European journalism organisations on virtual mission to Slovenia

Ljubljana – The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), an initiative funded by the European Commission that monitors violations of press and media freedom, will be on a virtual mission to Slovenia over the next two weeks to examine alleged deterioration in media freedom in the country. The findings are to be released in July.

The MFRR is organised by an alliance of Europe’s leading media freedom and journalism organisations, including the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and International Press Institute (IPI).

The fact-finding mission to Slovenia will be led by the EFJ and IPI in partnership with the Slovenian Association of Journalists (DNS). Over the next two weeks they would like to talk with representatives of the academia, government, parliament and journalism associations and the media.

Prior to the virtual visit, the EFJ told the STA it would send invitations to the Culture Ministry, the Government Communication Office, the parliamentary Culture Committee, the DNS and the rival Association of Journalists and Commentators, major media outlets, a few investigative reporters and local media, among others.

The mission is to present its findings, along with a list of recommendations to the government and the EU, by July, that is just before or at the outset of Slovenia’s presidency of the Council of the EU. They hope an in-person visit to Slovenia would follow in the autumn.

Over the past year, MFRR partners have expressed concern over developments in the country on several occasions, including in a March letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova.

They warned of repeated denigration of journalists, including by PM Janez Janša, combined with “the ruling party’s attempts to exert greater control over the country’s public service media”, which they said “are creating an increasingly hostile climate for critical reporting”.

They said the attacks went well beyond mere rhetoric, noting the suspension of financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), as well as proposed legislative amendments that would defund the public broadcaster service RTV Slovenija.

In response to the letter, the Government Communication Office denied the allegations, while Jourova repeated the expectation that swift solutions would be found to ensure a sustainable funding and independence of the STA, adding it was the government’s obligation to ensure those.

Apart from verbal attacks on journalists by public figures and attempts to tighten control over public media, the MFRR mission will also look into concerns about the safety of journalists, legal threats and media pluralism.

Speaking with the STA, EFJ director Renate Schröder said they were aware of the challenges faced by media in Slovenia, but they would also like to learn something new, including how far “active efforts by the Hungarian government to export its media subjugation model to Slovenia” have led.

The MFRR has conducted similar missions to other countries before, including Hungary, Poland, Spain, Serbia and Montenegro. Asked about concrete changes those had made, Schröder admitted they had not had much effect on the governments’ response.

Still, she hopes it will be different in Slovenia, for one thing because the attitude to the EU is different in Slovenia and the Slovenian government for now needs support from the EU much more than Hungary, for example. The mission and its report will coincide with the Slovenian presidency of the Council so the government may have more interest in presenting its side of the story.

On the other hand, Slovenia is still a “country with media freedom and pluralism, despite the tendencies not going in the right direction”. Large media in Poland or Hungary, for example failed to report on the MFRR mission, while Slovenian media are likely to give it more coverage.

The situation is different, you are resisting, said EFJ director, adding this gave them an additional motivation.