The national media outlet Radio-Television Slovenia (RTV) has published a press release accusing the government of impermissible interference in the referendum campaign. We are publishing the letter in its entirety below.
“The Ministries of Justice and Public Administration did not take into account all of the relevant facts in their opinions on the referendum. To avoid irreversible legal consequences, the government should have taken all the key facts into account.
On the 16th of November 2022, Radio-Television Slovenia received a letter from the Ministry of Justice via the Slovenian Union of Journalists and, upon explicit request, a letter from the Ministry of Public Administration regarding the referendum campaign.
Both letters concern the participation of the Director-General of Radio-Television Slovenia, Mr Andrej Grah Whatmough, in the referendum campaign on the amendment to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act, who wanted to participate in the organisation of the referendum campaign as a natural person.
At no point before issuing the two letters did the government or the relevant ministries check with Radio-Television Slovenia whether and which actions might have been taken to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Since the government has not done so, legal consequences have already arisen. Namely, the opinion of the government or the Ministry of Public Administration was the direct cause of the revocation of the invitation to Andrej Grah Whatmough, as the organiser of the referendum campaign, to participate in the television debate on the topic on the 14th of November 2022, on Television Slovenia.
The Ministry also misapplied the fifth paragraph of Article 38 of the Integrity and Prevention of Corruption Act, which also applies to the case of the Director-General of RTV, who, according to the government, does not have a superior or supervisor. This is explicitly not the case. The Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, in its letter No. 06211-41/2021 of the 11th of April 2018, found that the then-Director General of RTV Slovenia, Mr Igor Kadunc, had failed to comply with his duties, to quote: “In the case in question, the official person, the manager of the public institution (…) should have informed his superior in writing about the circumstances of the conflict of interest (…), who in this case, as stated by the Ministry of Culture, is the chairman of the Programme Council of Radio-Television Slovenia (the body that appoints the Director-General) (…) or he should have recused himself (…).”
The facts show that the Director-General of RTV Slovenia has done everything possible to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. Firstly, on the first working day after submitting his application for the referendum campaign as a natural person (the 2nd of November 2022), he excluded himself from any possible proceedings related to any referendum campaign currently underway and delegated all tasks related to the referendum under his responsibility to the competent services. Secondly, he informed the Programme and Supervisory Boards of Radio-Television Slovenia at the same time of the new circumstances (in the letter no. 01-657/2022). In doing so, he ensured that he acted diligently and avoided the appearance of a conflict of interest, which could have arisen if he, as a participant in the referendum campaign, had signed decisions under Article 12 of the Rules of RTV Slovenia for the presentation of options on the issue of the legislative referendum on the act and amendments to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act, which will be held on the 27th of November 2022. The Director-General of RTV Slovenia does not have any other role in the referendum campaign or the electoral campaign, as the programme editors are responsible for the specific broadcasts in question under the Radio-Television Slovenia Act and the Mass Media Act.
No ministry, and not even the government, is a court of law, and therefore, they cannot interfere in a referendum campaign, which is what happened in this particular case. On the contrary, it is clear from the decision of the Constitutional Court (decision no. U-I-191/17-25 of the 25th of January 2018) that the public authorities must respect the principle of neutrality when it comes to the referendum campaign. This requirement also derives from the constitutional right presented in Article 44 of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, which can only be exercised while ensuring the lawful conduct of the referendum campaign and the overall fairness of the referendum procedure.
From all of the above, it follows that in this particular case, the government or the ministries have impermissibly interfered in the referendum campaign. By failing to
ask the parties involved (RTV Slovenia) for the facts concerning possible actions already taken to avoid conflicts of interest, they have failed to ensure a neutral attitude towards the referendum campaign. In addition, the ministries also violated the constitutional right to make a statement, which is guaranteed under Article 22 of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia.