Politico published an article on the media situation in Slovenia. Despite the fact that the Government Communication Office provided extensive answers to Politco’s questions, the answers were not summarized when reporting on the situation in Slovenia. Therefore, we publish all the answers the questions and materials that were provided to Politico.
The Ministry of Culture has received comments from more than a 100 different organizations and individuals regarding the proposed new legislature, which consists of the amended Media Act, RTV act and STA act. These comments represent more than 1000 pages of material, which needs to be processed in a thorough and concise manner. Currently the comments and proposals are being carefully evaluated, while at the same time further inter-ministerial coordination is being conducted between the Ministry of Culture and other state ministries.
2. How do you respond to critics who say that these proposed legal changes pose a threat to freedom of the press in Slovenia?
The proposed media legislature does not pose a threat to freedom of the press in any conceivable way. In fact, it tries to remedy the current problems with media concentrations which stifle competition and thus harm media plurality. Legal experts in the field carefully studied how tycoons such as Martin Odlazek, Stojan Petrić, Bojan Petan etc as well large international organization such as Pro Plus (which owns two of the largest commercial TV stations) misuse the current Media Act to squeeze out smaller players on the market. Ministry of Culture already introduced measures to combat media concentrations to vice president of the EC Vera Jourova, who agrees that this is a substantial problem for Slovenian media landscape, which does require action.
However, all these efforts tend to be overlooked, since the public spotlight has mostly been on introduction of a new way of funding the national broadcaster (RTV Slovenia). The angst of critics who are claiming the new way of distributing the RTV fee will “financially ruin” RTV Slovenia is out of place. It is true that the new media act proposes different way of redistribution of RTV fee (by allocating some of the funds from the fee to other media outlets of significant importance), but this has been done strictly to modernize and rationalize RTV Slovenia as well as provide more funding to the rest of the media, which has been hit hard not only by the coronavirus pandemic. By providing stable funding for other media the Government is making sure the media landscape is financially viable in the future as well as ensuring better plurality.
While allocating some of the funding form the RTV Slovenia fee to other media, The Ministry of Culture has also found a solution to replace RTV’s lost income as well. The new Media act will allow RTV Slovenia to make at least 11 million euros more per annum by allowing more advertising opportunities to RTV, which has so far been unfairly restricted from ad revenue (private broadcasters take up 80% of the advertising revenue). This will be done by the new Audiovisual media services act, which will accompany the trio of Media act laws.
We are convinced the Media act will represent a first step into a more modern, fair, pluralistic and sustainable media landscape.
3. How do you respond to critics who say that the temporary halt of funding to STA was a form of political pressure on public media?
At no point in time did the Government or its Communications office (UKOM) place any form of editorial pressure on STA. The narrative has been grossly misrepresented in Slovenian media (and then exported abroad) that the Government will only fund STA if it agrees to report favorably on Governments actions. This was never the case. The contract between the Government and STA was signed by the previous director of UKOM Kristina Plavšak Krajnc under the government of Prime Minister Marjan Šarec. It clearly stipulates that STA is obligated to hand over all the documentation, which will allow the Government to assess the funds it will allocate to the project. This is only logical, since the Government is transferring 165,000 euros a month to the agency. There must be some sort of an accounting oversights in order to assess the appropriate amount to fund STA. Otherwise the Government would just hand the tax-payers money ad hoc, without any real assessment of what a rational monthly installment is. The contract signed by the previous government therefore also states that payments can be stopped and furthermore – the Government can legally demand a refund of the amounts already paid, if STA does not hand over documents of its financial operations which the government needs for its assessment. The director of STA refused to hand over demanded documentation and the Government’s communication office simply executed a clause in the contract.
Funding of STA has resumed, despite STA breeching contractual obligations, however there is clearly a legal conundrum here, as many prominent Slovenian legal experts agree. At the time being ad hoc funds to STA are being paid without having access to documentation which would allow it to access how much the agency really needs. This is a legal dilemma that will have to be resolved in a legal way. It has nothing to do with politics, even though the opposition as well as the director of STA transformed it into a political issue. Factually it is not.
5. Many journalists have accused Prime Minister Janša of whipping up hatred against public media outlets. They say that the prime minister’s rhetoric, as well as the rhetoric of some of the prime minister’s allies, is resulting in threatening messages. Some journalists also say that pressure has led to self-censorship in public media. How do you respond to these concerns?
The Slovenian media is predominately run by private entities that have long-standing ties to the left-wing centers of political power. In fact, they are organized in a cartel, which stifles competition and thus media plurality, as mentioned previously. Vice-president of the European commission Vera Jourova points this out in her rule of law report for 2020, which paints a bleak picture of the national media landscape.
Since the media is predominately connected to the left centers of capital and political power, it goes without saying that there is absolutely no form of self-censorship occurring in Slovenian media outlets. Anyone who can read Slovenian will attest that both main TV stations (national broadcaster RTV as well as Pop TV) as well as all printed daily newspapers (Delo, Večer, Dnevnik, Svet24, all of which are owned by left-wing tycoons) are heavily biased towards the left. Attacks on the government are a routine, whether it’s justified or not. In fact, the Slovenian media has gone quote the trumpist route since March, supporting people who are breeching government Covid-19 restrictions. At the anti-government protests, where Slovene opposition diligently go and invites, people shout: “Kill the Prime Minister”, T-shirts with the threat of death to Prime Minister Janez Janša are worn, death threats are also published on different posters and all these pictures and exclamations of death threats are regularly aired on the media. Prime Minister has also been threatened with death at meetings of the governing bodies of public television RTV (at the time when he and the party he leads was in opposition) and that picture was published as something completely normal on the websites of a public broadcaster. And all this is published and aired in different media despite what it says in the Slovene Penal Code.
Many of those individuals that breach restrictions or do not want to follow the measures for preventing of spreading of the coronavirus are shown almost as national heroes, ever since the media-induced rhetoric that they are “fighting government oppression” has caught on. The Government has been fighting off ridiculous claims that Covid-19 restrictions are the beginning of a permanent martial law in Slovenia – these kinds of manufactured stories were also supplied to foreign journalists by Slovenian media.
Prime minister of the Republic of Slovenia Janez Janša gives his opinion on various current topics on his twitter account, also on media outlets that are sometimes on the brink of causing mass hysteria and uprisings against Covid-19 induced lock-down measures. However, he has never during his mandate (nor the previous two he held) pressured media into editorial changes as a Prime Minister. Unlike the previous Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia Marjan Šarec, who publicly ordered state-owned enterprises not to advertise in right-wing media.
Let us also point out that the greatest freedom of the media in Slovenia on the international scale of media freedom, which is measured by the organization of Journalists without Borders, was in time of the first Government of Prime Minister Janez Janša led from 2004 to 2008. In the previous Government, led by Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, Slovenia ranked 32nd on this scale, which is more than three times worse than in 2005 and 2006, when Slovenia ranked 9th and 10th.
We would also like to point out that anyone who advocates censorship or who calls on others to abolish the channels through which an individual in a democratic society communicates is opposed to media freedom. Slovenian Government will not stop advocating for freedom of expression, as it is a fundamental constitutional right. Slovene Government will also continue to defend and exercise this right.