UKOM suspends financing of STA, which says its work is undermined
Ljubljana - The Government Communication Office (UKOM) has informed the government that it is not able to implement the contract with the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) for 2020 and to conclude a contract for 2021. The STA has not received its monthly compensation for October from UKOM, which its leadership says threatens the agency's future work.
UKOM informed the government at Monday's correspondence session that it would not be able to fully implement the 2020 contract on the performance of public service, concluded with the STA, and conclude the same annual contract for 2021.
According to this information, STA director Bojan Veselinovič has been called to produce documents from which UKOM would interpret the financial operations of the agency so that the 2021 contract could be concluded.
"Since the STA director has failed to send us the requested documentation despite several calls, UKOM is not able to continue to honour the requests for payment of monthly compensation for the performance of public service on the basis of the concluded contract until it obtains [the documentation]," it said.
UKOM added that, without a comprehensive insight in the operations of the STA, it was not able to establish what "adequate financing" for comprehensive and undisrupted performance of public service, as defined in the STA act, actually meant.
Consequently, UKOM is not able to conclude the contract on the financing of public service to be performed by the STA in 2021, the government office added.
UKOM director Uroš Urbanija, speaking for the news web portal Siol, said that UKOM had no leverage to check the credibility of the STA director's statements.
As one problematic issue he raised the STA advertising in certain media, which he said was indirect financing of commercial companies.
The STA "is advertising itself extremely in certain media, while not in others. It's one of the major dilemmas we have when it comes to STA operations," said Urbanija, who served as home desk editor and deputy editor in chief of the STA between 2007 and 2010.
The STA management responded by saying that in its opinion there was no legal basis for UKOM to suspend financing of the public information service performed by the STA under the annual contracts.
The STA said that, despite all obligations from the 2020 contract having been fulfilled, it had not received the monthly amount of funding for the public service for October.
The agency added that in a series of memorandums, UKOM had demanded answers to content-related questions about the journalist work of the STA, and about specific news content and responses to that content that ran against the editorial autonomy provided by law.
The STA has also been called to provide a series of documents, information and databases related to the agency's commercial activity, under the argument that this was required for the 2021 contract to be concluded.
"The STA was regularly responding to the UKOM memorandums in a manner and within the scope envisaged by the legislation and the annual contract," the statements says, adding that only the government as the sole founder of the STA might request information in such a scope.
The press agency said it regularly informed its supervisory board about its operations in a transparent manner, and its annual reports were also discussed in parliament. Its operation is also subjected to regular external and internal audits.
"All these safeguards show that the STA fulfils all the obligations it is required to by law without any major disruptions," the statement reads, also noting that the National Assembly had called on the government several times to secure sufficient funding for the STA.
"Due to the suspension of financing by UKOM, the STA has found itself in a situation that threatens the agency's operational stability and the ability to perform the public information service it is required to by law."
The STA added that despite these developments, it would continue with "comprehensive, updated and unbiased reporting", but in the long-run the stability of operation and the social situation of the staff would be threatened if UKOM did not change its attitude.