Public Debate on Changes to Media Law Ends with Opposition from RTV Slovenija

By , 08 Sep 2020, 16:31 PM Politics
Public Debate on Changes to Media Law Ends with Opposition from RTV Slovenija YouTube

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STA, 8 September 2020 - The public consultation on government-proposed changes to three media acts has ended, but the debate is still on as the national broadcaster continues to protest the legislation and some of the opposition parties are not happy either. Two relevant associations have also called on the government to withdraw the proposals.

The management of RTV Slovenija told the press on Monday it is opposed to the changes to the three acts - one of them deals with the public broadcaster - and called on the Culture Ministry to withdraw them.

The main point of contention is the proposal to distribute 8% of the public broadcaster licence fee among other media - 3% for the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and 5% for other media.

Director general Igor Kadunc said that the proposals encroached upon the funds available to RTV Slovenija, which would stand to directly lose as much as EUR 7.7 million a year along with almost EUR 10 million in lost revenue from its transmitting business, which would be transferred onto a new fully state-owned company.

Kadunc stressed that the public broadcaster was EUR 8 million short every year already, and that it had EUR 6 million less to work with last year than it had in 2012.

Since 2012, no government has dealt with the development of RTV Slovenija, he said, while rejecting the allegations that the public broadcaster was not solving the financial situation with streamlining and reorganisation.

Kadunc believes that the legislative changes in their present form will not be passed in parliament. He added that the management of RTV Slovenija was ready to participate in drafting expertise-based and comprehensive changes to media legislation.

Radio Slovenija director Mirko Štular added that the public media service might be destabilised at the detriment of the public. The funding cuts are already resulting in staff shortages and the programme would suffer even further, he added.

TV Slovenija director Natalija Gorščak said that the legislative changes were not only an attack on the public broadcaster, but on the Slovenian cultural identity and language in general.

Trade unionist Simeona Rogelj added that the public broadcaster could lose up to 500, or a quarter of all employees, if the proposed changes were implemented, with journalists being the first to go.

Meanwhile, the opposition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) reiterated its call for the legislation to be withdrawn, arguing that it is being opposed by practically the entire professional public.

The media space shows that the current government is taking the path taken by authoritarian regimes in Europe, SAB deputy group head Maša Kociper told the press on Monday.

She believes the changes aim at weakening the public broadcaster and giving power to other, commercial media outlets, which are inclined to the current government, in particular the ruling Democrats (SDS).

The Left has meanwhile called on President Borut Pahor to change the title of a debate on RTV Slovenija he is hosting on Friday, which suggests that the public broadcaster is not a free and politically unbiased media outlet.

Left MP Violeta Tomić said that the concept of the debate implied that Pahor gave legitimacy to the "attempts at discrediting RTV Slovenija by the ruling SDS to politically subjugate the public broadcaster".

Zmago Jelinčič, the head of the opposition National Party (SNS), meanwhile said that the arguments from the other opposition parties lacked content, while agreeing that there are some mistakes in the proposals, which can be corrected with amendments.

The Slovenian Advertising Chamber and the Slovenian Media Association have also reiterated their calls for the legislation to be withdrawn, saying that such changes required a comprehensive, in-depth and expertise-based discussion.

The chamber said that 5% of the public broadcaster licence fee and special taxation of cable operators would create the largest state media fund under direct control of the government.

Instead of ensuring the greatest possible transparency and professionalism in distribution of funds at the systemic level, the changes open the door wide to "arbitrary decision-making and cronyism".

It also brings further commercialisation of the public broadcaster also at the expense of other entities on the market, their press release adds.

Journalists are also up in arms, with Petra Lesjak Tušek, the president of the Slovenian Journalists' Association (DNS), saying that "a resolute no should be said in particular to the attack on the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija and the STA".

The latter is a reference to the proposal that the STA is no longer financed from the budget and to the plan to switch the STA supervisory board appointment powers from the National Assembly to the government.

The other organisation of journalists, the Association of Journalists and Commentators (ZNP), meanwhile endorsed the public broadcaster licence fee distribution proposal, while also saying that it did not matter whether STA supervisors were appointed by the government or parliament.

The Association of Independent Radio Stations, which brings together more than 20 local radio stations, is in favour of the changes to the media law, arguing they would facilitate creating fair conditions for long-term coexistence and development of all, big and small media outlets in the country.

The association pointed in Tuesday's press release to what it believes is an extremely uncompetitive and monopolised situation in the fields of TV, press and radio, which benefits large media outlets.

It said these have "over the years, often by resorting to dodgy practice and moves, created strong monopolies in advertising, which now enables them to control the entire media market", thus preventing healthy competition and plurality.

The situation cannot be blamed only on the Culture Ministry's past inaction, but in the area of radio, also on the Agency for Communication Networks and Services, which has failed to regulate commercial radio networks when it noticed they did not meet the criteria of producing shows with local contents, the association said.

Responding to the latest calls, the Culture Ministry said certain corrections would be made and noted that there were several alternative proposals regarding the financing of RTV Slovenija and distribution of its licence fee.

"A word or two needs to be also exchanged with the coalition partners," Media Directorate head Ivan Oven told RTV Slovenija yesterday, as the changes have not been fully coordinated yet within the coalition.

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