RTV Slovenija staff protest against pressure, demand full editorial autonomy

Ljubljana – Journalists at RTV Slovenija staged a news conference in front of the public broadcaster on Monday to demand full editorial independence and protest against deteriorating working conditions, mobbing and political pressure. TV Slovenija journalists also oppose Jadranka Rebernik’s appointment as editor-in-chief of TV news programmes.

The staff expect changes to news programmes to be decided on solely by RTV Slovenija, while the decisions must not be made at the initiative of political parties or powerful individuals, nor to their benefit.

TV journalist Saša Krajnc said TV Slovenija One programmes are increasingly impoverished, scheduled shows are often not aired at the set times, and decisions to broadcast foreign shows or rallies did not come as a surprise only to the general public but also to RTV Slovenija staff.

This is after TV Slovenija has broadcast two BBC shows on Ukraine since Russia’s invasion plus one of the rallies in support of Ukraine, the one which featured senior government officials, including Prime Minister Janez Janša, as key-note speakers.

He also took issue with the controversial changes to the public broadcaster’s 2022 production plan over which the previous editor-in-chief of TV news programmes resigned in October. Some of the news shows were abolished, others were shortened or relegated from channel one to channel two.

Kranjc said that some of the news programmes that should have been launched on channel two after the Beijing Olympics have been yet again postponed.

The staff urged the 29-strong programming council to do its job in an independent and unbiased manner. The new lineup had its maiden session in mid-February after 21 members who newly appointed and are seen to be close to the director general.

The staff expects political parties to refrain from attempts to interfere in the work of RTV Slovenija, saying the broadcaster is in the service of the public.

Tatjana Pirc from Radio Slovenija pointed to the unwarranted criticism the Government Communication Office (UKOM) has been making in its reports as it scrutinises RTV Slovenija reporting.

The journalists believe the RTV Slovenija leadership should react in such cases to protect the staff and prevent attempts to undermine the public broadcaster.

Erika Žnidaršič, the host of the Tarča current affairs show, said the staff behind the latest Tarča, on Russia’s invasion on Ukraine, were again pressured and attacked.

“The prime minister called us pro-Russian extremists on the day of the show, after we were called British fascists and a disgrace a day earlier,” she said, adding that like several times before, there were calls for her dismissal also this time around.

Igor E. Bergant, a journalist at TV news programmes, said RTV Slovenija director general Andrej Grah Whatmough appointed Rebernik editor-in-chief for a full term on Friday even if the staff overwhelmingly supported her rival Mitja Prek.

If Prek agrees, they will ask the programming council to take a position on his candidacy to eventually replace Rebernik, which is possible under the RTV Slovenija act.

The Slovenian Journalist Association (DNS) and Journalist Trade Union (SNS) expressed support for the staff’s demands and labelled Rebernik’s appointment unlawful, arguing it is the latest in a series of the director general’s controversial moves. The DNS said the move called for his dismissal.

Both argue that Grah Whatmough did not act in line with the law which gives the staff the right to put forward their candidate if the one put forward by the TV Slovenija director does not enjoy their trust. In such a case, the programming council must take a stance on the candidate.

TV Slovenija acting director Valentin Areh had put forward both Rebernik (who received some 20% support) and Prek (around 80%), but Grah Whatmough appointed Rebernik. She took over as acting editor-in-chief in December, and did not oppose the controversial production plan, although she also did not support it.

The DNS and the trade union believe the appointment procedure should be repeated, with the DNS adding the programming council and supervisory board should start a procedure to dismiss the director general since he pushed RTV Slovenija into operating lawfully.

The SNS highlighted that such violations gradually affect editorial autonomy, especially since the director general can count on a comfortable majority on the programming council, which votes on a number of his decisions.

The union said the director general had also announced sanctions against those who express their views, which together with “the established political pressure on journalists from the most aggressive members of the programming council and the UKOM” already affects journalists’ day-to-day work. It announced it would take “adequate action” against the leadership over the unlawful moves.