alleged harassment... At the moment, we have no conclusive evidence as to how this event came about."

Zgaga was also mentioned in the letter sent to the CoE on 7 April, which said that his credibility was destroyed when claims of Janša's involvement in the Patria defence scandal were proven false.

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SDS under fire following dispatch about communist origins of Slovenian media

STA, 9 April 2020 - The senior coalition Democratic Party (SDS) has been criticised, not only by journalists and the opposition, but also by its coalition partners, after an official government dispatch to the Council of Europe's Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists claimed that all the main media stemmed from the communist regime.

The dispatch was a response to an alert issued by the Platform after Prime Minister Janez Janša tweeted in late March that the public broadcaster RTV Slovenia was misleading the public, adding "apparently there are too many of you and you are paid too well".

The Journalists' Association (DNS) said that the dispatch was far from reality of Slovenia's media market, that the writing reflected the ideological position of the the SDS and was undermining Slovenia's reputation abroad.

For 30 years, Slovenia has been a democracy with a media market, which has seen various anomalies, but is nonetheless operating in a relatively normal framework, the DNS said on Thursday.

Editorial policies, as well as ownership, vary from one media outlet to the next, so to claim that all are guided by an ideological war against the SDS is "peek paranoia", which has been evident in the existing attitude of the SDS and the incumbent government toward the media and journalists, the DNS said.

The association underlined that Slovenian journalists are performing their job in line with professional and ethical standards, and on par with their colleagues in other western democracies.

"In fact, the only instances of aberration are seen in media directly or indirectly linked to the SDS, which have received substantial funding from Hungarian companies. These have been conducting degrading campaigns against anybody who does not agree with SDS politics, they have manipulated facts and spread intolerance toward anybody who is different or thinks differently," the DNS said.

It added that the government failed to understand that freedom of the press is guaranteed by law in Slovenia, that public media are not state media and that the state, albeit the founder of public media, does not have the right to play editor.

Meanwhile, the director of RTV Slovenija Igor Kadunc repeated his reaction to the initial tweet in a statement for Radio Slovenija that RTV Slovenia was operating economically.

Bojan Veselinovič, the director of the STA, also a public media outlet, meanwhile denied allegations levelled against him in the dispatch, which explicitly mentions Veselinovič firing editor-in-chief Borut Meško, who later died due to severe illness.

Coalition partners Modern Centre Party (SMC), New Slovenia (NSi) and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) have distanced themselves from the letter, all of them saying that they had not been informed about the contents of the dispatch. The parties also said that they would demand to learn who authored the dispatch, sent to the CoE on 7 April.

The SMC said in its response to the STA that it only learnt about the letter from the media and that its position was clear: "any attack and pressure on the media is unacceptable."

The NSi as well said it had not been informed about the dispatch and would demand explanations "within the coalition", including about who wrote the dispatch. Similar sentiment was echoed also by DeSUS.

The opposition was also critical, with the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the Social Democrats (SD), the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and the Left calling for an emergency session of the parliamentary culture and foreign affairs committees to demand explanations from Foreign Minister Anže Logar.

The opposition parties believe the dispatch amounts to abuse of power for political purposes and an action that undermines the country's international renown.

The Left called on Logar to resign, while LMŠ MP Nik Prebil said in a statement that no government minister, least of all the foreign minister, must allow that such documents "bear a personal or party connotation".

Meanwhile, Matjaž Nemec, an MP for the SD and the chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said he expected Logar to explain to the committee why the dispatch could be interpreted as reinforcement of a political agenda through diplomatic networks.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry denied having drafted the dispatch. Instead, government Communications Office (UKOM) head Uroš Urbanija, told the newspaper Delo that his office had written the letter and that neither Logar nor Janša were aware of its contents.

Urbanija, a former home desk editor at the STA, former editor at RTV Slovenija, as well as Nova24TV, told the paper that the letter had been sent in a clear procedure of UKOM receiving a question from the press and responding to it without any special notification to government officials.

The ministry, while denying having written the letter, said it forwarded the explanation to the CoE in line with established diplomatic practice.

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MEPs defend freedom of press, disagree over communist media dispatch

STA, 9 April 2020 - Slovenian MEPs have expressed support for freedom of the press after an official dispatch was sent to the Council of Europe (CoE) saying that all the main Slovenian media had their origins in the Communist regime. But while MEPs from right-leaning parties expressed support for the dispatch, others labelled the writing as politically motivated.

Sent to the CoE's Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists on 7 April, the dispatch was a response to an alert issued by the Platform after Prime Minister Janez Janša tweeted in late March that the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija was misleading the public, adding "apparently there are too many of you and you are paid too well".

MEPs Milan Zver and Romana Tomc, both members of the senior coalition Democratic Party (SDS) and the European People's Party (EPP) group, expressed belief that Slovenian media had not yet reached EU standards.

"Slovenian media space has been occupied above all by monochrome dominant media outlets which have been in the hands of the old (neo)Communist nomenclature since the beginning," Zver said in a statement for the STA.

"Unfortunately, political pluralism was not followed by media pluralism, one of the pillars of modern democracies," he added.

The dispatch "describes the actual state of affairs of so-called independent journalism and the so-called independent media in Slovenia," Tomc said, adding that the media space in Slovenia is completely "unbalanced".

"Therefore it would be very beneficial if relevant international institutions started more comprehensively dealing with this problem, to which we have been drawing attention for a long time," Tomc added.

Franc Bogovič of the People's Party (SLS), also a member of the EPP, said he wanted to see substantial discussions about social responsibility of the media, as well as plurality and autonomy of Slovenian media.

"Political ideas and individuals on the centre-left political spectrum get a lot more room" in the media, he said, adding that the three biggest daily newspapers are owned by persons from a certain "economic-political-media circle" which is trying to interfere with the state.

Ljudmila Novak of the New Slovenia (NSi), also a member of the EPP group, said that constructive criticism can only be of help to the authorities. She believes that Communist heritage and the influence of left-leaning political parties can still be felt in some media outlets.

"Some political parties, their leadership and membership originate in the former Communist regime. Therefore this can be felt also in some media. Unfortunately, the media under the patronage of some political parties or in their ownership are the least democratic of all."

Meanwhile, MEPs from the ranks of the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Klemen Grošelj and Irena Joveva, a former journalist for the STA and commercial broadcaster POP TV, said that the dispatch amounted to politically-motivated abuse of state institutions to promote party agenda.

Social Democrat (SD) MEPs Milan Brglez and Tanja Fajon, were also critical. Fajon, also a former journalist who worked for TV Slovenija, said the dispatch was politically-motivated and disgraceful.

She said the dispatch failed to mention contentious funding from Hungary of media close to the SDS, as well as threats by Janša and his supporters to individual journalists.

Brglez meanwhile regretted that Foreign Minister Anže Logar put the interests of his party before the interests of the state. The Foreign Ministry meanwhile denied having drafted the dispatch, while the head of the government Communication Office Uroš Urbanija said the dispatch had been written by his office and that to his knowledge neither Logar nor Janša had been aware of its contents.

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