Library

Urgent solution needed as Slovenian Press Agency funding crisis…

Urgent solution needed as Slovenian Press Agency funding crisis passes 250 days

More than 250 days have now passed since the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) last received state funding for carrying out its public service mission from the government of Janez Janša, which currently presides over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

 

Since the beginning of the year, the STA has been forced to operate without public funds guaranteed to it under two separate laws while a contractual dispute manufactured by the Government Communication Office (UKOM) is played out with the aim of forcing the agency to submit to greater government control.

As the Slovenian government took over the rotating presidency of the European Council in July, an end to the crisis appeared to be in sight after the administration pledged to resolve the issue. However, the reworked public service agreement for 2021 included conditions which left the STA’s management with a choice between its existence or independence and it was not signed. Despite repeated calls for negotiations, UKOM refused and the government instead passed a controversial regulation on STA’s financing. Top government officials have meanwhile continued to try to discredit and undermine the STA on social media.

Two months on, UKOM’s summer pledge to resolve the crisis has proven to be hollow and the STA now faces imminent financial collapse. Recent warnings by the agency’s unions are stark. If some form of state funding is not reinstated immediately, the STA could face insolvency by the beginning of October 2021. More than 80 journalists, media workers and other staff would be laid off. A central part of the country’s media ecosystem would fall silent and an important pillar of Slovenia’s democracy would be dismantled.

On Monday, Slovenia’s Supreme Court issued an important judgement confirming that the state has a duty to fund the STA in 2021 in line with the agency’s business plan. Yesterday, UKOM and the STA announced a resumption of negotiations. However, it is the belief of our organisations that this dispute has been  intentionally drawn out by UKOM to drain the agency of resources, heap pressure on its management and ultimately back the STA so far against a wall that it has no choice but to accept its conditions. As detailed in a report by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), this move to strongarm the agency into submission is not an isolated incident but part of a wider attack on the independence of public service media in general.

As new talks begin, the undersigned journalism and media freedom organisations call on UKOM and the government of Prime Minister Janša to immediately end the economic suffocation of the STA and take steps to ensure sustainable funding before its collapse. This will involve making a genuine effort to compromise on the most concerning elements of the agreement and creating a contract which safeguards both the STA’s financing and its independence.

At the very least, the administration must provide emergency funding to ensure the STA’s immediate survival while negotiations continue. Discussions can then begin on providing back payments for lost income. Moving forward, we urge the Slovenian authorities to provide guarantees that the STA’s funding and independence is ensured in the long-term.

The European Union cannot stand by as the leading press agency of a member state heading the EU Council presidency is silenced. We call on the European Commission to redouble its efforts to engage with the country’s leadership to end the crisis. Only then will the STA be able to continue the mission it was established to fulfill 30 years ago.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19
  • Balkan Free Media Initiative
  • European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA)
  • European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD)
  • Index on Censorship
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Media Diversity Institute
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Public Media Alliance
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • Slovene Association of Journalists
  • Slovenian Union of Journalists
  • Society of Journalists, Warsaw
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
Slovenia Flag - credit: Balkan Photos Library

Slovenia: MFRR calls for firm response after storming of…

Slovenia: MFRR calls for firm response after storming of public broadcaster RTV

Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners today strongly condemn the attack on the Slovenian public broadcaster RTV Slovenija (RTVS) by Covid-19 deniers and anti-vaccination protesters last Friday.

At around 8:30pm on 3 September 2021, protesters broke into the RTVS studio in Ljubljana. The group of about 20 protesters, believed to be from the OPS group (Aware Residents of Slovenia), entered the building and managed to break into a newsroom. The group’s main demands are to share their views about the Covid-19 pandemic on RTVS platforms, and for RTVS to halt its coverage of the health crisis and vaccination program. The group was demanding greater airtime on RTVS platforms to share their anti-vaccine views and an end to what they said was “censorship” in the broadcaster’s coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Friday’s attack follows four months of demonstrations outside RTVS offices. While protesting outside the building, the group reportedly insulted and harassed staff. RTVS filed official complaints to the Ljubljana Police Centre during this time and police have launched an investigation.

After breaking through the security area and once inside the building, maskless protesters roamed the halls making demands and giving speeches denouncing RTVS through a microphone. No one was injured and the Ljubljana police said they would investigate the incident and act accordingly. RTVS filed a restraining order against the OPS members.

In a press release, the management of RTV Slovenia said that in their “violent intrusion into the premises of Television Slovenia, the protesters grossly abused the right to peaceful protest.” The press release said that security around the building would be strengthened and talks with relevant authorities will be planned.

Manica Janežič Ambrožič, the RTVS news programme editor, said it was an “unacceptable attack on the media, journalism and democracy”. Andrej Grah Whatmough, RTVS director general, condemned “in the strongest terms” a “grave attack”. Whatmough added that the management had been trying to raise the issue for months, but that because the area outside the RTVS building was public property little could be done by the authorities to stop the protesters assembling.

In a statement, the Slovenian Association of Journalists (DNS) denounced an attack on democracy and deplored a general deterioration in the safety of journalists in the country: “The escalation of hostility directed against journalists has been occurring and cultivating in society for some time. The Association has been warning for a long time that hostility on social networks and incitement against journalists and the media we are witnessing can turn into physical violence, which turned out on Saturday with the attack on RTV Slovenia.”

The Media Freedom Rapid Response partners join the Slovenian journalists’ organisations in calling on the authorities to send a clear signal that attacks on journalists, media workers and media outlets are unacceptable. The signatories call for a prompt investigation into this case and a firm response brought to those responsible.

Signed by:

  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • International Press Institute  (IPI)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
Library

Slovenian government eroding media freedom as it takes over…

Slovenian government eroding media freedom as it takes over EU Presidency

The Slovenian government of Prime Minister Janez Janša is overseeing an increasingly systematic effort to undermine critical media, a coalition of press freedom organisations and journalism groups warn today in a new report.

The report concludes that Slovenia, which assumes the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1, has seen press freedom deteriorate ever since Janša returned to power in March 2020. Since then, the ruling SDS party has embarked on a multipronged campaign to reshape the media landscape in favour of a pro-government narrative, renewing tactics successful during previous administrations and forging ahead with new forms of pressure.

The front line of this campaign is an aggressive attempt to seize greater control of the country’s public service broadcaster and national news agency using a mix of legal and administrative pressure, as well as vicious, often highly personal smears aimed at undermining the integrity and independence of these institutions.

The Slovenian Press Agency (STA), the lifeblood of the media market, has been drained of state funding since the beginning of the year in a calculated effort by the Government Communication Office (UKOM) to subdue the organisation and cement greater control over its financial and managerial operations.

Though the recent announcement that the government will finally pay an advance of €845.000 for 2021 costs is welcome, serious concerns remain over the conditionality of this agreement and its detrimental effects on the independence of the agency. We believe the government is only making this move because of the sustained criticism it has received for its actions and the need to remedy the situation before assuming the EU Presidency.

More broadly, leading government officials, including Janša himself, are stoking the toxicity of public debate by insulting and denigrating journalists – including via official government channels. This inflammatory rhetoric has led to rising self-censorship and an upsurge in threats against the press, both online and offline. Women journalists are particularly targeted with misogynistic and sexist insults.

Behind the scenes, an effort by SDS is underway to limit critical journalism at mainstream media and strengthen a network of partisan outlets linked to the government. Propaganda media are being rewarded with lucrative state advertising contracts, while government officials have sought to pressure editorial offices and reduce challenging coverage at some of the country‘s biggest commercial outlets.

These tactics raise alarm as they reflect elements of the media capture strategy employed by Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán. Moreover, an influx of Hungarian capital linked to Orbán’s Fidesz party is being used to prop up Slovenian pro-government media. Recently, Slovenia’s state-owned telecoms company suspended the sale of a media company after a Hungarian pro-government media outlet was outbid, raising questions about market manipulation and efforts to sell state media assets to SDS‘s political allies in Budapest.

The Janša administration has defended its media policy as necessary to “rebalance” a media landscape it claims is dominated by a historic leftist ideology. Aside from the fact that governments have no business interfering with the editorial lines of media outlets, SDS’ actions and rhetoric do not indicate a genuine interest in fostering greater pluralism but rather in delegitimizing independent media in favour of government-friendly coverage. The depiction of the press as beholden to a political ideology is used to divide the journalistic community down political lines and taint watchdog reporting as biased “opposition journalism”.

While legitimate concerns remain regarding post-independence media ownership concentration and transparency in the Slovenian media market, plans by the ruling SDS party would exacerbate those issues or pose new problems. Legislative proposals to tackle alleged bias at the STA would likewise increase political control over its oversight bodies, rather than lessen it.

While a fragile governing coalition and pushback from civil society and the journalistic community have so far limited the worst of the government’s attempts to erode critical journalism, significant damage has already been caused to the STA and media freedom more widely is once again under sustained threat.

The report follows a two-week online mission to Slovenia carried out by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) between 24 May and 2 June 2021. Jointly led by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI), it was joined by MFRR members Article 19, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Free Press Unlimited and Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa. Representatives of Reporters without Borders, European Broadcasting Union, South East Europe Media Organisation and the Public Media Alliance also participated

Library

Slovenia: MFRR calls on Prime Minister Jansa to stop…

Slovenia: MFRR calls on Prime Minister Jansa to stop tweeting insults

The partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) are dismayed by Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša’s disparaging tweet about Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović. On 6 June 2021, Prime Minister Janša said the Commissioner is “part of #fakenews network” in response to her recent memorandum on freedom of expression and media freedom in Slovenia. The Prime Minister’s tweet quoted Mitja Iršič, a public relations expert at the Ministry of Culture, who said their considerations were not properly represented and called the Commissioner’s report “biased and ill-informed.”

We welcome Commissioner Mijatović’ memorandum and share her concerns about the deterioration of media freedom in Slovenia, which align with the findings of our recent fact-finding mission to the country, the report on which is forthcoming. We also note that the Commissioner’s office functions independently and impartially, which we find is reflected in her recent report. Together with the 16-page memorandum, the Commissioner moreover published a 6-page document with comments from the Slovenian authorities, with whom she also met in April during an online dialogue.

We consider the tone and manner in which Prime Minister Janša opted to voice his disagreement with Commissioner Mijatović’ memorandum to be wholly inappropriate for a leader of a democratic European state. The irony of these remarks about a report that expresses concern precisely about the behaviour of public figures, including the Prime Minister, on social media, where they undermine journalists’ credibility “accusing them of lying, and using offensive hashtags such as #fakenews,” is palpable.

The MFRR calls on Prime Minister Janša to cease denigrating the report and instead take action to address its findings. That includes abstaining from making offensive, mendacious or disparaging comments on social media, which contribute to a hostile environment for journalists and media workers in Slovenia and, specifically with regard to the tweet about Commissioner Mijatović, an unwelcome coarsening of the European public debate.

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)