Member of the European Parliament dr Milan Zver has sent a letter to Sabrine Verheyen, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT Committee), in which he drew attention to the developments in relation to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act and the pressures for a political takeover of this public institution of special cultural and national importance by the ruling coalition. He also suggested that a debate be held at a future meeting of the Committee, focusing on the role of the national media in modern democratic societies.
MEP dr Milan Zver also tweeted that he had informed the head of the LIBE Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group (DRFMG), Sophie in ‘t Veld, about the temporary suspension of the implementation of part of the amendment to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act. In his letter, Zver highlighted, among other things, the position of the people who called for the constitutional review, who claim that the provisions of the government’s draft law are contrary to the established case law of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia and the case law of the European Union’s Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. Zver also believes that the government’s proposal is in total contradiction with the European Parliament’s resolution on strengthening media freedom, which was adopted in 2020.
“Dear Chair of the CULT Committee Sabrine Verheyen, I am writing to you to draw your attention to the developments in relation to the Act governing the national television broadcaster RTV Slovenia and the pressure for a political takeover of this Slovenian public institution of special cultural and national importance at the hands of the ruling coalition, which is made up of left-wing parties Freedom Movement (Gibanje Svoboda), Social Democrats (Socialni demokrati – SD) and the Left (Levica),” wrote the MEP, pointing out that this is a worrying practice that should have no place in the European Union. Zver therefore believes that the situation regarding RTV Slovenia should also be discussed at a future committee meeting, namely, he wants to discuss the role of national media in modern democratic societies.
“The Slovenian media situation is somewhat particular compared to other EU countries. Slovenia is a country that emerged in the 1990s from the shackles of totalitarianism, specifically communism, where journalists were recognised as socio-political workers who acted largely at the behest of the ruling communist authorities. The processes of democratisation in Slovenia are proceeding slowly, but it is an
inescapable fact that certain influences of the past regime can still be detected in several sub-systems of society. Despite its public advocacy of freedom and its emphasis on the depoliticisation of the media, the ruling coalition of Robert Golob is in fact through a variety of crude but also subtle ways doing its utmost to completely subjugate the Slovenian media space, which is already 80 percent oriented to the left. With a complete political takeover of the national broadcaster RTV, we are facing the prospect of an imposition of left-wing propaganda in the national media, which should be responsible for the balanced, democratic, transparent and, above all, informative presentation of content to the audience,” the MEP explained in his letter.
It is quite clear that the legislative procedure has been abused in this specific case
In the continuation of the letter, Zver explained that the current ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Robert Golob, amended the Radio-Television Slovenia Act last year
through an urgent procedure. The urgent procedure is intended for the adoption of a law in the interests of national security or defence, or to remedy the consequences of natural disasters or to prevent major consequences on the functioning of the State. Civil society and all the institutions that normally have the opportunity to present their views on a respective act have been completely excluded from the procedure, precisely because of the urgency of the adoption. “It is quite clear that in this particular case, the legislative procedure has been abused to achieve the political objectives of the ruling coalition, which, together with some trade unions, has long been planning a political takeover of the public institution RTV Slovenia,” MEP Zver pointed out.
The ruling coalition is setting up supervisory bodies in a way that will enable their political control
Zver also warned that with the new amendment to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act, the coalition legalised early termination of the mandates of the current members of the Programme Board and the Supervisory Board of RTV Slovenia, which is completely contrary to democratic decision-making procedures in any country. The law also reduces the size of the Programme and Supervisory Boards. The ruling coalition has also completely changed the legal provisions on the nominators for the Programme and Supervisory Boards, making it clear that the ruling coalition is setting up the supervisory bodies in a way that will enable their political control. “Changes to the Act will give a great deal of decision-making power at RTV to pro-government non-governmental organisations that have nothing to do with RTV, while the changes also abolish the possibility of representatives of listeners and viewers, who are also the ones who fund RTV through the levy, to became part of RTV’s bodies,” he wrote.
“The amended Radio-Television Slovenia Act also introduces a new management body and decapitates the current RTV leadership in a completely undemocratic manner. Considering all the envisaged changes to the law, it is clear that the sole purpose and objective of the law is the immediate takeover of the management bodies of RTV Slovenia and, thus, the subordination of the public institution RTV Slovenia to the ruling politicians.
RTV Slovenia should provide a public service in the field of radio and television activities with the aim of fulfilling the democratic, social and cultural needs of the citizens of the Republic of Slovenia, Slovenians around the world, members of the Slovenian national minorities in Italy, Austria and Hungary, and the Italian and Hungarian national communities in the Republic of Slovenia. With the amendments to the law, RTV is set to become a mere government propaganda mouthpiece.”
The established case law of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia, as well as the case law of the EU Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights are being violated
The MEP also wrote to the Chair of the CULT Committee that the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia is currently considering a petition for a review of the constitutionality of the amendment to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act. The first signatory to the request is the President of the Programme Board of RTV Slovenia, Peter Gregorčič, and signatories include the Acting Director-General of RTV Slovenia, Andrej Grah Whatmough, and the Acting Director of Television, Uroš Urbanija. The petitioners are challenging the provisions according to which the mandates of the members of the Programme and Supervisory Boards, the Director-General and the Directors of Television and Radio expired with the entry into force of the RTV Act last December. This, they point out, was done without ascertaining the conditions otherwise required for the termination of these mandates. According to the petitioners, the provisions of the above-mentioned draft law violate the established case law of the Constitutional Court as well as the case law of the EU Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. The petitioners believe that the implementation of the amendment and the suspension of the mandates will lead to irreversible consequences, and they have therefore proposed that the amendment be considered as an absolute priority and also temporarily suspended.
Political subjugation of the public media is all the more dangerous precisely when it takes place under the guise of civil society
The Constitutional Court judges have considered the proposal to suspend the amendment several times and for different reasons. The Constitutional Court’s rapporteur, Rok Čeferin, has since been excluded from the proceedings. At its meeting on the 16th of February 2023, the Constitutional Court temporarily suspended the implementation of the transitional provisions of the Act on Amendments and Supplements to the Act on Radio and Television Slovenia, which regulate the final constitution of the RTV Council and, consequently, the new bodies of RTV Slovenia, until the final decision of the Constitutional Court is reached, in order to protect the “institutional independence of RTV Slovenia.” Although the decision on temporary suspension does not prejudge the final decision of the Constitutional Court, it indicates, among other things, that “the political subjugation of the public media is all the more dangerous precisely when it takes place under the guise of civil society, when a politician who secretly recruits through civil society does not answer for his subjugation of the public media even in the elections,” as one of the Constitutional Court judges wrote in his separate affirmative opinion.
These amendments to the law are completely contrary to the resolution on strengthening media freedom
“Dear Chair of the CULT Committee Sabine Verheyen, as you are aware, in November 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on strengthening media freedom, which, among other things, called on the Commission to consider actions by Member State governments which seek to undermine media freedom and pluralism as a serious and systematic abuse of power and as contrary to the fundamental values of the EU, as set out in Article 2 TEU. Amendments to the law of the kind I have referred to are certainly completely contrary to the above-mentioned resolution. I believe that the situation in Slovenia, with regard to both the above-mentioned Resolution and the importance of the media in democratic societies, should be discussed at a future meeting of the CULT Committee,” MEP Zver concluded his letter.