No conclusions as MPs debate situation at RTV Slovenija

Ljubljana – The centre-left opposition failed to muster support for a series of resolutions they proposed in response to what they see as political pressure on editorial independence and autonomy of the public broadcaster, as the relevant parliamentary committee discussed the situation at RTV Slovenija for four hours on Friday.

The parties LMŠ, SD, Left, SAB and the unaffiliated MPs proposed seven resolutions, including one calling on the government to stop political pressure on the broadcaster and re-establish conditions for journalists to be able to do their job independently.

They also wanted for the committee to urge the Government Communication Office to stop with its “methodologically unprofessional” analysis of the broadcaster’s reporting, which the opposition denounced as unacceptable interference by the executive branch of power in the independence and autonomy of a public broadcasting service.

Further proposed resolutions included calling on the broadcaster’s leadership to respect valid legislation and the staff’s majority opinion in key appointments and to resume democratic standards and dialogue with the staff on changes to the broadcaster’s internal rules.

The broadcaster’s supervisory board was to be urged to present to parliament findings in response to allegations by staff of arbitrary conduct, smearing of employees and politically motivated appointments by the broadcaster’s leadership. However, each of the proposed resolutions was voted down by nine votes to seven.

Lidija Divjak Mirnik, an MP for the LMŠ party, said their motive was to prevent RTV Slovenija from becoming a state broadcaster as it was an institution vital for the identity of the Slovenian nation.

Petra Bezjak Cirman, the head of the works council at RTV Slovenija, urged for politics to fully withdraw from the public service, expressing the hope that employee representatives would have a say on a new bill on the public broadcaster. Under the current solution, only three employee reps sit on the 29-member programming council.

Representatives of the Association of Slovenian Journalists and the Journalists’ Trade Union, in-house trade unions and staff did not take part in the session because they do not think a session in the time just before the general election can contribute to solving the problems.

Andrej Grah Whatmough, director-general of RTV Slovenija, said they condemned political pressure of any kind in the strongest terms, be it directed at journalists or leadership members. “We will never bow to them.”

Borut Rončević, the head of the broadcaster’s supervisory board, said no government representatives never directed his work, and Peter Gregorčič, the head of the RTV Slovenija programming, described the session as pressure on the broadcaster.

Gregorčič notified the European Commission of the political pressure on the broadcaster, which he said was motivated by the election campaign, during discussions held as part of preparations to release a rule-of-law report on Slovenia.

SAB MP Maša Kociper commented that every autocratic system or leader was trying to subjugate media to avert criticism. “Incumbent Prime Minister Janez Janša has always had such tendencies,” she said.

Speaking for Janša’s Democrats (SDS), MP Elena Zavadlav Ušaj said RTV Slovenija programme was trying to get balanced now. “But revolt ensues right away,” she said, describing as lies the allegations of attempts to undermine the public service.

Before the session, the NGO called Institute 8 March handed more than 40,000 signatures to the staff who make the weekly magazine-format shows Studio City and Tednik and the talk-show Tarča as a token of support after the shows were removed from the programme for the duration of the election campaign or even longer in the case of Studio City.

The NGO’s representative Kristina Krajnc said each of the signatures was a show of support not only for the programmes but also for independent journalism, a public broadcaster and critical thinking.

Tadej Golob, the author of a popular series of crime novels that has been made into a TV series, said “if Studio City falls, it’s a big step toward RTV becoming not a public but a party” broadcaster.

The broadcaster’s leadership argues the removal of the three shows is standard adaptation of the programme in the runup to the election in compliance with legal provisions, but Krajnc said much fewer shows were cancelled in the 2018 election campaign.