Proposed regulation redefines STA public service, financing

Slovenska tiskovna agencija (STA).

Ljubljana – The public service provided by the STA would be subject to detailed new rules under a draft government regulation that the agency’s director has described as yet another attempt to bypass two laws that require the government to provide public funding for the agency and as unlawful.

Unlike the law governing the STA, which provides broad outlines of the public service, the draft regulation defines exactly what the public service should look like.

It stipulates that special summaries of Slovenian and English news have to be open to the public, distinct from the news wire the agency markets to subscribers and available in a separate section of the web page.

At present, lead paragraphs and condensed news for radio stations are designated as public service and freely available.

Photos about key events and all content about minorities would also have to be available free of charge, the regulation determines.

The second set of provisions deals with the public service fee, introducing the concept of net expenses the agency incurs in the provision of public service.

In effect, the public service fee would cover the difference between total costs and commercial revenue, whereby even revenue for dedicated commercial projects the STA is performing for public bodies would count as public revenue.

The fee would be paid monthly based on the volume of public service performed in the month before; at present, the public funding, which is currently suspended, is paid monthly but does not specifically depend on monthly output.

The decree also deals with commercial services, requiring that any commercial activities be in compliance with generally accepted professional standards and the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, independence, and public accountability.

The STA would have to report quarterly to the Government Communications Office (UKOM) about the realisation of the business plan and UKOM would also annually evaluate whether the public service fee is lower or higher than net costs.

The oversight by UKOM also involves access to information about the STA financial and accounting practices.

Financially, the decree is estimated at EUR 2 million annually, which is broadly in line with what the agency has been receiving in the past.

The decree was announced last week as an attempt to end the impasse over financing that has left the agency without payment for public service for 159 days.

However, STA director Bojan Veselinovič has described it as “a new manoeuvre to bypass two laws that the government has been violating since the start of this year”.

He said nobody had consulted with the agency about these changes, which would have been expected “if they actually wanted to do us good”.

He also stressed that the EUR 2 million does not amount to actual funding, it is only an amount reserved for this purpose, while the final judgement about the funding would be up to the UKOM director.

Veselinovič announced legal action against the decree, saying the agency would “use all legal remedies” to challenge it in court.

A legal opinion commissioned by the STA makes similar points, arguing that the decree infringes on the fundamental principle of law which stipulates that executive regulations must be substantively based on the law they refer to.

It highlights as particular problematic the provision which states what kind of commercial services the STA may or may not perform, arguing that this has no place in a regulation that declaratively deals with its public service.

The Trade Union of Journalists (SNS) and the Association of Journalists (DNS) expressed opposition to the draft decree, assessing that it was unconstitutional and encroaching upon the editorial and managerial autonomy of the STA.

The SNS said it “represents the realisation of the politically motivated goal of the current government that it has pursued with the illegal suspension of financing of the public service of the STA, that is to subjugate the public service.”

The DNS said that the decree was unnecessary, and that it would result in greater control by UKOM and its director over the independent public media outlet and “enable further extortion and applying of pressure on the STA.”