Brussels/Ljubljana – The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a coalition of press freedom organisations and journalism groups, stressed on Monday that media freedom was at risk in Slovenia. Attacks on Slovenian media take place at multiple levels, both legislative and administrative, and on social networks, the group said.
Presenting its report released at the end of last month after a virtual fact-finding mission to Slovenia in late May and early June, representatives of MFRR partner organisations highlighted government attacks on the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and public broadcaster RTV Slovenija today.
With the report noting that Slovenia has seen press freedom deteriorate ever since Prime Minister Janez Janša returned to power in March 2020, MFRR representatives said today that aggressive efforts were under way to take control over public media.
A mix of legal and administrative pressure is being used as well as attacks, often personal, aimed at undermining the integrity and independence of these institutions. “What is worrying is that this is happening during the pandemic, when objective reporting is crucial,” said Jamie Wiseman from the International Press Institute (IPI).
Tim Schoot Uiterkamp from foundation Free Press Unlimited (FPU) said that during the mission in Slovenia representatives of the Slovenian government had mostly justified their actions by arguing that the media landscape needed to be balanced and that a network of fierce government opponents controlled the media.
Government officials also pointed to the problems that existed before this government. Schoot Uiterkamp said that problems from that period had been detected but that the current government had used those weaknesses and deepened them rather than trying to eliminate them.
MFRR representatives warned that the Slovenian government was copying the illiberal model of democracy from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and that the ruling Democrats (SDS) had set up a network of party media before taking office, and now they were discrediting media and journalists and trying to present the media landscape as a battle between the left and right activism to undermine trust in the media.
“We are concerned by the spreading of this model,” said Schoot Uiterkamp, adding though that not everything was lost in Slovenia’s case.
What is positive in Slovenia is that media and the civil society have recognised the threat and shown some solidarity. The stronger and the more independent the public media outlets are, the easier they can resist to such pressure, said Renate Schroeder, the head of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).
Schoot Uiterkamp urged Slovenian journalists to remain alert, continue to show solidarity with their peers and continue to resist pressure, as this was what differentiates Slovenia from Hungary and Poland, where no such resistance could be felt.
He also called on European institutions to monitor the situation closely and respond to developments in Slovenia, and to adopt as soon as possible a directive against strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP).
He said Brussels should also launch a mechanism of withholding EU budget payments to countries where governments bend the rule of law.
Laurens Hueting from the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) assessed that at present there was no need to launch the procedure foreseen under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union and expressed hope that this would never be necessary.