Row over STA funding dominates debate on STA annual report

Ljubljana – The parliamentary Culture Committee got acquainted on Monday with the Slovenian Press Agency’s (STA) annual report for 2020. The debate mainly revolved around ongoing suspension of STA funding and the new government regulation that details how the STA should perform its public service.

Presenting the report, STA director Bojan Veselinovič highlighted that the STA’s work in 2020 had been most impacted by the epidemic and suspension of financing of the STA public service, which happened again this year.

Noting that the number of news items in both Slovenian and English has increased in 2020 year-on-year, Veselinovič said that the agency’s NewsMapper, an advanced article-tracking tool, had made the European Commission’s list of the best European innovations in 2020.

The number of the STA’s social media followers grew by 37%. The STA provided more than 500 livestreams in 2020 and its commercial segment income increased.

The director sees the saga of the suspended STA funding, including the new regulation, as an attempt to bypass laws. He announced the use of all legal remedies to challenge the regulation and not just in a single court.

Culture Ministry State Secretary Ignacija Fridl Jarc disagreed with him, saying that the regulation would enable future negotiations over signing a contract on performing of public service between the STA and Government Communication Office (UKOM).

The government prepared the regulation to heed the public finance act, including in the case of the STA, and make sure public funds are spent in a legal and effective way, she said.

Coalition and opposition MPs disagreed on the cause of this year’s suspension of STA funding. They also did not see eye to eye when it came to the recently adopted regulation.

MP Mojca Škrinjar of the ruling Democrats (SDS) said it was impossible to restore funding without the contract no matter the seventh anti-Covid legislative package, which envisages financing of the STA regardless if the contract is signed or not.

She welcomed the fact that the STA’s income coming from the agency’s commercial segment has grown, saying that the amount of budget funds going for the STA would thus decrease. This is good for public finances as budget funds are needed for care homes, hospitals and kindergartens, she said.

Janja Sluga, the head of the unaffiliated MP group, said that the entire saga was bizarre. According to her, the regulation is another attempt to avoid paying the STA, demolish the agency or transform it to the government’s liking.

She also highlighted that the government was violating two laws governing the STA financing, pointing out that the regulation was a statutory instrument that could not regulate the STA funding in opposition to the law. Moreover, the law gives no legal basis for such a regulation, she added.

MP Lidija Divjak Mirnik of the opposition Marjan Šarec Party said that when it came to national press agencies, what had taken Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban ten years, the Slovenian government had almost managed in a year and a half.

She called on the government to immediately restore STA funding and stop exerting pressure on the agency.

SDS MP Jožef Lenart meanwhile said that the government was not exerting any pressure on the media, least of all on the STA.

The STA has been without government payment for its public service for 165 days.