STA, 22 April 2022 - The final debate of the election campaign hosted by the public broadcaster TV Slovenija last night ended in disarray after the host lost control of debate and opposition leaders walked out of the studio one by one after having their say.
Mostly leaders of 12 parties, both old and new, that have at least one deputy in the National Assembly were invited to set out their views on the challenges faced by the country and their promises for the next term, with healthcare and energy crisis ranking prominently.
They reiterated the positions and promises repeated throughout the election campaign with coalition leaders listing the successes of the current government such as high economic growth and record low unemployment. The leaders of centre-left parties meanwhile lambasted the government's track record, pointing to high public debt and alleging deteriorating democratic standards and corruption.
Leaders repeatedly engaged in one-on-one clashes, the most prominent being between Prime Minister Janez Janša and his main challenger Robert Golob, the leader of the Freedom Party, who took part by video link as he is self-isolating with Covid-19.
The host, Igor Pirkovič, asked Golob about a bank account opened in his name in Romania, which Golob said he only learnt about in December from the Tax Administration and which he said had since been closed by the bank. He also said that the address of the account holder was inaccurate.
Golob was also asked about disclosures by some media alleging that he had been transferred EUR 600,000 from Montenegro, a charge that Golob denied saying the man mentioned as the mule was a friend of Janša's, which Janša denied saying he knew the man but they were not friends.
The pair then exchanged accusations over the lack of transparency of the origin of each other's assets, after which Tanja Fajon, the SocDem leader, appeared to try to take control of debate and steer it away from the focus on the two front-runners.
Protesting over the chaotic state of debate and a lack of time allotted to him, Zmago Jelinčič, walked out of the studio, tripping when stepping off the podium and apparently falling off the screen, with a loud crash heard when he hit something. It later turned out he was unhurt.
After that the leaders of the other five opposition parties walked out one by one, first the Left's Luka Mesec, followed by Fajon, Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) leader Ljubo Jasnič, LMŠ leader Marjan Šarec and SAB leader Alenka Bratušek, after commenting that the state of debate showed the situation in which TV Slovenija and the country had been brought under the government.
After a break, debate resumed with the remaining guests, who each addressed their voters directly into camera.
In response to the debate, which invited strong reactions among the public, TV Slovenia staff said the show did not meet even the minimum of standards befitting a public broadcasting service.
"Journalists are distancing ourselves from such a programme, so ill-prepared and so-ill hosted, and would like to apologise to the viewers," senior journalist Igor E. Bergant wrote on behalf of the staff.
They believe the incident showed again why viewing ratings cannot be the ultimate goal of a public service. "Due to its unprofessional content, indecent for a public service, the programme did attract a high viewing rating as social networks went on fire over the fiasco."
They called on the news programme editor-in-chief Jadranka Rebernik and RTV Slovenija director general Andrej Grah Whatmough to step down, asserting the pair had lost the last shred of credibility and caused major damage to the service.
"The incompetence and bias demonstrated by the host, who obviously had full support from the head of the editor-in-chief is the result of the ill-prepared Election 2022 project, something that we have repeatedly warned of," reads the written response from the staff.
Meanwhile, the broadcaster's leadership regretted some of the guests leaving the programme early as well as insulting communication directed at RTV Slovenija staff during the show.
"We would like to emphasize that RTV Slovenija is an autonomous institution and as leadership we decisively support journalist and editorial autonomy and condemn any abuse of the public service and its creators to score political points," the leadership said.
A call for resignation by the RTV Slovenija leadership over the programme also came from DeSUS leader Ljubo Jasnič.