STA, 6 September 2021 - President Borut Pahor will organise a meeting between the directors of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and the Government Communication Office (UKOM) on Tuesday in a bid to find a solution to "issues that resulted in suspension of financing of the STA public service".
Announcing the planned meeting, Pahor's office said the president had recently received a letter from STA director Bojan Veselinovič asking him for support in a renewed call to the government to restore financing of the STA.
The release noted that Pahor discussed the issue with Veselinovič and UKOM director Uroš Urbania in early December when he assessed the STA as a wire service "performs an important mission in the public interest, so its existence cannot be jeopardised".
Pahor called on the government and the STA management to resolve their differences in accordance with legislation.
A week ago, the STA notified Pahor as well as parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič and Prime Minister Janez Janša of the dire situation faced by the agency, which has not received the statutory state funding for the public service since the beginning of the year, and of the unwillingness by UKOM to engage in talks.
The STA staff also sent a letter to top EU officials to notify them of the situation and ask for their support in a renewed appeal to the government to "immediately and unconditionally provide funding for the STA".
Saying it had received the letter, the European Commission today reiterated its call to the Slovenian government to ensure independence and appropriate funding of the STA public service.
Zorčič too confirmed having received the letter, calling on everyone in the ruling coalition today to "show their commitment to democratic goals and reinstate what the government has a duty to pay and to allow normal work to all employees".
Zorčič also thanked the STA staff for "doing their job in the impossible situation".
In a judgement published today the Supreme Court established the government has a duty to finance the STA public service based on existing laws and regardless of the new government regulation.
In response, Tanja Fajon, the leader of the opposition Social Democrats (SD), sent an open letter to PM Janša urging for the state to immediately settle its back payments to the STA, while she called on UKOM director Urbanija to step down over the "debacle".
A call for immediate restoring of STA financing also came from Janja Sluga, a member of the non-affiliated group of MPs that also includes Zorčič, both of whom used to be members of the junior coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC).
She said the ruling "confirmed we were right when we insisted the STA act and our amendment to the 7th coronavirus relief act sufficed for STA financing.
STA, 6 September 2021 - The Supreme Court has reversed a decision whereby a lower court granted the STA's request to stay the government regulation on STA public service, but said the state has a duty to provide financing to the STA for 2021 in line with the agency's business plan.
The latest judgement comes after the government appealed against the Administrative Court's decision to stay the implementation of the regulation adopted by the government in June that introduces detailed rules governing the public service provided by the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and its financing, which the STA is challenging on the grounds of its being unlawful.
In explaining its decision, the Supreme Court says the STA's founder - i.e. the state - has a duty to provide the funding of the STA public service under the STA act.
Thus a temporary stay of the regulation would not represent an obstacle to paying the STA for the public service because the basis for the payment already exists in the STA act, and in particular for 2021 in the 7th coronavirus relief act.
The court also says that it is irrelevant to the case which body will make the payments and what are the relationships between the government and its bodies.
The court also rejected the government's argument that the regulation needs to be implemented because the 7th coronavirus relief package does not determine which body has the obligation to supply the funds, saying it is the obligation of the state.
The court moreover disagrees with the government that the regulation is required because it provides the legals basis for monthly payments for this year as the only such provision.
The court notes that the STA act provides for monthly payments based on the annual agreement between the STA and the state. Even if there is no such agreement for this year, the coronavirus act provides for payments for 2021 in line with the STA business plan.
Nevertheless, the court granted the government's request to annul the temporary stay on the regulation for other reasons, saying the STA failed to prove it would get the payment in line with the business plan through a mere suspension of the regulation.
The STA hopes the explanations provided by the court "will make an end to excuses made by the Government Communication Office (UKOM) for continued failure to provide the financing".
UKOM director Uroš Urbanija has been claiming the office cannot pay the STA for the public service because the annual agreement has not been signed.
"It follows from the Supreme Court's judgement that it did not stay the government regulation on the STA public service exactly because the government has an obligation to provide monthly payments in 2021 directly based on the 7th coronavirus relief act," STA director Bojan Veselinovič said.
He hopes the latest decision will contribute to restoring financing and for talks with UKOM to resume, something the STA has been calling for.
The STA also believes the Supreme Court's decision sets an important legal precedent on the issue.
The STA has not received state payments for the public service it continues to provide since the beginning of the year, or for 249 days.
STA, 6 September 2021 - The European Commission reiterated its call to the Slovenian authorities on Monday to ensure independence and appropriate funding of the public service provided by the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) as it responded to a question about a letter STA staff sent to EU officials.
The Commission confirmed having received the letter that the STA staff addressed to the top EU officials, including Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a week ago, alerting them of the fact that the STA funding issue remains unsolved.
"The European Commission has expressed its serious concerns about this issue repeatedly as well as its expectations from the Slovenian government," Adalbert Jahnz, a Commission spokesperson, said in response to the STA's question about the letter.
"I can reiterate that the national authorities must ensure the independence and that it is crucial that they guarantee appropriate funding for the public service provided by the STA," he added.
The Commission is "following closely the ongoing legal proceedings at the national level on this issue" he said.
In the letter, which was also sent to European Council President Charles Michel and President of the European Parliament David Sassoli, the STA staff noted that two months had passed since Slovenia assumed the presidency of the Council of the EU when top EU officials raised the expectation for Slovenia to ensure the STA's independence and financing.
Despite the Slovenian government announcing that the financing issue would soon be resolved, this is not the case, so the STA staff urged EU officials to support a renewed appeal to the government to "immediately and unconditionally provide funding for the STA".
The letter also said that moral support by senior representatives of the EU unfortunately no longer sufficed
STA, 4 September 2021 -A group of coronavirus deniers and anti-vaccination protesters stormed the headquarters of the Slovenian public broadcaster last night, managing to get into the newsroom studio before the police intervened.
The incident happened after the group had been protesting against Covid-19 containment measures and vaccination in front of the RTV Slovenija (RTVS) headquarters for four months, harassing staff and demanding air time to be able to present their truth to the public.
"This is an unacceptable attack on the media, journalism and democracy," Manica Janežič Ambrožič, the RTVS news programme editor, said in response to the incident, which happened at around 8:30pm.
"This is a grave attack on our media house and public media outlet, which we condemn in the strongest terms," Andrej Grah Whatmough, RTVS director general, said as he appeared on the late night news show Odmevi.The scene outside the studios
The incident, which ended after the police removed some 20 maskless protesters from the building, has also drawn condemnation from the Slovenian Association of Journalists (DNS) and the Trade Union of Journalists and from Interior Minister Aleš Hojs.
Grah Whatmough said the management had been trying hard for months to have the situation tackled, but the problem was because the area around the RTVS HQ was a public property and the protesters had a permit to assemble there.
He announced security around the building would be beefed up and was hopeful the authorities in charge would take their complaints more seriously after the incident.
Today, the management issued a written statement denouncing what it said was an unprecedented incident, urging the authorities to act, and pledging to use all "security and legal means to prevent a repeat of such an incident".
The scene in the lobby
Tako je bilo včeraj nekaj minut po 21. uri na recepciji TV Slovenija, ko je policija približno 20 proticepilskih protestnikov, ki so vdrli v stavbo, odstranila iz studia informativnega programa. #novikoronavirus #covid19 #cepljenje @rtvslo pic.twitter.com/bPxEodGZ4Q— Matej Rijavec (@Matej_Rijavec) September 4, 2021
The statement says the protesters have been engaging in indecent behaviour on the site for months, "insulting staff and visitors, storming the RTV Slovenija building and disrupting work".
The management has pursued many official avenues to deal with the problem, sending complaints to police and the inspection authorities but "there has been no real response from those responsible".
Similarly, editor Janežič Ambrožič said their warnings since May had not met with response.
"We live in society where violence is only getting worse and it's but a step from harassment on Twitter to a violent house storm," she said, expressing concern that "few budge" in the face of violent scenes seen yesterday.
Information available to the STA indicates the incident involved members of the movement called Aware Residents of Slovenia, led by Ladislav Troha, a former army officer and veteran of the 1991 War of Independence.
The newspaper Večer reported that it was just yesterday that the RTVS works council filed a criminal complaint against the movement because its members have been harassing staff entering the building for months. The council also asked for a restraining order.
The police said it was looking into the incident and would act against violators in accordance with legislation.
In condemning the attack, the DNS association described the incident as the tip of the iceberg in the hate campaign against public media and journalists that was being incited by those in power.
Prime Minister Janša, reacting on his Twitter profile, denounced the incident by saying it has nothing to do with freedom of expression.
"It is violence against that freedom. All must be done to condemn and punish every self-willed and violent appropriation of public space and threats on the same terms and everywhere."
Janša posted four photographs with his tweet, one from Friday's incident, one from a protest at a session of the RTVS programme council a few years ago and photographs from protests in Ljubljana and Koper.
Vdor v poslopje @RTV_Slovenija ali katero koli drugo javno zgradbo nima nobene zveze s svobodo izražanja. Je nasilje nad to svobodo. Storiti je treba vse, da se vsako samovoljno in nasilno prilaščanje javnega prostora in grožnje obsodi in kaznuje z enakimi vatli vedno in povsod. pic.twitter.com/bTsu4VIpnp— Janez Janša (@JJansaSDS) September 4, 2021
He retweeted several other posts, including a tweet by Gregor Perič, the head of MPs of the junior coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC), saying it all started with a chainsaw in front of the parliament building, continued with attacks on MPs and now the storm to RTV Slovenija, which he condemned.
Janša also retweeted a post which said "the RTVS news programme has been encouraging for a year illegal neofascist protests, vandalism against public institutions, anti-vaxxer delusions [...] while now they are puzzled as they reap what they sowed".
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs, condemning the incident in the strongest terms, tweeted it was partly the result of "what is being generated by [email protected], Prebold [email protected], and fake news @[email protected]".
He was referring to Jaša Jenull, a leading face of Friday's anti-government cycling protests, the Prebold primary school headteacher, who is known for his opposition to Covid measures, and the RTVS news magazine programme Tarča.
Hojs said penal and public order legislation would have to be toughened in response to the developments.
STA, 21 July 2021 - The Administrative Court has granted the STA's request to stay the implementation of the regulation adopted by the government in June that introduces detailed rules governing the public service provided by the STA and its financing, which the STA is challenging on the grounds of its being unlawful.
While the court is yet to decide substantively on the suit brought by the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), it decided to suspend its implementation pending a final decision arguing the arguments and documents presented by the STA indicate the likelihood of the agency sustaining damage that would be hard to repair if the challenged regulation was enforced.
The court notes that in arguing its case the STA has proved it has not received any payment for the public service this year from the government as defendant, where the Government Communication Office (UKOM) argues the reason for non-payment is that it has not signed any agreement with the plaintiff and has thus assumed no liability for payment.
The court also accepted as valid the agency's argument that the government or UKOM on its behalf is trying to force the agency into singing an agreement based on the regulation it is challenging with the threat of continued non-financing.
Since appropriate financing of the public service is essential for the agency to continue as a going concern, the court upheld the STA's argument that with the enforcement of the regulation the agency would sustain hard to repair damage.
The court established that with revenue from commercial services alone, the STA cannot cover even labour expenses, let alone other expenses, which could lead to its insolvency and ultimately to bankruptcy.
The court notes that STA financing is regulated in Article 20 of the STA act, thus the government as the defendant cannot invoke the challenged regulation as a means by which it would authorize UKOM to provide financing to the STA or that potential suspension of the regulation would stay all procedures as UKOM's powers would cease.
In response to the government's argument that the STA's existence is no longer jeopardised after the STA sold its claims against the founder, the court says only one monthly claim from May 2021 has been sold, which given the agency's dire financial state does not yet mean it is not facing the threat of hard to repair damage.
STA director Bojan Veselinovič hailed the court's decision as "yet another confirmation by the judicial branch of power that the government should have financed us long ago, an obligation imposed on it by 7th Covid relief act".
The act stipulates that the government provide financing to the STA this year in accordance with the agency's business plan regardless of whether an agreement has been signed or not.
"Nevertheless, the STA has been negotiating on its content, but not in ill faith like UKOM, which has drawn up a wording of the agreement without taking into consideration any of our key remarks. It was sent to us on Tuesday afternoon with an ultimatum for us to sign it by today, which suggests that the plaintiff may have been notified of the court's decision by then," said Veselinovič.
Since the proposed agreement was based on a regulation that was now stayed, the STA management will in a formal response to UKOM today call for financing to be provided immediately in line with the law.
Veselinovič said that the STA will also demand of UKOM to pay the promised advance even before the resumption of new talks, without setting any conditions, saying the agency's future is at stake.
The STA has notified the European Commission and international public on the latest developments.
Responding to the court's decision, UKOM rejected Veselinovič's claim that the STA's remarks had not been taken into account, arguing that several remarks had been included in the agreement.
It also said the STA continued to flaunt its public service obligation by refusing to let any media use content published as part of the public service, which is "a clear violation of the law".
The STA has argued in the negotiations that its public service license does not amount to other media being able to simply republish content without payment, it merely meant certain content was not paywalled.
According to UKOM, the proposed agreement would have released funding, but this is not possible now, which is why it has had to reject the request for payment of the public service fee for June.
A new agreement can be signed once it is "adjusted to the new circumstances" and assuming the STA recognises UKOM as the representative of the founder, it said.
Before the government regulation was adopted, UKOM was not explicitly named as the government entity responsible for the STA, a point invoked by the STA in its refusal to hand over the documentation UKOM had requested. Once the regulation named UKOM as the entity responsible, it received the requested documentation.
STA, 20 July 2021 - Presenting the 2021 Rule of Law Report, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova and Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders called on the Slovenian authorities on Tuesday to ensure a stable financing of the STA. Reynders pointed to potential measures in the wake of Slovenia's non-appointment of European delegated prosecutors come autumn.
Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Jourova noted that she had openly criticised the precarious funding of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) on a number of occasions. The STA provides public service and in line with Slovenian law such service should receive a stable financing so that journalists could do their work, she said.
The Commission is closely monitoring the situation. "We expect the Slovenian authorities will resume a stable financing," she told the press conference.
Jourova also commented on the recent campaign raising donations for the STA, saying that she liked the project, but as commissioner she also needed to stress that such a solution was not systemic and was as such unwelcome.
She said that the Commission's swift response in April to approve EUR 2.5 million in state aid to the STA, based on Slovenia's notification of these funds, showed Brussels believed it was key to provide sufficient funding for the agency.
Commissioner for Justice Reynders also highlighted the importance of a stable STA financing. According to him, the Commission insisted that the agency receive appropriate funding when it visited Slovenia at the start of the country's EU presidency.
Reynders again urged Slovenia to appoint its two European delegated prosecutors as soon as possible. If this will not happen, he will decide on measures post summer, he said.
The second Rule of Law Report raises concerns over Slovenia's failure to appoint prosecutors to the European Public Prosecutor's Office as well as over "unjustified delay" in appointing state prosecutors.
The Commission also voiced concern in the report about the deteriorating situation of media freedom and pluralism in Slovenia, warning about "online harassment of and threats against journalists" and lawsuits aimed at intimidating journalists.
Responding to the release of the report, European Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, who comes from Slovenia, told the STA that the Commission's main message in the report was to highlight serious concerns about the rule of law in Slovenia, particularly when it comes to the independence of prosecutors and media.
He highlighted the urgency of ensuring the STA's independence. "This is about two things - financing and preserving independence," he said, noting that the Commission was also clear in letting the Slovenian authorities know that the financing of the STA hence could not be subject to reducing its autonomy.
Asked why the report uses relatively mild warnings in the case of the STA funding given that the Commission has been known to voice concerns about the situation in a more direct manner, Lenarčič said that the report was straightforward in stating there is no funding for the agency even though it is required by law.
The report is mostly seen as a set of early-stage warnings, but if the situation in individual member states does not improve, the Commission has several mechanisms at its disposal to take action, he said.
Responding on Twitter, Prime Minister Janez Janša described Lenarčič's comments as political, adding that he had joined some individuals within the Commission who were trying to set conditions for EU recovery funds for Slovenia. "Luckily he remained a minority. It's the first known example of a commissioner trying to harm his own country directly," Janša tweeted.
STA, 5 July 2021 - The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a coalition of press freedom organisations and journalism groups, stressed on Monday that media freedom was at risk in Slovenia. Attacks on Slovenian media take place at multiple levels, both legislative and administrative, and on social networks, the group said.
Presenting its report released at the end of last month after a virtual fact-finding mission to Slovenia in late May and early June, representatives of MFRR partner organisations highlighted government attacks on the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and public broadcaster RTV Slovenija today.
With the report noting that Slovenia has seen press freedom deteriorate ever since Prime Minister Janez Janša returned to power in March 2020, MFRR representatives said today that aggressive efforts were under way to take control over public media.
A mix of legal and administrative pressure is being used as well as attacks, often personal, aimed at undermining the integrity and independence of these institutions. "What is worrying is that this is happening during the pandemic, when objective reporting is crucial," said Jamie Wiseman from the International Press Institute (IPI).
Tim Schoot Uiterkamp from foundation Free Press Unlimited (FPU) said that during the mission in Slovenia representatives of the Slovenian government had mostly justified their actions by arguing that the media landscape needed to be balanced and that a network of fierce government opponents controlled the media.
Government officials also pointed to the problems that existed before this government. Schoot Uiterkamp said that problems from that period had been detected but that the current government had used those weaknesses and deepened them rather than trying to eliminate them.
MFRR representatives warned that the Slovenian government was copying the illiberal model of democracy from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and that the ruling Democrats (SDS) had set up a network of party media before taking office, and now they were discrediting media and journalists and trying to present the media landscape as a battle between the left and right activism to undermine trust in the media.
"We are concerned by the spreading of this model," said Schoot Uiterkamp, adding though that not everything was lost in Slovenia's case.
What is positive in Slovenia is that media and the civil society have recognised the threat and shown some solidarity. The stronger and the more independent the public media outlets are, the easier they can resist to such pressure, said Renate Schroeder, the head of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).
Schoot Uiterkamp urged Slovenian journalists to remain alert, continue to show solidarity with their peers and continue to resist pressure, as this was what differentiates Slovenia from Hungary and Poland, where no such resistance could be felt.
He also called on European institutions to monitor the situation closely and respond to developments in Slovenia, and to adopt as soon as possible a directive against strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP).
He said Brussels should also launch a mechanism of withholding EU budget payments to countries where governments bend the rule of law.
Laurens Hueting from the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) assessed that at present there was no need to launch the procedure foreseen under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union and expressed hope that this would never be necessary.
STA, 28 June 2021 - The government has asked its communication office to transfer a EUR 845,000 advance to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) for the expected expenses related to the performance of public service once the STA provides UKOM with access into business documentation for the last ten years and if a contract on public service is signed.
The advance must be transferred within three days following the day the STA director allows authorised persons of the Government Communication Office (UKOM) to access the documentation and if the contract for 2021 is signed by then.
The proposals from the government as the sole founder and shareholder of the national press agency were confirmed at the annual general meeting today.
STA director Bojan Veselinovič is obligated to allow authorised representatives of UKOM immediate access to data and information about the internal organisational and accounting and financial structure of business processes and access to the entire documentation on financial operations since 28 June 2011.
On the other hand, with the purpose of "ensuring comprehensive and undisrupted performance of public service", the government asked UKOM director Uroš Urbanija to transfer to the STA a EUR 845,000 advance for the expected expenses related to the performance of public service.
Another condition is that the STA sign by then with UKOM director a contract for the performance of public service for 2021 and provides public availability of the content on the website that corresponds to the public service from the relevant legal act.
The final and overall amount of compensation for the performance of public service since 1 January will be established by UKOM in accordance with the relevant regulation that has been recently adopted.
The government also instructed Veselinovič to withdraw within 48 hours the lawsuit seeking payment for the public service from UKOM at the Ljubljana District Court, and to report about this to UKOM.
In a press release issued after the meeting, UKOM said it was the government's duty to see to efficient use of the taxpayers' money, while the agency's duty was to use the money as efficiently as possible and to keep the government comprehensively up to date on the spending.
UKOM finds that most of the STA's online content is only available to subscribers and free access is only available to short news ledes, so most of the public exert their right to being informed by reading the web portals of other providers, which provide full summaries of news reports for free as they pay for the commercial services provided by the STA.
The release sad the government pegged the financing of the public service to the scope of the public service performed under the STA business plan in order to expand the scope of the public service provided.
"If the government provided the fee for the public service in advance as so far, it would renounce the only mechanism allowing it to check to what extent the STA business plan has in fact been implemented, nor could it encourage the STA to its increased implementation," UKOM said.
UKOM says it hopes the STA management and supervisory board would realise the STA's mission is to strengthen the public service rather than increase commercial activities. The government detailed such mode of financing in the decree on the STA public service, which had to be aligned with EU law.
UKOM also "condemned in the strongest terms" as misleading the STA management's interpreting the government's demand to report on the use of the taxpayers' money as the government's interference in editorial policy.
Veselinovič welcomed the "government's announcement that it will supposedly end the suspension of financing of the STA", saying the STA would have sent all business information and documents to UKOM long ago had it demanded it in a legal way.
He said that it was only at today's shareholders meeting that the government had legally authorised UKOM to gain insight into the STA documentation, although the documentation had been in the government building since April.
"Once UKOM tells us what information about the operations of the STA in the past decade it wants and in what way, the STA will send it. We have no problems whatsoever with this, as the STA operates transparently and it is scrutinised by authorised auditors."
As for the new contract, Veselinovič said that the law "stipulates financing of the STA in accordance with the adopted business plan for this year regardless of whether a contract has been signed or not."
Regarding the call on the director to withdraw the lawsuit seeking payment for the public service from UKOM, he said that the STA management would consult legal experts about this.
After the STA receives the 845,000 advance, it will withdraw the proposal for the court to order UKOM to make due payments for public service before the final decision is made, because the liquidity of the agency will no longer be at risk, he added.
The Association of Slovenian Journalists (DNS) repeated that the government has a duty under two pieces of legislation to pay the STA for the public service, describing additional conditions that are being set for the financing and which would increase the UKOM director's control over the STA's operations as extortion.
"The government must be aware it is overstepping its legal powers, but counts on it that being in a financial pinch, the STA will be forced to consent to its terms," the DNS said, adding it would follow the developments further.
The STA has been without government payment for its public service for 179 days.
STA, 20 June 2021 - The Slovenian Press Agency (STA) will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a ceremony in front of its headquarters in Ljubljana on Sunday to mark the day 30 years ago when it published its first news article.
The STA was entered in the national register of companies on 3 June 1991, and started operating on 20 June 1991, a few days ahead of the official declaration of Slovenia's independence.
On this day 30 years ago, the national news agency published its first news article in Slovenian and English in a bid to form a channel of communication with the domestic and foreign public.
Since its humble and difficult beginnings during the Slovenian war of independence, the STA has developed into a modern media service that provides text articles, audio clips, photographs, livestreams and several other types of content.
Employing more than 80 journalists, photographers and other staff, the STA publishes more than 350 news items in Slovenian and English daily.
In the 30 years of its existence, the agency has published more than 2.5 million news items and other pieces of text content in Slovenia and more than 270,000 in English, around a million photographs and more than 130,000 audio recordings.
The anniversary comes at a difficult time as the agency has not been paid by the government for the public service it provides for more than 170 days and is on the verge of insolvency.
Jumping in to help was the Slovenian Journalist Association (DNS), which launched a donation campaign in May as part of which more than a quarter million euro has been raised for the agency.
The association has also proposed that President Borut Pahor decorate the STA on the anniversary, which the president responding affirmatively. The agency will thus receive the Order of Merit at Presidential Palace on Wednesday.