Outdated, media legislation to undergo sweeping reform
After more than two decades, Slovenia's media legislation is slated for reform. Following years of appeals by journalists and media experts and promises by several governments, the Culture Ministry has unveiled a draft media bill. It brings new state aid rules, regulates the use of AI and tackles ownership concentration.
The reform is based on the argument that the existing Media Act, which has seen only minor changes since it was passed in 2001, is obsolete. Many of its provisions are seen as inadequate given the breakneck pace of media industry development, or no longer enforceable.
The Culture Ministry proposes a complete overhaul of most of the key chapters of the law, while leaving largely intact some basic tenets such as the right to correction.
Save for public service media, the only way the state currently directly supports the media financially is through an annual call for applications at which several million euros are disbursed based largely on the criteria of plurality, diversity, and public interest.
The new rules would expand eligibility to projects promoting media literacy, digital transition, the development of new media content, products, tools and distribution channels, science journalism, access to digital media services, and media startups.
Annual funding equalling 4% of the licence fee for public broadcaster RTV Slovenija will be set aside for such funding; RTV Slovenija currently collects roughly €100 million from licence fees per year.
There are however strict exclusion criteria proposed: media which already receive the majority of their finance from public funds, such as the Slovenian Press Agency, would not be eligible for this kind of aid, nor would outlets owned by local communities or political parties. To qualify, an outlet would need to have at least three staff members, full-time or freelance.
Prevention of ownership concentration
Another major set of changes concerns ownership, a major problem in the Slovenian media industry since current rules are easily bypassed, as a result of which several conglomerates of interlinked companies that hold minority stakes in each other to avoid concentration restrictions have emerged in the last two decades. What is more, ownership restrictions currently only apply to daily newspapers, radio and TV.
The new rules consider the media market as a whole regardless of type of outlet. Concentration would be subject to the same rules that govern corporate takeovers, whereby the regulator would have to consider over a dozen media-specific criteria in its evaluation. In general, the law would prohibit any concentration that poses a risk to public interest.
A database is to be established pooling data collected by several authorities with one of the aims being disclosure of the beneficial owners of media.
These provisions come after years of warnings by journalists and their organisations as well as by the European Commission about excessive concentration of media ownership that are seen as harming true plurality.
If the law is passed, Slovenia will have become one of the first countries to regulate the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the media by requiring that content in the creation of which generative AI has been used be labelled appropriately.
The media would also be required to inform audiences about the way in which they use generative AI and it would be prohibited to publish AI-generated content without such disclosures.
The bill contains an explicit ban on deep fakes, the exception being in comedy and satirical shows, and in youth and educational shows if the purpose is to improve media literacy. Even in such cases, deep fakes would have to be properly labelled.
Share of Slovenian music
The existing Media Act contains special requirements about the share of own content TV and radio stations must produce and that remains largely unchanged. But the new bill does reintroduce a mandatory share of Slovenian music, which used to be part of the existing law but was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2019.
TV and radio stations would have to play at least 20% of music in the Slovenian language, with the share rising to 25% for local, student, and non-profit outlets, and 40% for public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.
When asked about this provision, Culture Minister Asta Vrečko said the authors of the law were careful to bear in mind the Constitutional Court ruling. But given that radio station owners had fought for years against this, the provision is likely to be challenged again.
National Media Council
The bill proposes creating a new National Media Council, an independent expert body tasked with protecting public interest in the media. It would comprise seven distinguished media experts or managers proposed by the government and appointed by the National Assembly.
Some of its tasks would include analysing the state of media pluralism, giving opinions on ownership concentration, debating media legislation, and drafting annual reports on the state of the media.
The National Media Council is to take the place of the National Broadcasting Council, which is to be shut down at the end of next year.