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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

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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)