An EU mission to Slovenia called for the immediate resumption of financing to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and the relenting of government-led pressure exerted on media.

From 13-15 October, a delegation of eight MEPs arrived in Ljubljana to meet with journalists, NGOs, academics and public servants. The purpose of the visit was to ascertain whether EU values were being upheld.

In May this year, PMA participated in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) mission to Slovenia, which found press freedom is rapidly deteriorating. Since then,  journalists have continued to be subjected to intimidation and online attacks, while the publicly-funded STA is being put under financial strain, having last received funding from government nearly 300 days ago. The director of the STA, Bojan Veselinovič, resigned earlier this month because he felt the funding arrangement being offered would compromise the STA’s independence. In a fact finding mission earlier this month, IPI’s Jamie Wiseman said the deal would “leave STA’s management with a choice between its independence and its existence.” He argued the issue has been drawn out over several months “to back the STA so far against a corner that it has no choice but to accept the conditions or face insolvency.”

Meanwhile, in August, the Director of TV Programmes at public broadcaster Radiotelvizija Slovenjia (RTV SLO), Natalija Gorščak was dismissed, while she was on sick leave. More recently, RTV SLO’s news programme editor-in-chief, Manica Janežič Ambrožič, offered her resignation. The Slovenian Journalist Trade Union (SNS) said she made the decision over concerns about changes to the programming and reduced news shows, which “takes RTV Slovenija away from the leading public European services and lowers standards for Slovenian viewers.”

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It is clear the Slovenian Government is trying to compromise essential democratic values and exert its own influence over independent public media. This comes at a time when Prime Minister Janez Janša presides over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. As the President of the European Federation of Journalists, Mogens B. Bjerregård said, it is an issue of continental importance: “This is about Europe. We have during the last five, ten, fifteen years, seen a decline of media freedom in some of the European countries, and it is spreading to more countries. We know how important it is to stop it”. He called on the EU to do more, and “to safeguard free, independent, holistic media that are sustainable, that can give the public important information, so everybody can take part in the democratic development of Europe.”

Under this context, the EU mission has been badly needed, and their findings echo the MFRR’s own investigation. “The delegation experienced a climate of hostility, distrust and deep polarization in the country, which eroded trust in and between various public bodies,” said the leader of the mission, Dutch MEP Sophie In’t Veld. Although she observed “that the public institutions overall work well … Many of our interlocutors expressed concerns or described pressure on public institutions and the media by the government, including through smear campaigns, slander, criminal investigations as well as strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).”

In’t Veld also spoke of the significance of the funding situation of the STA, which she described as “now in a dire situation.” She said that it is time for “the government to fully implement the judgment by the Supreme Court and take steps to allow its standard operation, including the resumption of financing without further delay.”

PMA is encouraged by the EU’s strong message to Janša and the Slovenian government. Initial indications, however, are that it will not be taken seriously. Janša responded to the mission by attacking In’t Veld on Twitter using an anti-Semitic, far-right conspiracy which has since been deleted. This tactic, often used against journalists, only stirs up animosity and increases the threat of real-life attacks.

The Slovenian Government is acting with brazen disregard for media freedom and the importance of independent public media for the health of its democracy. They must heed the EU mission’s message, and ensure the independence, security, and integrity of STA and RTV SLO. It is predicted STA can only continue for a further few months without funding. Meanwhile, Slovenia is a test for the EU, who recently affirmed their commitment to the importance of a free and independent media. Stronger action could be necessary.


Header image: Building of RTV Slovenia (Television’s part). Credit: Pv21 / Creative Commons