STA, 13 July 2022 - As the European Commission released its third annual Rule of Law Report on Wednesday, its Vice President Vera Jourova said past developments in the media in Slovenia, including the suspension of financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), have prompted the Commission to start considering media rules that will apply to all EU member states.
"I will not hide that the situation in Slovenia, especially what we saw in the past, with the difficulties in the financing of the STA, and some other issues caused that we started thinking about having some legally binding rules, which will apply across all EU member states and which will protect media space better," Jourova said in response to a question about the developments at RTV Slovenija.
The Commission reacted with the preparation of a media freedom act where the Commission addresses the issues of public and private media, also with respect to financing and stability of functioning of especially public media.
In presenting the Rule of Law report, the commissioner said it would be a basis for discussion with representatives of EU member states, also about the media and the condition of journalists.
Press conference on 2022 #RuleOfLaw Report⚖️— EU Justice (@EU_Justice) July 13, 2022
with @VeraJourova and @dreynders
?Watch live on @EC_AVService after today's @EU_Commission College meeting⤵️https://t.co/0RoQwWDNoW pic.twitter.com/pUEZPxvnBU
In the report, the Commission recommends Slovenia to strengthen "the rules and mechanisms to enhance the independent governance and editorial independence of public service media taking into account European standards on public service media".
It finds that the situation of media freedom and pluralism in the country has not improved since last year's report.
Despite legal safeguards providing for the independence of public service media, the report notes challenges regarding the effectiveness of those safeguards in practice in limiting political influence.
The report, which refers to a report by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom for 2022, points to the procedures to appoint the programme council of RTV Slovenija as most members are appointed by parliament, political parties and the government.
The Culture Ministry agrees with the main findings of the report, noting that it has been striving for greater independence and autonomy of public media, plurality, transparent ownership and transparent spending of public money for advertising. It also plans to improve working conditions for journalists.
The ministry noted in its response to the report that the new government had put forward a bill to reform council and management of the public broadcaster in a bid to de-politicise it.
The current programme council and supervisory board would be replaced by a single 17-member council none of whose members would be appointed by parliament. The bill is expected to be passed on Thursday.
EU sources commented on the proposed bill by saying that Brussels welcomed the government's willingness to take action and introduce more safeguards to protect the independence of journalists. However, the Commission's recommendation should also be seen in this context, they said.
The Commission's report finds that while funding of the STA has been restored and it gives the agency greater stability, some of the provisions in the financing agreement could indirectly affect its editorial autonomy.
The Commission also notes "a hostile environment, online harassment of and threats against journalists" as growing sources of concern, noting that several lawsuits against journalists with intimidating effect have been reported.
It recommends the country establish legislative and other safeguards to protect journalists, particularly online, taking into account European standards on the protection of journalists.
The Trade Union of Journalists (SNS) responded by saying Slovenian media landscape was at a crossroads and that future developments would depend on the new media policy and national media strategy.
The union also stressed that RTV Slovenija staff had been warning of the issues raised by the Commission for at least two months before they had announced a strike.
"For now the government is only trying to put out the fire with changes to the RTV act, while the issue of financing of the public RTV is not its priority," the SNS said.
Commenting on the Slovenian justice system, the Commission noted "some improvements in quality and efficiency, and regarding issues raised in the 2021 Rule of Law Report, such as the nomination of European Delegated Prosecutors".
However, it also pointed to concerns over the interior minister's powers to instruct the police in individual cases, potentially affecting independent work of state prosecutors and the European Public Prosecutor's Office.
"Rules governing parliamentary inquiries lack safeguards on independence of judges and state prosecutors - as required by Constitutional Court judgments. The government decreased, without consultation with judicial authorities, the previously agreed budget for courts, the Judicial Council and the State Prosecution," reads the report.
The Justice Ministry welcomed the report, saying that it reflected the actual situation in the country in the last two years under the previous government and that the new cabinet had already started to tackle some issues highlighted by the Commission.
As for fight against corruption, the Commission calls for removing obstacles to the investigation and prosecution of corruption cases, including by ensuring the operational autonomy of the National Bureau of Investigation, increasing the resources of State Prosecution and revising the statute of limitation.
Slovenia should adopt and start implementing without further delay the anti-corruption strategy, the report says.
In the section on institutional issues related to checks and balances, the Commission pointed to deficiencies of the public finance act in securing the financial autonomy of certain independent bodies, and called for safeguards.
Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina welcomed the report and called on relevant institutions to study them and transpose the proposed solutions into Slovenian legislation as soon as possible. He also called for a public debate on the report among experts.
EU member states will discuss the rule of law situation in the EU based on the Commission's report in the autumn. EU affairs ministers will discuss the rule of law in Slovenia, Romania, Portugal, Poland and Slovakia in November.
STA, 4 July 2022 - Nova24TV clearly shows the Democratic Party's (SDS) idea of how a media outlet should be is similar to that of the Communist Party workers in the darkest communist times, Reporter magazine says in Monday's editorial in response to a Nova24TV viewer inciting to an armed fight against the new government on a call-in show last week.
"This is no longer just hate speech", by calling to a showdown with arms, Nova24TV took a step further which can no longer be dismissed as an unimportant incident.
It is now up to institutions from the police and prosecutors to the Agency for Communication Networks and Services to take action.
A normal media outlet would have already acted and fired the TV station's director and host Boris Tomašič, who did not interrupt the viewer but supported his appeal.
Advertisers would have also responded immediately by stopping financing "Janša's factory of lies and propaganda", which is also financed by Viktor Orban's tycoons.
"The genie has been long out of the bottle... They deliberately spread hate, incite to stir up the lowest emotions in people," runs the editorial headlined Media Monster.
Reporter says "this is not journalism", it is "the most disgusting and primitive political propaganda", and Janša's "darkest reflection in the mirror".
It is a political propaganda project born in his mind when he came out of prison and presented it in January 2015 to a wider circle of invitees at the seat of the SDS.
In spring 2016, Reporter welcomed the arrival of the new TV station because it expected it "to make the stuffy media space ridden with left-wing ideology more plural".
While Nova24TV was billed as a Slovenian version of American conservative Fox News, "Slovenia instead got a media cesspit, which fortunately has low ratings..."
Reporter says that Tomašič "deliberately incited people against the SDS's political opponents, probably not for the first time".
Those who called in were getting angrier, and the host was only fuelling them with his comments, responding to the caller who urged to an armed clash by saying: "They came to power with blood, and they will apparently only leave by force."
STA, 29 June 2022 - MPs rejected on Wednesday the Democrats' (SDS) motion for a referendum on the opposition party's own legislative proposal to scrap the compulsory subscription fee for public broadcaster RTV Slovenija. Also voted down was the SDS's proposal to have the government as opposed to parliament appoint the state's supervisors at the STA.
The RTVS motion for a consultative referendum, put forward with the argument that the broadcaster had lost up to 250,000 viewers in the past decade and that people should decide on their own if and how much subscription to pay, was rejected in a 54:28 vote.
While the SDS and the fellow opposition New Slovenia (NSi) argued the EUR 12.75 monthly fee was higher in Slovenia than in some other European countries and the efficacy of RTVS poorer, the Culture Ministry warned the changes sentinelled significant financial consequences and would prevent the provision of information in line with public interest.
The government labelled the referendum proposal unacceptable, saying the aim of the idea's proponents was to financially ruin the public broadcaster.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly also rejected the SDS's proposal for changes to the act on the Slovenian Press Agency (STA).
In line with the changes, the government and no longer parliament would appoint four of the STA's supervisors, while the changes would also affect rules governing the agency's income from copyrighted photos.
MPs voted 54:22 against the proposal, with the coalition arguing that it ran counter to its commitment for changes to media legislation that would reduce political influence, boost the independence of public media and secure stable funding for content that is in public interest.
The government had moreover argued that the proposal was not based on studies concerning the agency's execution of its public service and market activities and lacked an assessment of the impact, especially on the STA's financial situation.
A number of other opposition-filed legislation proposals were rejected in parliament today, including an SDS motion addressing rules on the awarding of public licences to pharmacies deemed unconstitutional in some respects by the Constitutional Court.
STA, 20 June 2022 - The in-house trade unions at RTV Slovenija will go on strike between 2pm and 11pm after talks on their demands following the 23 May strike brought no progress. The management is meanwhile surprised that the staff will resume the May strike, arguing that a number of proposals had been offered to implement the strike demands.
Before the strike, Culture Minister Asta Vrečko, whose ministry is in charge of media policy, will give a statement to the press about the situation at RTV Slovenija.
The new government has announced to change media legislation, including the RTV Slovenija law, to eliminate the influence of politics on the public broadcaster.
The trade unions claim the talks with the management have brought no progress on journalistic, editorial and institutional autonomy, changes to staffing policy and a raise in the lowest wages, their main demands.
As part of today's strike a rally will be held at 7pm in Republic Square, across the street from the National Assembly, to urge action from decision makers.
The public broadcaster's Programme Council will meanwhile meet to decide on its approval of sport journalist Urban Laurenčič's candidacy for TV Slovenija director.
The broadcaster's TV arm has been without a full-fledged director since Natalija Gorščak was dismissed last August.
The council will also discuss the management's proposal to severely reduce the network of correspondents abroad, a move strongly opposed by the staff and journalist organisations.
A day before the strike, the management urged the trade unions to cancel the strike to prevent the damage it would cause to the broadcaster, arguing it had offered to address all strike demands in a strike agreement.
The unions responded by saying the strike will go on as planned, adding that some strike demands had been addressed in the talks but not the main ones. They labelled director general Andrej Grah Whatmough's latest appeal and offer to sign the strike agreement by Monday 10am as an ultimatum and another attempt at preventing the strike.
STA, 31 May 2022 - The company Nova Obzorja, which publishes weekly Demokracija and web portal Škandal24.si, has a new majority owner. The two-third majority share has been transferred from Hungarian company R-Post-R to NovaTV24.si, the company running the Nova24TV news television channel.
According to data by AJPES, the agency for public legal records, the Hungarian company owned by businessman Peter Schatz, one of the key players in Hungarian PM Viktor Orban's media expansion in the Balkans, is no longer the owner of 65.85% of Nova Obzorja.
As of 25 May, the new majority owner is NovaTV24.si, while the remaining 30.14% is still owned by the Democratic Party (SDS) and 4% by SDS MP Dejan Kaloh.
But based on the share register and other sources, media reported in recent years that three of NovaTV24.si's largest owners were Hungarian companies associated with Orban and his Fidesz party, which has recently been strengthening its rule in Hungary and spreading its influence in the region.
Reportedly, three largest owners of NovaTV24.si are asset management company Hespereia, financial holding Okeanis and media publisher Ridikul, each owning a 29.3% share. The remaining 12.1% are owned by small shareholders, many of whom are prominent SDS members and people associated with the party.
Hespereia also owns 73% of media company Nova Hiša, the company running web portal Nova24TV. The remaining 27% is owned by small shareholders, many of whom are again prominent SDS members and people associated with the party.
Nova Hiša ownership has remained unchanged for now, and there has also been no reports of ownership changes at NovaTV24.si.
According to unofficial information by portal Necenzurirano, the ownership changes are part of preparations for the sale of the entire media empire associated with the SDS and withdrawal of the Hungarian capital.
The Hungarian financing of these media outlets has been the subject of parliamentary inquiries in recent years while media reported before the start of the term of the outgoing Janez Janša government that the issue was also being investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation.
STA, 18 May 2022 - Under amendments to the RTV Slovenija act sponsored by the opposition Democrats (SDS), the public broadcaster's license fee would no longer be mandatory. The new coalition opposes the proposal, saying it would ruin RTV Slovenija, whereas the other opposition party, New Slovenia (NSi), supports it.
Since the SDS filed a motion today to call a referendum on the changes to the legislation, the bill's consideration will take more time than initially thought.
In addition to the license fee becoming voluntary, the amount payable would be determined by citizens themselves, said Alenka Jeraj from the SDS as she presented the proposal at Wednesday's session of the National Assembly. According to her, the broadcaster is not as credible and objective as it should be and has lost 200,000-250,000 viewers in the past ten years.
The emerging coalition of the Freedom Movement, Social Democrats (SD) and Left finds the proposal an attempt to undermine RTV Slovenija in a financial sense as well.
They agree that the RTV Slovenija act needs to be changed, but in a way to depoliticise the broadcaster and ensure editorial autonomy, said Predrag Baković from the SD in parliament. They have also tabled their own version of the bill to achieve this, he added.
STA, 6 May 2022 - Responding to a protest letter from the Trade Union of Journalists (SNS) which speaks of pressure on the staff of the popular current affairs show Studio City, the management of the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija rejected the accusations, demanding proof of the claims or in the opposite case, an apology.
In Friday's press release, the management of the public broadcaster strongly rejected the accusations of pressure and regretted that the trade union decided not to conduct direct dialogue with the management before addressing the public.
It said that such a way of communication was inadmissible damaging the reputation of the public broadcaster, adding that such an approach failed to enable constructive dialogue.
The letter was penned after Studio City, a TV Slovenija show hosted by Marcel Štefančič since 1998, was suspended two months ago, whereupon the host's contract was not extended. The management has since announced that the show will return in May in a changed format and with a new host.
The SNS called on the management on Thursday to stop exerting pressure on Studio City's team, saying it intended to use all legal and other means to protect their professional integrity, which is now threatened, including from the TV Slovenija news programme editor-in-chief.
The management said in Friday's press release that it demanded from the trade union to present clear explanations and proof of the alleged pressure from the management on the editors of the show.
"If there has been undue pressure on the creators of Studio City, we will take appropriate action, otherwise we expect an apology from the union and retraction of the statements."
The management assessed that the SNS's demand that Štefančič return to the show as host exceeded its competences, as the content of the programme is entirely within the powers of the editor-in-chief, who is also legally responsible for it.
It reiterated that the contract with Štefančič was not terminated but expired at the end of March, and that the management decided not to renew it due to his "insulting statements".
The Mladinsko Theatre meanwhile announced that Štefančič would host a special edition of Studio City on Monday at the Mladinsko Theatre live. A ticket will cost two euro, and the show will also be streamed online.
Editors of RTV Slovenija TV programmes meanwhile urged director general Andrej Grah Whatmough in a statement obtained by the STA to find a solution to the benefit of the public broadcaster and the viewers. They said Studio City was a very important show and a trademark of RTV Slovenija, so any changes that would not be coordinated with the editors, journalists and hosts could damage RTV Slovenija's reputation.
STA, 23 March 2022 - All four KUL parties and the Freedom Movement issued a joint statement on Wednesday protesting against attempts to subjugate public broadcaster RTV Slovenija and supporting journalists' warnings about irregularities and pressure they experience at work. They pledged to change legislation after the elections to prevent political interference.
The new legislative framework will enable RTV Slovenija journalists to do their work professionally and independently "without politics interfering in their work or in expert management of the public media outlet", reads the statement.
It was signed by opposition LMŠ leader Marjan Šarec, SD leader Tanja Fajon, Left leader Luka Mesec, SAB leader Alenka Bratušek and Robert Golob from the non-parliamentary Freedom Movement.
They said that just like RTV Slovenija journalists, "we are shocked at the dismantling of the public broadcaster, which follows the long financial starvation of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA)."
They also warned that the attacks and subjugation of public media outlets are undermining democracy and the Slovenian statehood.
The statement highlights "the total bending of the rules and violation of regulations" in a number of appointments, including of the supervisory board and programming council, TV Slovenija director, TV Slovenija news programmes editor-in-chief, multimedia centre MMC editor or the two-time appointment of the same director general.
All this is to "intimidate journalists, destroy their independence and professional integrity, and transform RTV Slovenija into a government mouthpiece".
The statement also takes issue with "forced and rushed" changes to TV news programmes that should attract more viewers, but in reality their goal is to "abuse the public service and to fully instrumentalise by one party".
Just as was the case with the STA, the authorities are ignoring warnings from the civil society and the international professional public.
RTV Slovenija is not just a producer of news content but also one of the founding blocks of sovereignty of the Slovenian nation and a key pillar of democracy. "This is the reason why its dangerous political subjugation needs to be stopped immediately," concludes the statement.
The leadership of the public broadcaster rejected the allegations. In a written statement signed by director general Andrej Grah Whatmough, they say they strongly support journalist and editorial independence and condemn any abuse of the public service and its creators to score electoral points.
They say the leadership never exerted pressure on journalists or editors, which "is supported by the fact that none of the many organisations (trade unions and staff organisations) have ever notified the leadership of any case of pressure".
Meanwhile, the statement says that the RTV Slovenija leadership has often warned the public of unacceptable pressure from politics, organisations and other groups of public and reported some to the relevant institutions.
It also said that the Ljubljana Labour and Social Court had endorsed changes to the procedure for the appointment of the MMC editor, which the staff oppose.
Peter Gregorčič, the head of the RTV Slovenija programming council, sees the statement by KUL and Freedom Movement as political pressure on the public broadcaster.
STA, 7 March 2022 - Journalists at RTV Slovenija staged a news conference in front of the public broadcaster on Monday to demand full editorial independence and protest against deteriorating working conditions, mobbing and political pressure. TV Slovenija journalists also oppose Jadranka Rebernik's appointment as editor-in-chief of TV news programmes.
The staff expect changes to news programmes to be decided on solely by RTV Slovenija, while the decisions must not be made at the initiative of political parties or powerful individuals, nor to their benefit.
TV journalist Saša Krajnc said TV Slovenija One programmes are increasingly impoverished, scheduled shows are often not aired at the set times, and decisions to broadcast foreign shows or rallies did not come as a surprise only to the general public but also to RTV Slovenija staff.
This is after TV Slovenija has broadcast two BBC shows on Ukraine since Russia's invasion plus one of the rallies in support of Ukraine, the one which featured senior government officials, including Prime Minister Janez Janša, as key-note speakers.
He also took issue with the controversial changes to the public broadcaster's 2022 production plan over which the previous editor-in-chief of TV news programmes resigned in October. Some of the news shows were abolished, others were shortened or relegated from channel one to channel two.
Kranjc said that some of the news programmes that should have been launched on channel two after the Beijing Olympics have been yet again postponed.
The staff urged the 29-strong programming council to do its job in an independent and unbiased manner. The new lineup had its maiden session in mid-February after 21 members who newly appointed and are seen to be close to the director general.
The staff expects political parties to refrain from attempts to interfere in the work of RTV Slovenija, saying the broadcaster is in the service of the public.
Tatjana Pirc from Radio Slovenija pointed to the unwarranted criticism the Government Communication Office (UKOM) has been making in its reports as it scrutinises RTV Slovenija reporting.
The journalists believe the RTV Slovenija leadership should react in such cases to protect the staff and prevent attempts to undermine the public broadcaster.
Erika Žnidaršič, the host of the Tarča current affairs show, said the staff behind the latest Tarča, on Russia's invasion on Ukraine, were again pressured and attacked.
"The prime minister called us pro-Russian extremists on the day of the show, after we were called British fascists and a disgrace a day earlier," she said, adding that like several times before, there were calls for her dismissal also this time around.
Igor E. Bergant, a journalist at TV news programmes, said RTV Slovenija director general Andrej Grah Whatmough appointed Rebernik editor-in-chief for a full term on Friday even if the staff overwhelmingly supported her rival Mitja Prek.
If Prek agrees, they will ask the programming council to take a position on his candidacy to eventually replace Rebernik, which is possible under the RTV Slovenija act.
The Slovenian Journalist Association (DNS) and Journalist Trade Union (SNS) expressed support for the staff's demands and labelled Rebernik's appointment unlawful, arguing it is the latest in a series of the director general's controversial moves. The DNS said the move called for his dismissal.
Both argue that Grah Whatmough did not act in line with the law which gives the staff the right to put forward their candidate if the one put forward by the TV Slovenija director does not enjoy their trust. In such a case, the programming council must take a stance on the candidate.
TV Slovenija acting director Valentin Areh had put forward both Rebernik (who received some 20% support) and Prek (around 80%), but Grah Whatmough appointed Rebernik. She took over as acting editor-in-chief in December, and did not oppose the controversial production plan, although she also did not support it.
The DNS and the trade union believe the appointment procedure should be repeated, with the DNS adding the programming council and supervisory board should start a procedure to dismiss the director general since he pushed RTV Slovenija into operating lawfully.
The SNS highlighted that such violations gradually affect editorial autonomy, especially since the director general can count on a comfortable majority on the programming council, which votes on a number of his decisions.
The union said the director general had also announced sanctions against those who express their views, which together with "the established political pressure on journalists from the most aggressive members of the programming council and the UKOM" already affects journalists' day-to-day work. It announced it would take "adequate action" against the leadership over the unlawful moves.
STA, 25 February 2022 - A panel of judges of the Celje District Court found Prime Minister Janez Janša guilty of defaming two journalists whom he called "washed up prostitutes" in a 2016 tweet. In a ruling that is not final yet, Janša got a three-month suspended sentence. He is also to cover the costs of the court proceedings.
The ruling comes after the Supreme Court quashed a guilty ruling over Janša's Twitter post in March 2016 reading "the FB page of the public house is offering cheap services by washed up prostitutes Evgenija C. and Mojca P.Š. One for 30 euros, the other for 35. #PimpMilan".
Today, the Celje court gave Janša two-month suspended sentences for defaming each of the two journalists, TV Slovenija reporter Eugenija Carl and Mojca Šetinc Pašek, who was the editor of the news desk at the public broadcaster at the time. But then handed down a combined suspended sentence of three months.
The president of the panel of judges, Alenka Jazbinšek Žgank, said Janša's tweet had been scornful and insulting.
Šetinc Pašek welcomed the ruling. She said Janša had indeed insulted her and Carl and smeared them both privately and professionally. "This tweet has marked me in a way," she said.
Her lawyer Stojan Zdolšek stressed the court had found the tweet was abject smearing that had nothing to do with criticism of journalist work. He is happy with the ruling although the case is not closed yet.
"We seriously suspect that the case will become statute barred in May, as the court is yet to write the ruling and hand it to the accused and his lawyer. Given Janša's past practice the court will not be able to hand him the ruling on time and the case will become statute barred."
Janša's lawyer Franci Matoz announced an appeal as he is convinced that the ruling could stand no trial and had no foundation. He said he and Janša were used to unfair rulings.
He said Janša had not committed the criminal act that he was accused of, so he expects the higher court to annul the ruling.
In their closing statements on Thursday, Zdolšek and Matoz disagreed over whether Janša had actually insulted the journalists.
Zdolšek argued the criminal act had been proven and that he had "committed a severe criminal act against the honour and good name of the two journalists".
Matoz, however, opined that an average Twitter user could not have known which journalists were being mentioned and that the pair had put the tweet in the spotlight themselves.
Janša was sentenced to a three-month suspended sentence by the Celje District Court in November 2018, but the Celje Higher Court ordered a retrial, which started in June 2021.