The government has adopted a decree that will regulate the performance of the public service of the Slovenian Press Agency in more detail. Uroš Urbanija, director of the Government Communication Office, emphasised that the existing situation is being resolved, as the funding has stopped due to violations of the law of the agency’s director Veselinovič. Urbanija also pointed out that the law clearly states that all content should be accessible to everyone, free of charge, and under the same conditions. “These summaries must again be made available for no charge – under the same conditions for everyone,” he was clear. However, this does not only relate to the summaries of the articles but actually to all services, which should be available to everyone free of charge – but currently, they are locked and only accessible to paying subscribers. “This is an obvious violation of the law,” Urbanija was clear.
The government has issued a decree on the provision of services of the Slovenian Press Agency (Slovenska tiskovna agencija – hereinafter referred to as the STA), which regulates the provision of the STA’s public service and its financing in more detail, and also defines the types and scope of the public services, determines compensation for the provision of public service and the conclusion of the annual contracts. The government authorised the Government Communication Office (Urad Vlade Republike Slovenije za komuniciranje – hereinafter referred to as UKOM) for the implementation of the decree. However, the STA employees believe that the decree, adopted in the absence of dialogue, does not address key issues for the survival and development of the STA but instead opens new questions about the agency’s autonomy and thus offers citizens a public service of lesser quality.
The decree defines the type and scope of the STA’s public service, the determination of compensation for the provision of public service, the conclusion of an annual public service contract, control of overcompensation, the obligation to keep data and report on state aid, and the ex-ante regulation for 2021, the announcement prepared after the government session states.
As the UKOM director, Uroš Urbanija explains, the decree summarises the legal framework for the operation of the STA, as determined by law. “In this context, it was, of course, also necessary to arrange funding,” he explained. He pointed out that the STA director Bojan Veselinovič has been refusing to hand over the documentation on the STA’s operations to UKOM for almost half a year now, saying that UKOM has no explicit government authorisation to demand these documents. “After all, this decree also regulates these relations and binds UKOM in relation to the STA,” Urbanija added.
The sent documentation should be marked accordingly
Further, Urbanija was also critical of the fact that Veselinovič sent the documentation in boxes to the government and not to UKOM. “Usually, when director Veselinovič sent things to the Government Communication Office, every document, every bill was, of course, specifically marked, so we knew that everything was delivered. So, we did not get things in some boxes where we did not even know what was or was not inside of them,” he explained, pointing out that this was an unusual way for the STA to communicate with the government. “He should have handed the documentation to UKOM, but unfortunately, he did not.”
Urbanija does not understand the complaints about the new regulation related to autonomy, or the opinion of employees about the lower quality of the agency’s services, as the regulation deals with funding, which has remained unsolved for almost half a year now. “Regarding the seventh Anti-Corona Legislative Package, the matter is multifaceted, but on the other hand, it also obliges the STA to perform public service, after all,” he explained. He also emphasised that he has pointed out several times in recent days that the STA does not perform public service, at least not as is defined in the Slovenian Press Agency Act, which Veselinovič also finally admitted to at the meeting of the committee of the National Assembly. Urbanija pointed out that the most pressing problem is photography – namely, the Slovenian Press Agency Act also states that the STA must provide photographs of the most important daily events. “The STA does do that; however, the photos are only available to those who pay extra,” he added.
The Slovenian Press Agency Act states that access to key content should be free for all; however, the STA has violated this act
The law also clearly states that all content should be available free of charge to everyone under the same conditions. “So even in the case of photos, it is clear that here, director Veselinovič is grossly violating the Slovenian Press Agency Act,” he said. The law clearly stipulates that the STA must primarily prepare and publish summaries of news in the field of domestic and foreign policy, as well as, for example, sports. “These summaries should, again, be made available free of charge to everyone under the same conditions,” he made it clear. And this does not only refer to summaries but to all services, which should be available to everyone for free but are currently locked behind a paywall and only accessible to paying subscribers. “This is an obvious violation of the law.”
Due to all of the above, Urbanija believes that Veselinovič is grossly violating the law, and regarding the recovery of funds he demanded in court, where the latter was also rejected, Urbanija also pointed out that the relationship between the STA and UKOM has been severed, so Veselinovič has no contractual basis for recovering these funds. “It was clear at first glance that this would not succeed, and of course, the court also found that to be the case,” he explained. With this, Urbanija pointed out two other irregularities as well – the first one, the already mentioned (non)performance of public service and the second, which was stipulated by the seventh Anti-Corona Legislative Package, the option of the STA being financed on the basis of their annual business plan. “However, their annual business plan clearly states that the financing is regulated with the contract,” he added. Therefore, this is a vicious cycle, as the seventh Anti-Corona Legislative Package offers the possibility of financing without a contract, but this must be in line with the STA’s annual business plan.