Govt to give EUR 845,000 advance to STA under certain conditions

Ljubljana – The government has asked its communication office to transfer a EUR 845,000 advance to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) for the expected expenses related to the performance of public service once the STA provides UKOM with access into business documentation for the last ten years and if a contract on public service is signed.

The advance must be transferred within three days following the day the STA director allows authorised persons of the Government Communication Office (UKOM) to access the documentation and if the contract for 2021 is signed by then.

The proposals from the government as the sole founder and shareholder of the national press agency were confirmed at the annual general meeting today.

STA director Bojan Veselinovič is obligated to allow authorised representatives of UKOM immediate access to data and information about the internal organisational and accounting and financial structure of business processes and access to the entire documentation on financial operations since 28 June 2011.

On the other hand, with the purpose of “ensuring comprehensive and undisrupted performance of public service”, the government asked UKOM director Uroš Urbanija to transfer to the STA a EUR 845,000 advance for the expected expenses related to the performance of public service.

Another condition is that the STA sign by then with UKOM director a contract for the performance of public service for 2021 and provides public availability of the content on the website that corresponds to the public service from the relevant legal act.

The final and overall amount of compensation for the performance of public service since 1 January will be established by UKOM in accordance with the relevant regulation that has been recently adopted.

The government also instructed Veselinovič to withdraw within 48 hours the lawsuit seeking payment for the public service from UKOM at the Ljubljana District Court, and to report about this to UKOM.

In a press release issued after the meeting, UKOM said it was the government’s duty to see to efficient use of the taxpayers’ money, while the agency’s duty was to use the money as efficiently as possible and to keep the government comprehensively up to date on the spending.

UKOM finds that most of the STA’s online content is only available to subscribers and free access is only available to short news ledes, so most of the public exert their right to being informed by reading the web portals of other providers, which provide full summaries of news reports for free as they pay for the commercial services provided by the STA.

The release sad the government pegged the financing of the public service to the scope of the public service performed under the STA business plan in order to expand the scope of the public service provided.

“If the government provided the fee for the public service in advance as so far, it would renounce the only mechanism allowing it to check to what extent the STA business plan has in fact been implemented, nor could it encourage the STA to its increased implementation,” UKOM said.

UKOM says it hopes the STA management and supervisory board would realise the STA’s mission is to strengthen the public service rather than increase commercial activities. The government detailed such mode of financing in the decree on the STA public service, which had to be aligned with EU law.

UKOM also “condemned in the strongest terms” as misleading the STA management’s interpreting the government’s demand to report on the use of the taxpayers’ money as the government’s interference in editorial policy.

Veselinovič welcomed the “government’s announcement that it will supposedly end the suspension of financing of the STA”, saying the STA would have sent all business information and documents to UKOM long ago had it demanded it in a legal way.

He said that it was only at today’s shareholders meeting that the government had legally authorised UKOM to gain insight into the STA documentation, although the documentation had been in the government building since April.

“Once UKOM tells us what information about the operations of the STA in the past decade it wants and in what way, the STA will send it. We have no problems whatsoever with this, as the STA operates transparently and it is scrutinised by authorised auditors.”

As for the new contract, Veselinovič said that the law “stipulates financing of the STA in accordance with the adopted business plan for this year regardless of whether a contract has been signed or not.”

Regarding the call on the director to withdraw the lawsuit seeking payment for the public service from UKOM, he said that the STA management would consult legal experts about this.

After the STA receives the 845,000 advance, it will withdraw the proposal for the court to order UKOM to make due payments for public service before the final decision is made, because the liquidity of the agency will no longer be at risk, he added.

The Association of Slovenian Journalists (DNS) repeated that the government has a duty under two pieces of legislation to pay the STA for the public service, describing additional conditions that are being set for the financing and which would increase the UKOM director’s control over the STA’s operations as extortion.

“The government must be aware it is overstepping its legal powers, but counts on it that being in a financial pinch, the STA will be forced to consent to its terms,” the DNS said, adding it would follow the developments further.

The STA has been without government payment for its public service for 179 days.