Slovenian Press Agency Signs Public Service Deal With Govt

By , 09 Nov 2021, 11:01 AM Politics

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STA, 8 November 2021 - Igor Kadunc, the new acting director of the STA (Slovenska tiskovna agencija), and Uroš Urbanija, director of the Government Communication Office (UKOM), signed an agreement on the STA's public service for 2021, UKOM said in a press release. Urbanija told the press the contract said that the STA should receive EUR 2 million for this year.

According to Urbanija, the contract is based on the STA law, which says the STA must publish ledes of news items about events in Slovenia and abroad in Slovenian and English, provide radio news, and photographs from the most important events while news items about minorities and the Slovenian community abroad must be publicly available in full.

"And what is the most important, the content must be accessible to all free of charge under the same conditions. I hope this is a positive message not only to the media using these contents but also to all the staff, as it was unacceptable that the previous STA management had used the staff in desperate attempts to bypass legal provisions," he added.

Kadunc said at a joint statement that he was happy they had managed to sign the contract, "which will enable normal financing and thus also the STA's activities this year, while we will also have something left for next year".

He warned that some issues still needed to be resolved, pointing to the ambiguous provisions of the STA act on the STA photo services. He said it will now be possible to address these challenges in peace while a suitable business plan is also prepared for next year.

"I think it's in everybody's best interest for us to have a good public press agency, which is backed with public funding due to the small size of the market. The job is not done yet, as we must still find solutions for next year that will satisfy both sides," Kadunc said.

He stressed his first priority since he took over as the STA's acting head over on 31 October had been to solve this pressing matter of financing.

According to him, many have shown interest in recent months in the STA working without disturbance while there have been some not very fortunate moves.

"Primarily, the desire was to change the concept under which the STA has received money from the state budget in the past as support for its public service and functioning in a very limited market.

"The concept the government implemented with a decree on the STA's public service envisaged that the STA gets this money for conducting its services. But this seems to be lacking a proper legal basis, which is why the STA is checking the suitability of the wording from the decree," Kadunc said.

He added that the commitments that the STA had made with the signing of the contract for this year "are not such that could not be fulfilled by the agency".

"But of course it is important to put everything in perspective. If the STA is important today, I think it will be even more important in the future. And in order for it to fulfil these expectations, it had a lot of work to do. So do I, who have been entrusted with leading the agency," Kadunc said.

The signing of the contract was welcomed, yet with some reservation, by STA staff, the Slovenian Journalist Association, Trade Union of Journalists, and President Borut Pahor.

The staff pointed out the agency will receive the funds it is entitled to under two laws, but warned certain solutions could indirectly affect the editorial autonomy and negatively affect the agency's finances, especially if they were permanent changes to the agency's business model.

If these changes prove to be harmful, the staff will insist on adjustments that will allow for the agency's work to continue without disturbances.

The staff warned that the STA had paid a very high price for the one-year financial exhaustion. "A number of excellent staff have left us, the agony has compromised the quality of the agency's service to the public, halted a number of development projects and, last but not least, has left us psychologically exhausted."

The STA staff expects this "completely uncalled for pressure on the STA is now over", adding they will continue to strive for a quality and independent reporting and preservation of the STA's autonomy.

The Slovenian Journalist Association (DNS) and Journalist Trade Union expect the financial draining of the agency to end and the government and STA to come to an appropriate agreement on 2022 financing as well.

The DNS noted today's signing was no cause for special celebration as it merely meant that "the government finally decided to honour the legislation and pay the STA for providing public service after draining the agency for 312 days".

Assessing today's agreement with restraint and caution, the DNS highlighted the basis for signing the contract could only be the law and not the decree, which it deems unlawful. It also warned that more publicly available content of the STA would mean a drop in the agency's commercial revenue.

Both organisations also thanked all who have donated to the STA in a summer campaign which was relaunched in November. The DNS said that in between the campaigns, from July through October, more than EUR 100,000 was raised. The summer campaign raised over EUR 274,700.

The contract was also welcomed by President Pahor, who stressed on Twitter the STA's "irreplaceable mission" in the media space.

He had called on the government several times in the past months to find a way to finance the STA as soon as possible. In the summer he decorated the STA with the Order of Merit for its services to mark its 30th anniversary.

The STA has been performing its public service without pay since the start of the year and has so far managed to avoid bankruptcy with the sale of three monthly claims against the government and a crowdfunding campaign launched by the DNS.

Today UKOM paid the STA's claim for compensation for the public service in August in the amount of EUR 141,000. The deadline for the payment expired today. The STA claimed the money in June based on a government decree. The STA's business plan envisaged EUR 169,000 in monthly costs for public service.

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