Director of the Government Communication Office (Urad Vlade Republike Slovenije za komuniciranje – referred to as UKOM), Uroš Urbanija, is convinced that the director of the Slovenian Press Agency (Slovenska tiskovna agencija – referred to as STA) is operating in a non-transparent way, as he does not want to provide the required business documents to Urbanija. He also mentioned STA’s open cooperation with Dnevnik, where they are advertising without any benefits. “As you know, every month, 170 thousand euros from the state budget go directly to the STA for the so-called performance of public service, and of course, the question then arises: where does all this money flow to?” Urbanija explained. And while Veselinovič does not dare to face Urbanija in public, the latter also mentioned that they had received a report of harassment of the STA employees. “Given the past actions of director Veselinovič, such an attitude towards the subordinates is extremely worrying,” Urbanija was critical and then lastly also pointed out that it would be very appropriate for the European Commission to visit Slovenia and assess on its own how the media reported under certain governments and whether there was actually any pressure being exerted on journalists and editors.
The left-wing web portal Necenzurirano (Uncensored) reported that the government was allegedly intending to suggest to the STA supervisory board that it should immediately dismiss the director Bojan Veselinovič. Namely, the government found that in the STA’s fulfilling of its legal obligations in 2020, there were numerous violations for which Veselinovič is directly responsible. The government also called on the Ministry of the Interior to check whether the alleged violations contain elements of criminal offences that should be prosecuted ex officio, and then act in accordance with the law, if necessary. “The government will learn about this proposal when it will have the time for it, and after that, the next steps will become known,” director of UKOM, Uroš Urbanija, explained.
“The Slovenian press agency is exposed to political pressure and illegal financing exhaustion, which is unacceptable,” the Department of Journalism and the Centre for Social Communication Research at the Faculty of Social Sciences pointed out, since, for the first time in 29 years, the marketing contract has not been signed this year. Namely, UKOM recently refused to pay for the January activities of the STA, as they allegedly had no legal basis for them. The contractual relationship for 2020 has expired, and a new contract had not been signed.
Business transparency: Nobody knows where the 170 thousand euros are going
Urbanija believes that it is necessary to review the conducting of business and business transparency in relation to Veselinovič. As is known, Veselinovič refuses to hand over the documentation to the government, which would clear up any doubts or even suspicions about the misuse of the taxpayers’ money. “As you know, every month, 170 thousand euros from the state budget go directly to the STA for the so-called performance of public service, and of course, the question then arises: where does all this money flow to?” he explained. In this case, he believes it is necessary for the government to learn about current issues.
There have been many allegations, but as Urbanija pointed out, Veselinovič has not allowed for his business to be reviewed to determine whether it is in accordance with the law, whether it is transparent, and above all, whether it is in the best interest of the STA. He was also critical of the fact that the STA has published full-page advertisements in Dnevnik, as Dnevnik does not pay for the STA’s service, which is otherwise being financed from the state budget. On the other hand, he wondered what the STA gets from these advertisements in the newspaper. “I would understand if this was a business, reasonable decision, if, for example, you get tens or hundreds of new subscribers when publishing such an ad. But they obviously do not get new subscribers because of this,” he explained. He does not understand why Veselinovič is paying for advertisement in the media from which he has no benefit. “This results in business damage, and it is not a one-time mistake, as the ad has appeared several times in the last ten years, ever since he took office,” he added.
Veselinovič’s attitude towards his subordinates is extremely worrying
STA has also been accused of harassing its employees. “One such incident of harassment happened in relation to the editor, who decided to go public and stated that she was being pressured on a weekly basis,” he explained. At the time, UKOM reacted immediately and asked the director if he had protected the editor-in-chief in any way. “Since this is a crime, I expected that the director would take action,” he explained. As he pointed out, they did not receive an answer about what was happening, who was exerting pressure, and if anyone took action. “Given the past actions of director Veselinovič, such an attitude towards the subordinates is extremely worrying,” Urbanija was critical and also mentioned the case of the former editor-in-chief Borut Meško, who was fired by Veselinovič when he was on sick leave because of a very serious illness.
Last year, STA refused to provide the required documents, with the excuse that UKOM is not the government. Urbanija explained that UKOM is the representative of the STA’s founder and said that he believes that Veselinovič breached the contract, as well as acted against the law. The contract between UKOM and STA expired at the end of the year, so after that date and after the payment of all overdue obligations, UKOM is in no way tied to the STA anymore. “Unless director Veselinovič changes his mind and finds out that we are still the founder’s representative. Then, we can sit down, talk and then sign a new contract.”
The contract was the second problem. Namely, UKOM sent the director of the STA a request on the 4th of January already, asking him to send them the price list of all the services provided by the STA in the framework of marketing activities. The contract was not signed for the first time in 29 years because Veselinovič sent the price list a month later.
Urbanija also believes that the Brussels discussion on the pressures on the media is necessary. “I am also worried about the state of the Slovenian media and the accusations that UKOM is pressuring the journalists, as these statements were evidently lies,” he explained. Nevertheless, he is worried about the pressures and the talk about (self)censorship. As he is also a former journalist and editor, he does not understand why the national television is not reporting on one of the most pressing scandals at the moment.
Urbanija believes that the European Commission should come to Slovenia and assess the real situation
He finds the fact that nobody is reporting on these scandals extremely problematic and worrying, so he believes it is necessary to investigate the matter. He also believes that the European Commission should come to Slovenia and assess the actual state of the matters in Slovenia. “My suggestion is that they should come to Slovenia and see want went on in a week in the last year. They should watch all the daily news shows, the commercial television programmes, as well as the daily newspapers, and then determine whether the reports related to the government are critical or not,” he explained. He also suggested that they should also check how the same media outlets reported under the previous government and the one before that.