A small group of RTV Slovenija (RTVS) employees have drafted a bill to modernise and better protect the independence of the public broadcaster. It comes as journalists and opposition parties question the overall direction of the broadcaster.

Four prominent long-serving RTVS staff members have put forward a bill that proposes a comprehensive transformation of the public broadcaster “into a fully independent public broadcasting service overseen by a board of trustees.” According to the report by The Slovenia Times, the bill would establish a Board consisting of 11 trustees as an oversight body and a 7-member management board.

The employees believe that a media legislation reform is long overdue. The Slovenia Times noted that the current RTV Act was meant to be replaced by a new law 11 years ago and has since become outdated in the changing media landscape.

Other additional proposals relate to operational changes: “changing RTVS’s status from a public institute to an autonomous public institution of special, cultural and national importance”; funding reforms – altering the licence fee model so it is dependent on taxpayer’s income; new programme rules – ensuring a public consultation is made obligatory before the introduction of new programmes and services as well as removing advertisements from programmes. Advertising airtime would only be offered “when buying rights to broadcast major sporting, cultural or charity events.” The public are also being invited to have their say over the draft bill.

Find out more: Four long-term employees of RTVS prepared a proposal for a new law on public radio and television

The proposed bill comes as concerns over the editorial direction and independence of RTVS escalate. In August, the broadcaster’s Director of TV Programming was dismissed while she was away on maternity leave. A few months later, a decision by the former programme council to make several changes to news programming under the public broadcaster’s 2022 Programme Production Plan was met with widespread criticism by RTVS staff and civil society organisations.

Now, fresh worries amongst some media practitioners and opposition parties about alleged “political” appointments have emerged. Last week, 13 new programme councillors were appointed by the National Assembly (five nominated by political parties and eight by audiences); and five members of the supervisory board of RTVS (all proposed by political parties).

According to public news agency STA, the list of newly-appointed members of the programme council – the body that oversees the operations of the public broadcaster – consists of individuals that were “endorsed by the Janez Janša coalition with the help of MPs from the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) and National Party (SNS)” – opposition parties that tend to vote in line with the ruling coalition party.

The appointments were confirmed despite protests from other opposition parties that the line-up of candidates contained names proposed by the coalition parties and their supporters, but did not reflect the political diversity of the National Assembly. It was for the same reason that National Assembly Speaker, Igor Zorčič, initially postponed the vote in mid-December – under grounds that this contradicted a legal requirement under the RTV Act, which stipulates that balance of power in parliament must be considered. News outlet Dnevnik reports the appointments will see the council “reach new lows in the next four-year term.”

In recent years, independent public media and press freedom in Slovenia have come under increasing attacks from positions of authority. This was evidenced in a report published by Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) partners last year following an online mission to Slovenia. From financial burdens to verbal threats against journalists, the attempts to undermine independent and public media have been multi-pronged. Last year, the Slovenian government withheld funds for STA for more than 300 days. Its director resigned in September over independence concerns.

Read more: Independent public media under attack in Slovenia

With controversial changes already made to the RTV programming plan, PMA is already cautious about possible interference in the broadcaster. There must be a robust firewall between political forces and decision-making associated with the public broadcaster’s programming, news coverage and other operations. It is more important than ever that RTVS’ independence is properly established and maintained, and we support any attempt which seeks to uphold this.

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