“This is a continuation of the current government coalition’s attempts to stop and prevent the media from criticising its governance. They have already done this in part by taking over many media outlets and changing their editors. They already control all the media, but criticism is still appearing on online networks, and they are trying to stop it,” said Peter Jančič, editor of the media outlet Spletni časopis (Online Journal), commenting on the news that the coalition is drafting a proposal to introduce online police. While Jančič finds it controversial that hate speech will be prosecuted by the very people who have practised it the most over the last few years, historian Stane Granda warned that this is a matter that represents a major threat to democracy and, at the same time, marks the entry into an era of only one worldview being allowed, or the so-called “intellectual euthanasia”.
The current coalition wants to introduce online police, or rather (to call things for what they are), wants to monitor and remove any criticism of their governance, as well as those statements which, according to their criteria, even hint at criticism. Criticism of the government is simply not allowed under the Golob coalition, and since the print media is not so popular and well-read in the new era, they now want to police the web. The draft law thus gives powers to the Agency for Communication Networks and Services of the Republic of Slovenia (AKOS) or other potential individuals who, in the opinion of our commentators, are not even remotely the right persons for such a task.
Peter Jančič also pointed out that we have seen similar situations in the past – specifically, during the Šarec government, when then-Prime Minister Marjan Šarec published a call on the government’s website to change the advertising policy of partly or majority state-owned companies in media that “disseminate hateful content”. The Prime Minister thus opened up a rather explosive dilemma in a country where the influence of the state in companies and public institutions is considerable, and the call for withdrawal referred to a few small media outlets that are not controlled by the parties in power. Even then, there was a dilemma about who can judge what is hate speech and what is unacceptable. If the ruling politicians, such as the executive branch of power, are the ones to decide on this, the risk of abuse of power is extremely high. It would be different if these were judicial reviews, but so far, there are no known examples of any judicial reviews related to this matter.
The ruling coalition is modelled on the Russian system, which is famous for its methods of silencing opposition
The printing presses were once controlled by the Communist party, but today, more than 30 years after Slovenia gained its independence, the left’s revolutionary terror remains the same, only the methods are different. Since the government no longer has any influence over the printing presses, and the printed press is no longer popular, the Golob government abuses its power by trying to prevent criticism of the government on the internet. “What is questionable is that for two years, we have witnessed organised political hate activity in the form of cycling protests, where the death of a political pole from political life was repeatedly called for, which is a much more questionable violation of the constitutional provisions that prohibit the incitement to violence also on the basis of religious and political beliefs, and these same people who did that back then are now trying to limit criticism online,” Jančič said, adding that in Russia, they are also planning to limit the reach of social media like Twitter and Facebook, and stressed the importance of the link between this and the situation in Slovenia, especially given the apparent sympathy of the current coalition for Russia and its modus operandi. He believes that in Slovenia, there have already been attempts to introduce similar things, which is more difficult because of the European Union, which is why they are now attempting to do this using their soft skills, through non-governmental organisations. “After all, the Russians are famous for their methods of silencing the opposition,” Jančič pointed out.
“Those who brutally used hate speech, called for violence and death, are mentioned here, which is unacceptable in normal European politics. Now this pole is trying to feign ignorance and trying to block criticism of government policy, and declaring others to be hateful. I honestly cannot recall an instance of any parties in today’s opposition ever calling for the death of the supporters of other political parties, not even when it came to criticism of certain totalitarian regimes that should be condemned,” Jančič added.
The media have a history of blocking access to information that is crucial for the informing of the public
“We should be very careful,” said Jančič, who added that our constitutional order protects freedom of speech, requires pluralism and contains the right for the public to be properly informed, but these small steps are actually denying the public access to information on different opinions, and something similar to this has already happened before. “That is why the public is not informed about any rapes, sexual assaults, except what gets past the police, because even the police no longer inform about it because they have been forbidden to do so. Even so, even the names of the deceased have disappeared, they pass through official channels, which is a strange arrangement, not to mention the crimes committed by migrants, which are not even reported to the media, let alone to the public. The lie is that nothing is happening – in reality, we just don’t know about it, because they have blocked access to public data.”
In Jančič’s opinion, the most frightening thing is that those who should be protecting the public’s right to information and a broad public debate are actually working hard to limit the debate, he pointed out, and he was, of course, referring to the Slovene Association of Journalists (DNS), who also withheld information in the “Pharmacist” case; and the courts, which in the past have refused to disclose the names of those who have cheated in election campaigns. “We have gone too far in protecting private data, we are protecting crime,” Jančič pointed out, who believes that this regulation will give the authorities additional means to block those who dare to say what they are supposedly not allowed to say. While he does not believe that freedom of speech in Slovenia will be curtailed to this frightening extent, he is convinced that the level of conflict will increase, pointing to the recent fine that psychoanalyst Roman Vodeb was given without a trial for expressing his opinion about the Speaker of the National Assembly, Urška Klakočar Zupančič.
This is intellectual euthanasia
“It is understandable that, even online, everyone wants order and decency, but what they are preparing now, and the people they are engaging in it, is actually an abridgement of freedom of speech, of democracy, and the creation of a monolith. The people they are engaging and who are behind this are neither democrats nor supporters of fundamental human rights, but at the same time, they are co-creators of the single allowed worldview that they have lived in for 50 years, so this is very dangerous, it is intellectual euthanasia, it is two sides of the same coin,” said Stane Granda, a historian.
If anyone, it should be the opposition that checks if something qualifies as hate speech
The draft law also defines the procedures for the validation or certification of bodies for out-of-court dispute resolution and for the granting of the status of verified researchers and trusted informants. It is the latter who will be the first to combat the dissemination of large volumes of “illegal” user-generated content through online intermediary platforms, as it is expected that their reports will remove most of the clearly illegal content before the illegality is remedied through the internal complaints mechanism and through the courts. The question is – who are these verified researchers and trusted whistleblowers whose applications will remove the “illegal content”? In reality, the Golob government is introducing a new State Security Administration, similar to the one we knew in the times of Yugoslavia. They are looking for people who would press charges against other people.
Granda is convinced that if anyone, the opposition should control these things, not the government. “This could be better dealt with by a general raising of the culture, but if anything, it should be people who are worthy of respect, not something like the current Council of Radio-Television Slovenia, where it is difficult to believe that they were able to choose such people in Slovenia who are capable of something like this,” he was clear. The only solution Granda sees in this case is to raise the problem to the international level because, at the moment, it is not solvable in Slovenia.