Ljubljana – A parliamentary inquiry looking into allegedly unlawful financing of the ruling Democratic Party (SDS) was described on Tuesday as a “witch hunt” by a senior government official who used to serve as director of a media company affiliated with the party. So did the Nova24TV director deny money from media ever going to the SDS.
Božo Predalič, one of the co-funders of the private broadcaster Nova24 who used to serve as director of Nova Obzorja, the company issuing the Demokracija weekly, told the inquiry about a group of enthusiasts back in 2015 who thought the Slovenian media landscape was distorted to be distinctively pro-left, so they decided to found a new media outlet whose political leanings they never wanted to hide.
Asked about links to Hungarian companies, Predalič said Nova24, the company behind the private broadcaster Nova24TV, was incorporated with initial capital of one million euros and later three Hungarian companies joined as part owners. He said it was not known to him that those companies would be part of a network linked to Hungarian politics or government in any way.
Asked by Jani Möderndorfer, an MP for the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), to comment on media reports about the alleged links, Predalič said he did not know what the MP had in mind. “But if it’s Necenzurirano, it’s like Uncles Have Told Me to me and I don’t take it seriously,” said Predalič, now an Interior Ministry state secretary.
Responding to Möderndorfer’s comment that there was a stain on the SDS with regard to transactions under discussion, Predalič said Nova24 was not the only media outlet with foreign ownership in Slovenia. He said there were quite a few, and much more powerful too, although some were losing their influence.
Marko Bandelli of the opposition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) opined that Nova24 would have operated at a loss and could not survive had it not been for the inflow of money from Hungarian companies. Predalič retorted that RTV Slovenija, the public broadcaster, was making losses too and the taxpayers had to cover them.
Opposition Social Democrat (SD) Marko Koprivc wondered where the SDS obtained the money for its media or for the media linked to vocal supporters of PM Janez Janša and how the money of suspicious origins from abroad, mainly Hungary, was used for political propaganda ahead of the 2018 general election.
He expressed the concern that history would be repeated ahead of the next election and that the network was even more powerful today. “We could potentially be talking of criminal or even mafia conduct,” said Koprivc, who quizzed Predalič whether he had ever discussed that with Janša.
“It’s hard to discuss smoke and mirrors and nor has the prime minister time for this,” said Predalič, adding that he would like himself for the matter to be cleared up once for all. He believes the Court of Audit would have detected potential wrongdoing, in particular given the attitude of some officials at the court to the SDS.
Also interviewed was Nova24TV director Boris Tomašič, who said that the incorporation of Nova24TV was one of the most transparent such operations in Slovenia. “No money, either directly or indirectly, went to the SDS,” he said. He said the project was successful, which was the reason for the interest of advertisers.
Bandelli argued that the popularity of Nova24TV media was not proportionate to the amount of money they got from the Slovenian company R-Post-R owned by Hungarian citizen Peter Schatz, describing the figures as “horrific”.
“You’d wonder what interest the Hungarian companies Belfry and Ripost have to finance the Slovenian company Ripost d.o.o., which then finances Nova24TV,” said Bandelli, adding that financing was intended to “propagate your ideology”.
Tomašič, former editor-in-chief at Nova24TV, said that they were now getting only small amounts of money from Ripost, while Nova24TV media had good viewing and site visitor numbers. He said their operations had always been transparent and lawful, while business relationships could be of various types.
Koprivc and Bandelli described Nova24TV as a party-affiliated media, wondering whether such an outlet can report without a bias, particularly during election campaigns. Tomašič dismissed this, saying that reporting at the broadcaster was balanced.
Also being interviewed, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs, former director of Nova24TV, said that the broadcaster’s services paid by Hungarian companies had not been a sham. Nova24TV and its website receive most money from Hungary via Slovenian company R-Post-R, formerly known as Ripost, he said, noting that the services involved a lease of advertisement space.
He also rejected allegations that transactions had been carried out via the company to conceal the link with Hungarian companies with close links to the Hungarian government, adding that he himself did not know companies or persons affiliated with the Hungarian government.