The Slovenia Times

Slovenian media debate: EP group chair interested in criteria for labelling journalists "left"


Brussels - Slovenian representatives presented differing views on the media situation as they attended Friday's public debate at the European Parliament in Brussels. The head of the Parliament's democracy monitoring group, Sophie in 't Veld, wanted to know what criteria are used as basis for journalist in Slovenia to be classified as "left".

STA editor-in-chief Barbara Štrukelj pointed to the role of the Slovenia Press Agency (STA) for the Slovenian media, the agency being financially drained in breach of the law, as well as to pressure and attempts at discrediting it.

She said the time was running out to preserve the agency, which was set up just a few days before Slovenia declared independence in June 1991.

RTV Slovenija director general Igor Kadunc said the national public broadcaster was extremely endangered, although not yet as much as the STA, but he has a very bad feeling about the developments and planned layoffs.

Borut Rončevič, an RTV Slovenija supervisor and a member of the Culture Ministry's committee for media projects, meanwhile said a study on media plurality in Slovenia showed a large part of the media in the country were positioned left of the centre and were anti-government, saying there was practically no plurality.

He said the government absolutely did not jeopardise media freedom, academics or democracy, saying the bottom line was that "the left side" denies the right political spectrum legitimacy to be in power.

Media law expert Nataša Pirc Musar said attempts to limit media freedom were just the tip of the iceberg of what she said was a broader problem of attempts by politics to limit the freedom of expression. She said Covid-19 served merely as a disguise for decisions that had nothing to do with the epidemic.

According to Igor Pirkovič of the Association of Journalists and Commentators (ZNP), Slovenia has never had so much media freedom, arguing there has never been so much criticism of the government. As for Politico's story about the media situation written on the basis of sources who did not wish to expose themselves out of fear, he said it was "pure madness".

MEPs meanwhile asked the Slovenian representatives how the STA and RTV Slovenija's financial and other issues should be addressed.

The chair of the Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group, in 't Veld, also wanted to know what criteria are used to categorise journalists in Slovenia as "left" or "anti-government". She said journalists in the Netherlands were very critical, which she sees as part of democracy.

Slovenian Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina outlined the general human rights situation, labelling it as good, although the pandemic also brought many limitations.

He urged critical and independent journalism without pressures or fear of losing one's job, arguing journalists are an important segment of a democratic society.

He also pointed to the role of the STA and RTV Slovenija, saying both public services need special attention and "must not be a hostage or prey of election winners".

Svetina also called for STA funding to be restored in line with the law, adding potential legislative shortcomings should be eliminated.

The ombudsman moreover condemned "hate speech and vulgar speech" on the internet and "sensationalist media", and urged prosecution of hate speech, but said it should not to pose a threat to freedom of speech.

Svetina is also worried about "the complications surrounding the appointment of prosecutors", which was presented more in detail by supreme state prosecutor Mirjam Kline.

She said at least seven prosecutors had been waiting to be appointed for more than six months, while the prosecutor's offices were faced with a shortage of staff.

Among the other issues she presented, she highlighted a letter Prime Minister Janez Janša addressed to State Prosecutor General Drago Šketa last year accusing prosecutors of supporting anti-government protests.

Janša said in the letter the prosecutors would be responsible for "any potential victims of the organised threats" at protests, in reference to slogans and banners reading "Death to Janšism".

Kline believes that with such acts, the government wants to undermine the autonomy of prosecutors and affect investigations.

MEPs were interested to learn more about the legislation governing the appointment of prosecutors and about the prosecution of online hate speech.

They also posed some questions regarding a ban on protests during the pandemic.

This is the second time the group has met to discuss the media situation in Slovenia, the first time being on 5 March, which was followed by a debate in the Parliament.

The group monitors the respect of EU values in EU member states, especially in the context of the urgent measures to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.


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