Slovenia: news agency funding cut puts press freedom at risk
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has joined calls to repeal the decision to cut funding for the Slovenia Press Agency (STA) in a row over its alleged failure to respond to what media freedom campaigners describe as reckless and unlawful information requests.
The Slovenian government confirmed on 30 November a decision by its communication office (UKOM) to cut STA monthly funds for October for allegedly failing to answer information requests related to its editorial content. The EFJ joined the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates, the Slovenian Journalists’ Association (DNS) and the Slovenian Union of Journalists (SUJ) to demand an immediate revocation of the decision, which threatens the agency’s ability to publish trustworthy information to citizens and threatens press freedom.
UKOM withdrew the public service compensation funds for October as well as a contribution for marketing services. According to media reports, UKOM also stated it could not implement the contract on public service performance in 2020 or renew a contract for 2021. The decision was confirmed by Slovenian Prime Minister, Janez Janša.
The motivation for cutting off STA’s funding is the alleged lack of response from the agency to information requested from it in mid-October. The agency’s policies state that these requests can only come from the government itself as the sole founder and STA partner, and considered the request illegal.
The Slovenian Journalists’ Association (DNS) said the requests are a form of pressure on journalistic autonomy if made in a reckless way. The Slovenian Union of Journalists said that the current government exceeded its power limits with the decision to abolish public service funding and it represented an unjustified interference with STA’s legal status.
STA said the government’s decision puts in danger the proper functioning of the agency and threatens its editorial independence. Its director, Bojan Veselinovič, claimed in response to UKOM’s funding suspension that there was no legal basis for it and accused the government office of exceeding its mandate by interfering with its editorial autonomy.
DNS said in a press release that “STA, with its text news, video broadcasts of press conferences and releases, and radio service, greatly facilitated journalists’ access to information this year when they had to work remotely due to various restrictive measures. Thus, it is obvious that the STA complies with the legal provisions covering public service”.
The Slovenian Union of Journalists said it “condemns and opposes the unilateral and legally controversial decision of the government to suspend the financing of the public service of the Slovenian Press Agency. Government’s decision to abolish the financing of the STA’s public service is a clear violation and brutal interference in the legalized institutional, editorial and financial autonomy of the public information service.”
EFJ Secretary General, Ricardo Gutierrez, said: “The Slovenian government’s constant attacks on the press are in total contradiction with European legal standards on the positive obligation of states to promote a pluralistic and independent media ecosystem. We call on Slovenia to live up to its commitments!”
IFJ Secretary General, Anthony Bellanger, said: “The role of press agencies is at the heart of journalism and supports journalists in their reporting. As a public service, they abide by strict regulation to maintain their independence. Slovenia’s government must review its decision, which represents a serious attack against press freedom and sets a bad precedent that puts in danger the media at large.”