Ljubljana related

14 Jul 2022, 10:29 AM

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.

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.

The full report on Slovenia, in English, can be found here

06 Jul 2022, 10:41 AM

STA, 6 July 2022 - After an ownership change at a company publishing the right-wing weekly Demokracija, the news portal Necenzurirano reports that three Hungarian owners have sold their stake in NovaTV24.si, the company running TV channel NovaTV24, to the channel’s director who is also a long-term member of the Democrats (SDS).

Hungarian businessman Peter Schatz sold a majority stake in Nova Obzorja, the company issuing Demokracija, to NovaTV24.si in late May, and he has now also withdrawn from NovaTV24.si.

According to Necenzurirano, Schatz and fellow Hungarian businessmen Agnes Adamik and Adam Gabor Nemeth sold just over 45% of the shares in NovaTV24.si to Boris Tomašič, director of NovaTV24 and a long-term member of the SDS, now an opposition party. He is also the host of the controversial show Who Lies to You.

The Ministry of Culture has confirmed for Necenzurirano that it has given its clearance for the change of ownership of just over 45% of NovaTV24.si shares.

The portal says that it is not clear how much Tomašič paid for the shares, which in 2017 were worth nearly a million euros.

Rumours about Hungarians withdrawing as owners from NovaTV24.si surfaced just after the 24 April general election in Slovenia, in which the SDS-led coalition government was voted out.

Necenzurirano writes that the deal between Tomašič and the three businessmen, who it says are close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, was agreed in mid-May.

The portal notes that the Hungarians offloaded their stakes in NovaTV24.si at a time when the new ruling coalition has filed for a parliamentary inquiry into the financing of party media, mainly from Hungary. Just days ago, parliament endorsed the decision to open the inquiry, appointing former TV Slovenija journalist Mojca Šetinc Pašek, now an MP for the Freedom Movement, as inquiry head.

07 May 2022, 11:38 AM

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.

04 May 2022, 10:40 AM

STA, 3 May 2022 - Slovenia's human rights ombudsman and journalist organisations have urged action to address deteriorating press freedom in the country after Slovenia slid 18 spots to 54th in the latest World Press Freedom Index, the worst yet since Reporters Without Borders started compiling the ranking.

Ombudsman Peter Svetina says it is the authorities' duty to create a climate conducive to media freedom, and expects a suitable legal framework to be put in place to guarantee media freedom, ownership transparency and a ban on dissemination of hate speech in the media.

"For several years, we have been calling for amendments to the media act to provide for ways to protect the public interest, measures to remove illegal content or hate speech, and sanctions on media outlets that condone such speech. It is important the damages awarded are high enough to deter the media from publishing increasingly sensationalist and populist stories," Svetina wrote.

He urged decriminalising defamation, which being a criminal offence he sees as a threat to media freedom. Journalists are often targets of online harassment, and there are increasing reports of strategic lawsuits against journalists.

The ombudsman expects the new government to take on changes to the media law as a priority. "I expect the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and the public broadcasting service [RTV Slovenija], which usually fall hostage to the winners of each election, to be able to work autonomously and without disruption."

The ombudsman also called for steps to make media advertising by national and local governments more transparent, saying the European Commission's noted the country's lack of transparent principles on the payment of media content, in particular at the local level. One problem is state-owned enterprises invoking business secrecy over those data.

The ombudsman also raised precarisation of journalism as another threat to media freedom, urging the state to find appropriate normative solutions to limit the problem.

Calls to change media law and in particular the act on the public broadcasting service have also come from journalist organisations and the NGO Legal Network is working with media experts on a new bill on RTV Slovenija.

The Slovenian Journalists' Association (DNS) noted that RTV Slovenija became the next target of the outgoing government after the STA showed it could not be pressured into submission, also with the help of crowdfunding launched a year ago.

Even though the DNS is not in favour of unsystematic changes to media legislation, they believe urgent action is needed to depoliticise RTV Slovenija and stop the decline in trust and professional standards and to allow the public media to function normally.

Their goal until next World Press Freedom Day will be to reform media legislation in a bid to create a systemic framework for successful functioning of the media in the country. "To do this, we need competent leadership and a team at the Media Directorate [at the Culture Ministry]," the DNS said, adding they expected the new government to deliver on those promises.

"Traditional media are finding it increasingly difficult to fund content that is not just click-bait. Politics, especially the incumbent ruling party, wanted journalists to be loyal political propagandists, and smeared those who refused to cooperate in every possible way," the DNS summed up how it sees the media situation in the country.

Jernej Amon Prodnik of the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences, the main journalism school in Slovenia, sees the decline in the country's press freedom ranking as a result of attacks on journalists and in demolition of the media space taken on systematically by the Janez Janša government when it assumed power in 2020.

"We have never seen such brutal attacks or political appointments of completely incompetent people in Slovenia, even though politics had tried to influence the media before," he said, adding that attacks on and interference in the media are a feature of authoritarian politics worldwide where Slovenia was no exception.

As a key measure to tackle the situation, Amon Prodnik underscored a reform of media law, along with self-restraint exercised by politics. Slovenia's legislation is completely outdated, which in the case of RTV Slovenija act "apparently makes it possible to stage a complete political takeover of a public service".

The leaders of the three parties that are in talks to form the next government reiterated today that tackling media legislation to ensure media freedom would be one of the first priorities of the next government.

Luka Mesec, the leader of the Left, said they had already talked about a media law as one of the first that needed changing and they had solutions ready for the RTV Slovenija act, with Social Democrat leader Tanja Fajon adding the goal was to remove politics from the bodies running RTV Slovenija.

Robert Golob, the leader of the Freedom Movement, the party that won the election, said the slide on the World Press Freedom Index was but one of the signs it was high time to change government "and one of the easier goals for us to make better. We'll need to do that quickly."

PM Janez Janša commented on Twitter, asserting the situation in the Slovenian media space "is much worse still than what various media organisations are finding". He said Reporters Without Borders were not aware of the strong links the left bloc had to the media, noting that "editors and relatives" of the news portal 24ur.com and RTV Slovenija "stood on the tickets of left parties" in the 24 April election.

See the full report

24 Mar 2022, 10:56 AM

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.

07 Mar 2022, 16:06 PM

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.

14 Feb 2022, 12:21 PM

STA, 11 February 2022 - The International Press Institute has a released a report on Hungarian investments in foreign media that suggests the Hungarian model of government control of the media is being transposed to Slovenia, which it says is important in light of Slovenia's upcoming general election.

The report says that after subjugating media at home, the Hungarian government, aided by companies controlled by its political allies, has started building a media empire in Slovenia and North Macedonia that is supposed to "act as megaphones for its regional ideological allies."

Both Slovenia and North Macedonia have thus seen in recent years an inflow of Hungarian investments in media, either in media serving Hungarian national minorities in several countries, or media connected with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ideological allies.

Such investments - the most notable examples in Slovenia include the TV channel Planet TV, publisher Nova Obzorja and TV station and news portal Nova24 - raise serious questions about the exporting of Fidesz's model of illiberal democracy to countries in Hungary's neighbourhood and beyond, the report says.

And while Fidesz politicians insist such investments are purely commercial, IPI says the evidence suggests that they are "rather part of a broad political strategy of influencing media and supporting ideological allies of Fidesz," in Slovenia's case Prime Minister Janez Janša.

The report, available at https://ipi.media/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/hu.pdf, was written in collaboration with independent investigative reporters and leans heavily on Slovenian investigative journalism portals.

03 Jan 2022, 12:08 PM

STA, 3 January - Prime Minister Janez Janša has managed to subjugate several media this term, most notably the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija, and the consequences of that were on display last week when the broadcaster interviewed first him and then the opposition, Reporter magazine says in Monday's commentary The Mollycoddling of Janez Janša.

"While Lidija Hren 'butchered' the presidents of parties, the prime minister was having a friendly chat with Jože Možina. Janša probably cannot remember ever having such a fanning interviewer and we have not seen him so smiling and relaxed on TV Slovenija for a long time," the paper says.

"Televised debates start in a few months and Janša is certain to participate in a few. Will he once again answer Možina's questions, or will they have the courage to 'plant' someone like Hren? ... If anyone, the prime minister deserves a nagging interviewer, not mollycoddling that is an affront to the viewers."

Reporter mentions another media development in the making, alleged plans by the state-owned Telekom Slovenija to boot the biggest commercial channels, POP TV and Kanal A, from its TV offering, a move it says would be "drastic but not unprecedented" given that Telekom already removed a package of sports channels offered by a rival provider a few years ago.

"Wrath by sports fanatics had undoubtedly led many to cancel their subscriptions, but that was a hit Telekom was able to take. The most watched Slovenian television going dark would make many more people irate."

"Whatever you may think about POP TV or Kanal A content, their cumulative reach is so large its exclusion would constitute yet another attempt by Janša at subjugating the media. The viewers would not just grumble and then concede to the new situation," the paper says.

25 Nov 2021, 16:31 PM

STA, 25 November 2021 - Journalists of the news programme of the television arm of RTV Slovenija protested on Thursday against the relevant draft programme and production plan for 2022, calling on the programming council of the public broadcaster to reject it and adjust it so that it "appropriately implements the mission of RTV".

TV Slovenija journalist Igor E. Bergant told the protest press conference that the draft plan had not been significantly changed compared to its initial format despite remarks from the news programme journalists.

The key remarks and warnings remain, with certain changes "in the expert opinion of the news programme journalists being detrimental to the mission of the public institute", as cancelling and relocating shows "is reminiscent of some other times."

According to Bergant, the problem is that the plan is not well worked out in certain segments, and it is completely unclear how it could be realistically implemented at all even if the greatest possible effort was invested.

He believes that the changes do not solve the issue of ratings, as claimed by the management of RTV Slovenija as the initiators of the changes.

"Informing is not the only one, but is certainly one of the key missions of European radio-television services, where ratings are not and must not be the only or the main criterion," Bergant said.

He noted that the news programme journalists at TV Slovenija were not afraid of changes as such, as they wanted to work "even more, even better and in better conditions," while adding that the proposed changes did not enable this.

"The initiators even explicitly speak about an experiment," Bergant said, adding that now was not the time for experiments as RTV Slovenija is facing financial difficulties, but to "focus on what is already known".

The journalists also noted that the issue was not about individuals or politics or about problems with communication, but about an "ill-advised, and partially unprofessional" and "uncoordinated plan".

Manica Janežič Ambrožič, who stepped down as the TV news programme editor-in-chief in mid-October over the plan, said that the shrinking of the programme and moving some of the shows to channel 2 undermined the role and message of RTV Slovenija.

Janežič Ambrožič, who continues to serve as the acting editor-in-chief, noted that "134 colleagues ... think that the planned thorough changes are a step in the wrong direction."

She stressed that the journalists did not stand united because they feared change, but because the plan was an "extremely risky business", adding that changes needed to be "professionally reasoned, discussed and coordinated production-wise."

Also showing up at the protest press conference were many journalists from other media outlets, while support has also been expressed by the expert public.

According to the TV Slovenija news programme journalists, the appeal to the RTV Slovenija management to rethink the draft plan for next year has been signed by 126 out of a total of 143 journalists.

TV Slovenija acting director Valentin Areh rejected the claims by journalists about the news content being shrunk under the plan, adding that the idea was to put the interest of viewers first.

"The news programme of TV Slovenija is in a serious crisis, and ratings for a majority of shows are dropping ... which is why we decided for programme changes modelled after the most successful public broadcasters such as the BBC, ZDF and ORF," he said.

Areh, who is puzzled by the journalists "requesting that nothing must change despite the drastic drop in ratings", added that the management was obliged to take measures and take the wishes and interests of viewers into account.

The Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts meanwhile expressed support for TV Slovenija journalists, saying that the management should lend an ear to the remarks of employees, who should have the main say in such matters.

"Given the currently very chaotic management of the institute, which is becoming increasingly susceptible to informal pressure from external actors and their private interests, the position of the employees is where reasonable reflection should be anchored," adds the statement signed by almost 80 members of the centre.

The programming council of RTV Slovenija is expected to start discussing the plan next Monday.

13 Nov 2021, 09:44 AM

STA, 12 November 2021 - The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) has welcomed the signing of a contract that ended the financial crisis at the Slovenian Press Agency (Slovenska tiskovna agencija - STA), while raising concerns that the current conditions of the deal could leave the STA in a financially weaker position in the long term as it performs its vital public service.

The MFRR noted in a press release on Friday that the agreement between the new acting director of the STA and the director of the Government Communication Office (Urad vlade za komuniciranje - UKOM) "brings to a close a gruelling 10-month crisis".

During the crisis, the "STA was forced to operate without legally-mandated state funding for 312 days and narrowly avoided bankruptcy," it said, noting that UKOM had been repeatedly appealed to reinstate the financing and the issue raised at the EU level.

"While our organisations welcome the end of the immediate crisis, the issues for the STA are far from over. Ultimately, these payments were always due to the agency under two separate laws," the MFRR said.

It noted that several outstanding issues in the contract needed to be resolved and a new business plan and agreement for 2022 need to be approved.

"Moving forward, based on UKOM's handling of this dispute, we also retain concerns that its new oversight of STA's financial activities could infringe on editorial independence. Observation must not morph into interference."

The MFRR added that the crisis had left the STA "drained psychologically as well as financially", and that, "despite pressures and smears from top government officials", its journalists had continued to work with great professionalism and dignity.

The press release also takes note of the crowdfunding campaign for the STA of the Association of Slovenian Journalists (DNS) and the Slovenian Journalists' Union (SNS) that has raised a total of EUR 385,000 to keep the national press agency afloat.

"However, the unavoidable conclusion is that this funding crisis should never have reached this point. We maintain that this manufactured dispute was driven primarily by an effort by the government to try and exert greater control over the STA."

The statement has been co-signed by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), International Press Institute (IPI) and OBC Transeuropa.

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