STA supervisory board finds no legal basis for financing suspension
Ljubljana - The STA supervisory board has called on the government to take necessary steps to resume regular financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) for the public service it performs after concluding, based on a legal opinion commissioned by the STA management, that the Government Communication Office has no legal basis to arbitrarily suspend financing.
At the session on Tuesday, the STA supervisory board reviewed in detail the correspondence between the agency and the Government Communication Office (UKOM) over the past two months and the situation after UKOM failed to transfer to the STA the overdue October instalment of the annual fee under the agreement between the STA and UKOM.
The board established that the STA leadership had not acted in contravention of the valid law in its communication with UKOM, having ascertained there was no legal act whereby the government would authorise UKOM to act on its behalf as the STA shareholder in relation to the agency.
In its conclusions, the board brings the government's attention to pressure exerted on the STA by UKOM that it says is in contravention to the valid law.
The author of the legal opinion, corporate law expert Gorazd Podbevšek finds the government has an obligation under law to pay for the public service and has the power and responsibility to act as STA shareholder.
"UKOM has not produced any power of proxy to act as a shareholder. It made requests for documents in accordance with argument within the agreement on the implementation of the public service," Podbevšek told reporters after the session.
Based on analysis of that agreement, it was established the subject of the agreement pertained to the public service, hence reporting to UKOM under article 6 thereof pertains solely to the performance of public service.
Under that article the state has the power to halt financing when the public service is not performed.
"The condition to suspend financing could then only be such reporting by the STA where it could not be established whether public service had been performed or not. Given the information acquired, the STA regularly reports on its performance of public service," said Podbevšek.
His conclusion is thus that there had been no legal grounds for the suspension of financing, which was hence unlawful.
"Any other interpretation of the agreement, where it could be interpreted that explanations can be sought about anything, including editorial policy, commercial activities or such, would be null and void," he said.
He conceded that certain data such as those on commercial activities or business performance beyond public service can be requested by the government as STA shareholder based on article 512 of the companies act.
However, under the STA law, the government cannot exercise that right in a way that would jeopardise the agency's independence, including its financial independence.
He noted that the aim of the special law is to prevent the STA from being subjugated to a political or any other bloc. "In our opinion, the government thus has an obligation to exercise shareholding rights in a way that is in accordance with the special STA legislation."
UKOM notified the government just over a week ago that it was suspending financing of the STA on the grounds that the agency's management failed to submit documents where it could learn about the agency's financial performance.
The agency's leadership denied UKOM's allegations, arguing that UKOM had acted outside its remit in requesting information.
Invoking the agreement between the STA and UKOM, UKOM director Uroš Urbanija today insisted on the need for STA director Bojan Veselinovič to provide the requested documentation, urging him to "stop hiding the data".
Urbanija made the comments in response to a call by the STA leadership and staff on Monday for resumption of financing and for the payment for the work they had done in October.
In a written response for the STA, Urbanija expressed his "gravest concern about the situation director Bojan Veselinovič has brought the STA into", accusing him of trying to use the staff as "hostages".
He insisted that it followed from article 6 of the agreement between the STA and UKOM which documents the director had a duty to submit and what the consequences would be should he fail in that duty.