CoE media freedom report warns about situation in Slovenia

Strasbourg – The latest report by 15 media freedom partner organisations to the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists warns about the 2021 situation in Slovenia, noting assaults against journalists, the financial draining of the STA and the misuse of state funds to promote pro-government propaganda.

The report, published on Wednesday, says that the number of alerts reported on the platform concerning serious threats to media freedom in Council of Europe member states increased drastically in 2021 year-on-year. The figure went up by 41% to 282.

Council of Europe’s Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić raised concerns over the findings and condemned attacks on journalists in Europe. “She highlighted recent targeting of journalists by the Russian army during the ongoing aggression in Ukraine, which has resulted in the death of several reporters,” the Council of Europe said in a press release.

Six journalists died while doing their work in Europe last year, four of whom were deliberately attacked, the report says. A total of 82 alerts were registered concerning assaults against the physical safety and integrity of journalists, 51% more than the year before. Many of these incidents were recorded during protests against Covid measures, including in Slovenia.

The report mentions the storming of public broadcaster RTV Slovenija’s newsroom by anti-vaccine protesters as an example of public service media journalists being particularly vulnerable to verbal or physical attacks during protests.

Slovenia is among the countries where the highest number of cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists was recorded. It is joined by Poland, Russia, Serbia and the United Kingdom.

The report says that attempts to replicate Hungary’s model of state capture of the media have been made in Poland and Slovenia, “adapted to each national context and with varying degrees of success”.

It also notes the precarious situation of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) last year. “The Slovenian government of Janez Janša starved the state news agency of funding for nine months until it signed a restrictive new contract that increased government oversight through its communications office.”

What is more, “the ruling SDS party faced accusations of politicised meddling in [the public broadcaster’s] newsrooms via the dismissal of news editors while recent changes to programming at RTV Slovenia drew staff protests and accusations of political interference.”

The report also warns that “the misuse of government funds to boost pro-government propaganda channels is endemic in Hungary and Poland and increasingly in Slovenia.”

Moreover, there is the problem of insults and smear campaigns as the number of alerts on the issue in Slovenia has risen significantly in 2020 and 2021, the report notes, providing the example of Prime Minister Janez Janša’s tweet from June 2021 in which he claimed that CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović is “part of #fakenews network”.