Janša’s appearance at EU Parliament subcommittee overshadowed by row

Brussels – Prime Minister Janez Janša’s appearance in front of the European Parliament’s democracy monitoring group was overshadowed by a row with chair Sophie in ‘t Veld over a video alleging journalists are biased. After In ‘t Veld refused to play the video during the time allotted for his statement, Janša disconnected from the videoconference.

This was the second debate of this parliamentary sub-committee about the freedom of media in Slovenia. While being invited, Janša and Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti did not take part in the first debate, and were both scheduled to appear today.

Appearing in front of a background with a number of images depicting expressions of criticism of the government and himself, Janša said that the debate was staged for the purpose of internal political affairs because it was likely of no interest to anybody outside the country.

He said that journalists in Slovenia had been beaten to death and fired while on their deathbeds, and proposed that the group watch a video about attacks on media and journalists.

This was followed by a long exchange with In ‘t Veld, who did not allow the video to be shown instead of Janša delivering his statement. She said the video would be forwarded to all group members to view. Janša, on the other hand, accused her of refusing to play the video because of its content.

Simoniti was scheduled to talk after Janša, but appeared to be offline and the group started the discussion. Following a question from German MEP Katarina Barley about alleged censorship at the newspaper Delo involving an opinion piece critical of the government, Janša’s connection was also lost.

Janša then tweeted a link to the video and accused In ‘t Veld of censorship. Several sub-committee members expressed support for her decision during the debate, expressing the position that the purpose of the session was to interact with speakers and not watch videos.

The video, as shared by Janša on Twitter, lists a series of incidents targetting journalists in Slovenia. It opens and closes with the question of who really threatens democracy and the media in Slovenia.

It wonders whether journalists were truly unbiased, providing examples of journalists-come-politicians and journalists becoming spokespersons for political parties or the government. It also lists political officials who worked in the media.

It says that a big portion of Slovenian politicians “still equate journalism with propaganda. Thus they reward this activist journalism with seats in the national or European parliament,” while the rare critical media are being suppressed and persecuted.

It also accuses “the Slovenian parties on the transitional left” of blaming others and exporting fabricated accusations to the EU and of “speaking of Orbanisation”.

MEP Tanja Fajon, the president of the opposition Social Democrats (SD), said on Twitter that what had happened was a “disgrace for Slovenia” and the SD labelled Janša’s appearance a “farce and unbecoming of a prime minister”.

On the other hand, MEP Milan Zver of Janša’s Democratic Party (SDS) said on Twitter that Sophie in ‘t Veld “censored the Slovenian prime minister” and that such a display of disrespect had never happened in the European Parliament before.

The SDS also tweeted that the video clip was censored.

MEP Ljudmila Novak of the coalition New Slovenia retweeted her recent statement in which she says that her greatest concern was Slovenia finding itself in the group of countries reproached for violating democracy, human rights and freedom of the press.

Klemen Grošelj and Irena Joveva (Renew/LMŠ) said ahead of the debate that they were concerned about what was going on in Slovenia and that the European Commission should apply all available tools to protect media freedom in the country.