CoE platform concerned about situation of media and journalists in Slovenia

Strasbourg – The latest annual report by the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists is critical of what it sees as the Slovenian government’s attempts at undermining independent media and stoking harassment of journalists. The platform is particularly alarmed by the situation of RTV Slovenija and the STA.

The 2021 report, which analyses the situation of European media in the past year, was released today. It warns that massive damage was done to media freedom in 2020 and points to increased harassment of journalists as well as a growing number of physical or verbal attacks against them.

The platform reported a record 201 alerts of media freedom violations in 2020, an almost 40% increase on 2019. Only three of those were resolved by the end of 2020. The governments replied to 42% of them, which compares to 50% in 2019.

Slovenia was no exception to this alarming trend, the report says, primarily voicing concerns over the suspension of financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and the government’s plans to enact legislative changes that would defund the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.

“The Slovenian government should cease all efforts to damage the independence and credibility of Slovenian public media,” the report says.

Slovenia is listed as one of the countries where online harassment of journalists was often fuelled by politicians in the past year.

“Alerts show a high number of verbal attacks in some member states – North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey – being made by representatives of public authorities, including by ministers and heads of government.”

RTV Slovenija reporters were the target of online smears and abuse, not only by members of the public, “but by right-wing media outlets and, on some occasions, prominent politicians”.

The report highlights an alert in March 2020 that reported a defamation and hate campaign led by the government against journalist Blaž Zgaga. Another alert was issued in April 2020, focusing on Prime Minister Janez Janša’s attacks on RTV Slovenija on social media.

Moreover, the report mentions Janša’s insulting tweet describing two RTV female reporters as “washed-up prostitutes”.

One of them, Eugenija Carl, was also the target of threats, insults and harassment on social media by Janša’s supporters and later received a threatening letter containing white powder. Her case is used as an example of how quickly digital threats could translate into the physical world with potentially grave consequences.

The platform notes that Slovenia was one of the countries who in 2020 suspended deadlines by which public bodies were required to respond to freedom of information requests.

The report also warns about the chilling effect of abusive legal proceedings across Europe, noting that defamation should be decriminalised.

“In Slovenia three journalists from the online outlet Necenzurirano.si are facing 13 criminal defamation suits each over a series of articles reporting on the business dealings and connections of Rok Snežič, a friend and tax policy adviser to Prime Minister Janez Janša.”

Ahead of 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić called on EU member states in the report to show more political will to protect journalists and independent journalism and to stop the situation from further deterioration.