Ljubljana related

16 May 2021, 10:13 AM

STA, 15 May 2021 - Several radio stations with special status and two national newspapers have been left without the state's financial support and thus face a precarious situation, report the dailies Delo and Dnevnik on Saturday.

Media outlets which applied for the government's co-funding scheme in an annual open call by the Culture Ministry have started receiving the ministry's decisions.

A number of them have failed to secure state funding and thus face financial struggles.

Among these are also the national newspapers Delo and Dnevnik, which reported today that their applications had been rejected for their alleged media bias and because they did not focus on local coverage enough.

According to Dnevnik, the daily received zero points out of ten when it came to criteria determining politically balanced news coverage. Delo meanwhile received two.

Another major newspaper in Slovenia, Večer, was granted EUR 19,000 in what is co-funding for local and regional content, Dnevnik reported.

Media expert Marko Milosavljević from the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences told Dnevnik the ministry's commission in charge of reviewing the applications was in fact politically imbalanced itself.

"A five-member commission makes decisions about media plurality and objectivity with four members being extremely close to the SDS party," he said.

The commission features Matej Makarovič, Borut Rončević, Mitja Štular, Jonatan Vinkler and Suzana Žilič Fišer.

Also soon to be left without government support are five radio stations that enjoy special status under the law, including Radio Študent, a small independent radio station which received almost EUR 100,000 from the state last year. This is 50% of the station's co-funding scheme which will be impossible to secured elsewhere.

"This year's open call was identical to last year's, and so were the assessment criteria, the application was comparable to last year's, the only thing that is different in the entire open call is the composition of the 'expert' commission," Ana Kandare, the head of the Radio Študent institute, told Delo, describing the rejection as politically-motivated.

The remaining radio stations that have not been granted state funding are local Radio Krka, Radio Koroška, Radio Triglav and Radio Kranj. Radio Koroška told Delo that as a result of the cut in funding, the radio station will be forced to reduce its programme for the first time since it was established 60 years ago.

So far, the ministry has not responded to the STA's query regarding the open call. The ministry did tell Dnevnik though that it would make the results of the open call public when all the applicants were notified of the decisions.

Meanwhile, also struggling financially is the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), which remains without government payment for performing public service. The agency has launched court proceedings to seek enforcement of pecuniary obligations for January.

The State Attorney's Office, which is representing the government, rejected an option of a peaceful settlement of the dispute.

In what is the latest development in the STA funding story, the State Attorney's Office lodged a complaint against the enforcement procedure on the last day before the relevant deadline, thus prolonging the proceedings.

The STA management sees the step as a way of stalling and is confident that the enforcement of payment will be secured in court as the law is clear about the state's obligation to provide sufficient funding for the STA.

European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič, the Slovenian member of the European Commission, told Dnevnik's Saturday edition that the Commission was concerned about suspension of the STA funding. The Commission calls for the matter to be resolved without any delay, he said.

Cause for concern are also frequent verbal attacks on journalists in Slovenia, the commissioner said. "Given the European Commission's stance, Slovenia is thus approaching its EU presidency on a bad note," he said.

11 May 2021, 14:14 PM

STA, 10 May 2021 - Some EUR 189,000 has been raised a week into what is planned to be a month-long fundraising campaign to secure funding for the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), which the Association of Slovenian Journalists labelled as an exceptional start. This roughly equals the monthly compensation for the public service performed by the STA.

Launched on 3 May and called "Za obSTAnek", the campaign aims to raise two million euro via small SMS donations and from potential larger donors, as the agency has not received budget funds for its public service for four months.

The Association of Slovenian Journalists said on Monday that donors had responded to the association's call for help, launched on World Press Freedom Day, to make sure that almost 100 STA employees get paid for the work they are doing.

It said that the campaign had brought together individuals, various organisations and companies that are aware of the importance of the public service provided by the STA and that "do not accept journalism dictated by the authorities."

Despite the warnings from the domestic public and international organisations, the decision-makers are yet to fulfil their obligations required by law when it comes to financing the STA, which is why the campaign continues, the association added.

The goal is to secure an amount that equals a one-year compensation for public service to ensure stable operation, regardless of what the government does, as the agency is awaiting a court decision in an enforcement procedure and is looking for some other solutions.

"The position in which the advocates of public interest and public services have found themselves is unsustainable, as individuals and companies again finance the performance of public service instead of the state," the association added.

The details of the fundraising campaign are available at https://zaobstanek.si/.

08 May 2021, 11:44 AM

STA, 7 May 2021 - The weekly Mladina has been asked by police to provide information on how it got hold of classified documents revealing the content of the draft National Recovery and Resilience Plan which the magazine published in February in what Mladina sees as an act of intimidation.

According to Mladina, the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy has assessed that the magazine divulged classified information.

When Mladina published the draft plan on its website in February, the document had still been labelled internal.

An official letter from the Ljubljana Bežigrad police station published by Mladina shows the query for the magazine to provide information about the author of the article, the editor-in-chief and when, how and from whom they obtained documents labelled as internal was made at the request of the Ljubljana District State Prosecution.

Mladina says the article in which the documents were published was signed by the author with a name and surname and the information on who is the editor-in-chief is publicly available, which is why they see police questions as an attempt to intimidate them more than inquiring about relevant facts in trying to prove criminal offences.

The government decided to declassify the document soon after Mladina published the draft, although the opposition had been demanding before that it should be subject to a broad public debate.

Minister for Development, Strategic Projects and Cohesion Zvonko Černač said at the time he had declassified it after its contents had been leaked to a weekly. "The harm has been done and it cannot be repaired," he said in parliament at the end of February.

The Association of Slovenian Journalists (DNS) responded to today's news by saying it was worried about the investigation, especially since the draft document was declassified two weeks after being published, which it said "proved the public was fully entitled to get insight into it".

It pointed to the changes to the penal code adopted on its initiative in 2015 which decriminalised obtaining and publishing confidential data to reveal them to the public if the release is in public interest and if it does not pose a risk to life.

The association thus expects the prosecution of Mladina to immediately stop.

More stories on the media in Slovenia

08 May 2021, 07:28 AM

STA, 7 May 2021 - Delo says in Friday's front-page editorial that the systematic tweeting by Prime Minister Janez Janša is part of a carefully devised political and communication plan to keep his constituency mobilised at a rate that will secure a relative win for his Democrats (SDS) in general election at any time.

For Janša, Twitter has become a key multi-functional tool with which he communicates with his constituency and with the public at the same time, while also attacking political opponents and discrediting critical journalists.

On this platform, the prime minister is also waging "war with the media, which now targets public media by financially draining the Slovenian Press Agency, before it is RTV Slovenija's turn".

According to Delo, the objective of Janša's war with the media is to destroy the traditional public space, which has already been undermined, and to solidify a parallel para-party media ecosystem supported by Hungarian capital.

The final objective is to establish Twitter as the key public media, where it is much easier to manipulate with public opinion than in the established media world, where information is checked systematically and passes through several filters.

The newspaper notes that the use of techniques of astroturfing in connection with the media linked with the SDS has helped establish the increasingly negativist political agenda in the country.

"For the SDS's interests to be fully solidified, public media need to be crushed, for which he does not need 46 votes in the National Assembly, only early elections must be prevented," concludes the commentary “A Systematic Plan is Behind the Yelping of Marshal Tweeto”.

07 May 2021, 10:38 AM

STA, 7 May 2021 - Bojan Veselinovič, the director of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), has announced legal action against Prime Minister Janez Janša after he implied on Twitter that Veselinovič had been involved in the "murder" of a former STA editor-in-chief more than a decade ago.

What Janša wrote exceeds all boundaries, Veselinovič told the TV Slovenija current affairs show Tarča Thursday evening.

The decision comes after Janša wrote on Twitter today: "Incredible for 21st century EU that an accomplice in the murder of a journalist still leads the STA and gets EUR 8,500 per month. More than the president of the republic."

Veselinovič said he would press criminal charges as a private plaintiff and a civil defamation suit.

Responding to Veselinovič's announcement, Janša tweeted today: "Finally. Bullying a journalist who then died must get a closure in court."

Janša added a link to excerpts from a 2009 news conference at which Meško, at the time still STA editor-in-chief, said Veselinovič resorted to all forms of bullying.

Veselinovič meanwhile also sent a cease and desist letter to Uroš Urbanija, Government Communication Office (UKOM) director, who has alleged in several tweets that Veselinovič had taken it out on Meško.

Yesterday, Urbanija tweeted that Veselinovič had sent Meško a termination letter "while he was on his death bed" after "a brutal settling of scores and long-time bullying".

Meško was the editor-in-chief in 2007-2009 and was handed a termination notice on 3 November 2009 due to his failure to draw up strategic plans despite a prior warning. He died in May 2010.

Veselinovič has often come under fire from conservative journalists for firing Meško just before his death, a financial settlement with Meško's family having been used as proof of wrongful termination.

But Veselinovič has insisted he had not known about Meško's illness, a point raised in the cease and desist letter sent to Urbanija yesterday.

The law firm representing Veselinovič said he had not been informed about the illness until May 2010, when he received a letter from Meško's legal representative.

And this letter came with medical documentation that Meško's terminal illness had not been diagnosed until December 2009, a month after he was fired.

This means "it would have been impossible for our client to carry out any of the acts that you allege," said the law firm, which also dismissed all allegations about bullying.

03 May 2021, 11:06 AM

STA, 3 May 2021 - World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on Monday, will be dedicated to the situation at the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) as a fundraising campaign in support of the STA officially kicks off.

The campaign comes after the government suspended financing of the agency. It has been organised by the Association of Slovenian Journalists and the Trade Union of Journalists.

"We are worried about this whole attack on public service that is currently the most evident in the case of the STA, because we can expect RTV Slovenija to be probably next, at least in the sense of control and government attempts at supervising it," says Petra Lesjak Tušek, the head of the association.

Media are always very intertwined with social developments. Being the key institutions of public communication, they are also linked to political life, according to the head of the journalism department at the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences, Jernej Amon Prodnik.

"The battle for the freedom of speech and communication rights has been long and history teaches us that no fight is ever won for good," he said.

But he thinks "we have to be careful and go beyond the narrow understanding of press freedom which is defined simply as the rights of the media owner to do what ever they want with their property".

Journalists are not subjected only to political pressure. Owners often see media as a tool for achieving their own political and economic interests. "We will have to seriously think about how to preserve journalism as a critical and supervisory institution in our society."

Autocratic aspirations, which can be seen in Slovenia and internationally recently, thus have an expectedly negative impact on the media, Amon Prodnik said.

"An authoritative mind does not acknowledge the right to existence to institutions that do not take orders. In this mindset journalists must be obedient servants or they should be discredited, stopped, destroyed."

Amon Prodnik thinks the Covid-19 pandemic has been all too often used as an excuse for curtailing civil liberties and rights in all fields not just in the media.

A recently published annual report by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) shows that many governments around the globe have used the pandemic to increase repression, and journalism has been blocked in more than 130 countries.

However, journalists have been playing an important part during the epidemic, providing fast, efficient and high-quality information, Lesjak Tušek said. The work has been challenging, and entailed a lot of adjusting and flexibility, she added.

"I think trust in traditional media has increased for a reason, which some trust surveys show. Before it seemed that social networks are gaining ground, undermining the classic media, now it has transpired that media still have substantial power and are extremely important, because credible information needs to be separated from a lot of fake news."

The RSF report also pointed to the "dangerous path for press freedom" in Slovenia, which lost four spots to rank 36th among 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Meanwhile, the Association of Journalists and Commentators (ZNP) believes that Slovenian media landscape has seen little change in recent years. There seems to be media pluralism in Slovenia, which allows for different media to be set up, but in fact the media that favour the left political bloc are dominant, the ZNP said.

According to the association, the left-leaning media outlets are very critical of the right-leaning politicians while they are ready to overlook many things when it comes to left-leaning politicians.

"We believe the government, which does not even have influence on any major media outlets, is not the one who is undermining democracy in this country, it is the fragmented, twisted picture that the mainstream media are communicating to the public," the ZNP said.

29 Apr 2021, 21:55 PM

STA, 29 April 2021 - The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, EUR 2.5 million granted by Slovenia to the Slovenian Press Agency (Slovenska tiskovna agencija – STA) in compensation to fulfil its public service mission.

"The public funding will contribute to the independent news provision to the Slovenian public without unduly distorting competition in the single market," the Commission said in announcing its decision on Thursday.

"Today's decision will enable the Slovenian Press Agency STA to continue deliver its important public service. Independent news agencies play an essential role in news media," said Margrethe Vestager, the Commission vice-president who is in charge of competition policy.

"The preservation of an independent national press agency in a member state ensures that news media can refer to a news stream which reports on national and international developments, from the perspective of that country," said Vestager, adding this contributed to the plurality of media and information sources throughout the EU.

Vera Jourova, the Commission vice-president for values and transparency, tweeted: "Funding should be unlocked as soon as possible for the agency to continue its public service - and its independence should remain protected."

Considering that Slovenia had notified the Commission of these funds, the Commission considers that Slovenia intends to pay out the funds, competition speaker Arianna Podesta said.

Podesta said the Commission had made the decision because Slovenia did not wish to withdraw the notification even though the Commission made it clear that a decision is not required for Slovenia to pay out the funds.

The Commission took the decision based on Slovenia's notification in late January of its plan to compensate the STA with EUR 2.5 million for carrying out its activities of informing the Slovenian public about national and international news in 2021.

Having examined the measure, the Commission concluded it is in line with EU state aid rules, as it "fosters a service of general public interest and promotes media plurality, without unduly distorting competition".

It found the STA performs a service of general economic interest, which it could not provide for its national market to the desired extent by its own means and revenues.

"The funding is limited to what is needed to perform STA's public service tasks, which it has to offer free of charge. An annual external and independent audit is ensuring the supervision of these conditions," reads the Commission's argument.

The decision has been welcomed by the STA, which has been without state funding as granted by the law for its public service for the 119th day. The agency said the decision "removes yet another obstacle that the government as the agency's sole shareholder has set to undisrupted financing of the STA".

However, Prime Minister Janez Janša said on the sidelines of his visit to France today that the decision referred to the funds that had already been paid out.

"As far as I know it is the money that has been paid out after the bill was passed in the National Assembly. It was, however, necessary to request for the European Commission's consent under the existing rules. The Finance Ministry has done this and as you say the consent arrived today. But this concerns the funds that have already been paid out," Janša told the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.

STA director Bojan Veselinovič said this was "pure manipulation and a lie". He noted the government had requested for the Commission's opinion on the financing in line with the seventh stimulus law in January, meaning after it entered into force on 31 December 2020.

"The STA has not received a single euro for this year although the Government Communication Office announced in a press release in January that everything would be paid for when the European Commission makes its final decision, which happened today," Veselinovič said.

Janša responded to this on Twitter saying that the STA had received full payment for last year based on its contract with the Government Communication Office (UKOM) "although the STA did not forward the due documents". "All the rest will be transferred after the STA fulfils its legal obligations, government decisions and when a contract is signed with the UKOM. As is the common practice."

The Finance Ministry has not responded to the Commission's decision, while the UKOM told the STA it had not yet received the decision and could thus not comment.

In its first reactions to the notification in January, the Commission said European state aid rules could not serve as an excuse to suspend financing of press agencies in the EU and that state funding may be provided to the STA without a prior notification or the Commission's approval.

The Commission's spokesperson for competition Arianna Podesta said today the Commission had made the decision because the Slovenian authorities would not withdraw the notification of STA financing.

Asked whether the Commission could launch a procedure against the Slovenian authorities if they did not grant the state aid, the Commission said the decision on state aid was in the hands of member states. The EU rules on state aid do not obligate member states to grant state aid, it added.

29 Apr 2021, 13:11 PM

STA, 28 April 2021 - The latest annual report by the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists is critical of what it sees as the Slovenian government's attempts at undermining independent media and stoking harassment of journalists. The platform is particularly alarmed by the situation of RTV Slovenija and the STA.

The 2021 report, which analyses the situation of European media in the past year, was released today. It warns that massive damage was done to media freedom in 2020 and points to increased harassment of journalists as well as a growing number of physical or verbal attacks against them.

The platform reported a record 201 alerts of media freedom violations in 2020, an almost 40% increase on 2019. Only three of those were resolved by the end of 2020. The governments replied to 42% of them, which compares to 50% in 2019.

Slovenia was no exception to this alarming trend, the report says, primarily voicing concerns over the suspension of financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and the government's plans to enact legislative changes that would defund the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.

"The Slovenian government should cease all efforts to damage the independence and credibility of Slovenian public media," the report says.

Slovenia is listed as one of the countries where online harassment of journalists was often fuelled by politicians in the past year.

"Alerts show a high number of verbal attacks in some member states - North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey - being made by representatives of public authorities, including by ministers and heads of government."

RTV Slovenija reporters were the target of online smears and abuse, not only by members of the public, "but by right-wing media outlets and, on some occasions, prominent politicians".

The report highlights an alert in March 2020 that reported a defamation and hate campaign led by the government against journalist Blaž Zgaga. Another alert was issued in April 2020, focusing on Prime Minister Janez Janša's attacks on RTV Slovenija on social media.

Moreover, the report mentions Janša's insulting tweet describing two RTV female reporters as "washed-up prostitutes".

One of them, Eugenija Carl, was also the target of threats, insults and harassment on social media by Janša's supporters and later received a threatening letter containing white powder. Her case is used as an example of how quickly digital threats could translate into the physical world with potentially grave consequences.

The platform notes that Slovenia was one of the countries who in 2020 suspended deadlines by which public bodies were required to respond to freedom of information requests.

The report also warns about the chilling effect of abusive legal proceedings across Europe, noting that defamation should be decriminalised.

"In Slovenia three journalists from the online outlet Necenzurirano.si are facing 13 criminal defamation suits each over a series of articles reporting on the business dealings and connections of Rok Snežič, a friend and tax policy adviser to Prime Minister Janez Janša."

Ahead of 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić called on EU member states in the report to show more political will to protect journalists and independent journalism and to stop the situation from further deterioration.

A PDF of the full report is here

21 Apr 2021, 15:12 PM

STA, 21 April 2021 - European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson will start a two-day visit to Slovenia on Thursday to discuss the country's EU presidency preparations. She intends to raise the issue of media freedom and pluralism as well. Slovenia should not underestimate the risk to its international reputation when it comes to this, Johansson has told the STA.

The visit is primarily aimed at backing Slovenia's preparations for its EU presidency in the second half of 2021. The talks will focus on Schengen, migration and security as well as the situation of media in Slovenia, she told the STA ahead of the visit.

Johansson pointed out that this was not her portfolio, but that of European Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova, who has raised concern over the situation on a number of occasions.

Since there is cause for concern, Johansson intends to raise the issue of media freedom and pluralism as well. She has also warned about harassment of journalists and verbal attacks against them.

Johansson would also like to discuss with the Slovenian government the financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA). "As far as I understand, it's regulated in the law," she said, hopeful that this issue could be resolved in a positive way.

"Slovenia should not underestimate the risk to its international reputation when it comes to media freedom and pluralism", especially just before taking over the EU presidency, she said, noting that these two principles "are a fundamental prerequisite for democracy".

The European Commission puts great emphasis on this issue as any pressure exerted on media freedom or pluralism or even attacks against them are also an attack on democracy, she said, adding that this was the first time this kind of concerns were raised about Slovenia.

The commissioner also pointed to the first annual Rule of Law Report, saying that the Commission already raised concern over the relevant situation in Slovenia in the September 2020 document. "As far as I understand, the situation has deteriorated since," she noted.

The Slovenian EU presidency could be a story of recovery as Europe will be going from pandemic mode to recovery mode during that time. Johansson hopes that Slovenia will take this opportunity "to be at the forefront of recovery in Europe".

Touching upon travel amid the pandemic in the summer, she is optimistic member states will not adopt discriminatory measures. She also hopes that come summer, the infection rate will go down and Europe could be reopened.

In June, right before the start of Slovenia's stint at the helm of the EU Council, Johansson plans to propose the Schengen reform. As part of the preparations, the first ever Schengen forum was launched in November to exchange views with various stakeholders. The second will be held in May.

The Commissioner highlights the need for political governance of the Schengen area and the upgrade of the Schengen evaluation system.

She also stresses the importance of lessons learned from the pandemic. The current legislation is based on a threat that comes towards a single member state, however the pandemic is widespread, she said.

In many situations, measures other than internal border checks are more effective, such as police cooperation and information exchange, she said, adding that the Schengen Information System should also be used more consistently.

She also hopes the Schengen zone could be extended. The Commission has assessed that Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria are ready for this step, but it is up to member states to decide on this, she said.

Johansson's main priority of her five-year term is to find a way out of an asylum reform deadlock. It seems that the new migration pact, proposed last year, has been at a standstill due to disagreements over migrant relocation, but the commissioner is optimistic.

She does not think the pact has been blocked, saying that everyone has been constructive in these efforts and there has been progress.

She hopes that Portugal's EU presidency will be able to close one or two segments of the pact, otherwise the Slovenian presidency will pick up.

She thinks mandatory solidarity, and not mandatory relocation, is a way forward as the latter is not popular in many member states. Now we should discuss what is a meaningful form of this solidarity apart from relocation, she noted.

The commissioner for home affairs will meet Slovenian Interior Minister Aleš Hojs on Thursday. She is also expected to meet Marko Gašperlin, the Slovenian who chairs the Frontex management board.

Moreover, a meeting is scheduled with Foreign Minister Anže Logar and relevant parliamentary committees.

After her visit, the commissioner will fly back to Brussels from Zagreb, so she will have the opportunity to meet Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Interior Minister Davor Božinović.

Regarding reports about violence against migrants perpetrated by the Croatian police, she said she was not satisfied with the situation and there were concerns, however the country had made progress. The Croatian authorities "are investigating and there are consequences for individuals that have been proved taking part in illegal activities".

Moreover, the first independent monitoring mechanism is in the works, a pilot project that is to be first launched in Croatia. "Bosnia-Herzegovina also has homework to do when it comes to migration management and migrant relocation within the country," she said.

Asked what she thought of ideas about redrawing Western Balkan borders in light of efforts for security and stability in the region, she said that "the European Commission fully respects sovereignty of those countries and their borders, we have no other ideas about their borders".

16 Apr 2021, 12:54 PM

STA, 16 April 2021 - The head of the supervisory board of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), Mladen Terčelj, has confirmed for the STA he was visited by investigators of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Thursday. He said he had not yet talked to the investigators and stressed he had great confidence in the rule of law and the NBI.

The police told the newspaper Dnevnik the NBI was leading a pretrial procedure based on a reported criminal offence but would not reveal any more detail because of ongoing procedure.

The General Police Administration confirmed for the paper that the investigation was thus not based merely on a government decree adopted in March.

Last month, the government proposed the supervisory board to dismiss STA director Bojan Veselinovič and tasked the Interior Ministry to examine whether the alleged violations contained elements of suspected criminal acts prosecutable ex officio and to act accordingly.

The government also called on the labour inspectorate to examine the agency and review its operations. A few days later inspectors paid a visit to the STA.

Veselinovič told the government on Monday he was granting the government access to all books of account and documents, even though the STA had never received a formal request to that effect. He said the government should say, in writing, who would access the documents on its behalf and in what way.

He noted that on Saturday 100 days had passed since the STA got paid for its public services in 2021.

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