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Minister of Culture Responded to Commissioner Jourova: Financing of the Slovenian Press Agency Should Be Transparent, and the Public Service Must Be Free of Charge – In Accordance With the Law!

As the former director of the Slovenian Press Agency (Slovenska tiskovna agencija – referred to as the STA), Bojan Veselinovič refused to simply hand over the documentation to the Government Communication Office, with which the financing would have been taken care of – for the good of the employees and their families – we witnessed the export of the so-called Slovenian Press Agency affair to the European floor. In the European Union, they do not know the real situation (they do not know both sides of the story), but only what was presented to them by the Slovenian left, so it is not surprising that we are witnessing constant “concerned” calls for everything to be sorted out. Among the latter is also a call by Vice-President of the European Commission, Vera Jourova, who sent a letter to Minister of Culture Vasko Simoniti in September, urging him to ensure the agency’s funding and independence.

In her letter, the European Commissioner for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourova, touched on the Supreme Court’s ruling, stressed that “under national law, the government has a duty to ensure the independence and adequate funding of the public service provided by the Slovenian Press Agency, and also has to make sure that this obligation applies regardless of whether a contract has been concluded.” Minister of Culture, Vasko Simoniti, first pointed out to Jourova that she was not sufficiently informed of the contents of the decision of the Supreme Court.

Public service must be performed in accordance with the law and free of charge
According to Simoniti, in the STA affair, it is not disputed that it is the state’s duty to finance the STA in accordance with the law. The government agrees with this, Simoniti said, adding that the funding should be transparent and that the public service must be performed in accordance with the law and free of charge. “The fact that the state is obliged by law to pay a public agency is not disputable and is not the essence of the verdict. The government agrees with this, but at the same time, it has always taken the position that funding should be transparent and that public service must be performed as defined by law. Above all, it must be free, which the law also stipulates,” Simoniti wrote in the letter.

As Commissioner Jourova addressed a letter to Simoniti with a call to take care of the STA situation, Simoniti then explained to her, among other things, that his department is not at all competent to carry out the financing of the Slovenian Press Agency. He informed her that this is the job of the Government Communication Office, which, as a representative of the government, exercises the rights of a partner. As he also explained to her, the Government Communication Office and the Slovenian Press Agency have been negotiating for the past few months, as the former is trying to take care of the situation regarding the financing as soon as possible. This is also why the Communication Office prepared two contracts, which provide for the financing of the Slovenian Press Agency public service.

Jourova also stated in her letter that she had received several letters regarding the STA and its position, with explanations regarding the risks of future operating. According to her, this situation poses a great risk to pluralism and media freedom in Slovenia as well as in the EU. She also reiterated her position on the importance of public media in democratic societies. She believes that this is also why it is very important for the Member States to refrain from any attempts to put pressure on the media, including when it comes to media funding.

A number of details were already agreed upon at the joint meetings of the Slovenian Press Agency and the Government Communication Office. However, the latter cannot agree to the demands of the former director of the STA, Bojan Veselinovič, Simoniti writes, whose conditions for signing the contract actually violate the Slovenian Press Agency Act. “As you can see, communication and negotiation between STA and the Government Communication Office are ongoing. The government is committed to the rule of law and freedom of the media. During the covid-19 pandemic, the media was taken care of in an exemplary manner – the government, with its anti-corona financial aid packages, made every effort to ensure that no media outlet had to close its doors,” Simoniti said, according to the STA.  

He expressed surprise at the Vice President of the Commission’s practise of sending letters
Among other things, Simoniti also expressed surprise over Jourova’s practice of sending letters. Namely, her letter found its way to the media three days before he received it himself. “To me, this seems like an extremely unusual practice, for which I hope that it will end with this letter,” he was critical.

Nina Žoher


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