SDS files signatures for referendum on new RTV Slovenija act

Ljubljana – The opposition Democrats (SDS) filed on Thursday some 6,200 voter signatures to initiate proceedings for a referendum to be called on the government-sponsored changes to the act on RTV Slovenija. SDS deputy Alenka Jeraj argued in a press statement on the occasion that the changes would cause an end of independence of the public broadcaster.

The coalition Freedom Movement, Social Democrats (SD) and the Left said the SDS’s move had been expected. Obviously the implementation of the changes will be delayed for a while and in this time the coalition will study the possibility of dismissing members of the Programme Council who are thought to be breaking the current RTV law and rules of procedures, the parties said.

Jeraj argued that the SDS found it disputable that the changes had been discussed in the National Assembly in a fast-track procedure and that civil society had been excluded from the debate.

There was no public consultation on the changes, she said, adding that “this is apparently the modus operandi of the new government.”

The changes that overhaul the governing bodies of the public broadcaster so that their members will no longer be appointed by parliament, political parties or the government were vetoed by the upper chamber yesterday.

Jeraj noted that the SDS would support the National Council’s veto in today’s re-vote that requires the outright majority in the 90-member National Assembly for the veto to be overridden.

She added the SDS opposed the changes because the National Assembly was stripped of the right to make appointments at RTV Slovenija.

“We are being convinced that the elected representatives who stand for a certain number of voters are not allowed or are not qualified to make decisions on the appointments to the programming council,” she said.

The opposition New Slovenia (NSi) expressed support for the referendum, saying media objectivity was too important for the changes to be fast-tracked through parliament.

“We support a public debate in the form of referendum,” said MP Janez Žakelj. The party is yet to decide about how an active role they would play in the signature collection and the referendum campaign, he said.

Under the changes, the existing programming council and the supervisory board would be replaced with a single 17-strong council in which the staff will be represented by six members.

The remaining eleven members will be appointed by the Italian and Hungarian minorities, religious communities, the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts and various other institutions and organisations.

In place of director general, the law would introduce a five-member management board comprising of directors of radio and TV arms, workers’ director and digital contents director.

Jeraj argued that the changes “decapitate” the constitutionally-protected members of the programming council, and that this would be an end of independence of RTV Slovenija.

After more than the required 2,500 voter signatures have been filed to initiate the referendum proceedings, the parliamentary speaker will now determine a 35-day deadline for the required 40,000 voter signatures to be collected.

Since the request was filed between 15 July and 31 August, the period for the collection of signatures will start on 1 September.

Mojca Šetinc Pašek, MP for the Freedom Movement, said the SDS “apparently does not understand the concept of modern democracy, modern media, public media”. If enough signatures are collected, she expects a referendum campaign based on lies and manipulations. She also noted this would waste over EUR 4 million in taxpayers’ money.

The head of the Left deputy group, Matej Tašner Vatovec, said the referendum initiative was proof that the changes to the RTV law were more than needed. He said the best proof of poor functioning of the public broadcaster was Monday’s appointment of former head of the Government Communication Office Uroš Urbanija, who denied financing to the STA and was analysing RTV Slovenia reports in his term, as director of TV Slovenija.

SD MP Jonaš Žnidaršič said the referendum initiative was all about buying time and resisting to changes at the public broadcaster.