STA and UKOM sign public service contract for 2022

Slovenska tiskovna agencija (STA).

Ljubljana – Igor Kadunc, the director of the Slovenian Press Agency, and Uroš Urbanija, the head of the Government Communication Office (UKOM), signed on Tuesday a contract on financing the STA’s public service in 2022. The deal maintains a system for the calculation of the relevant fee that is based on the actual amount of content the STA produces.

The two sides have thus “laid the foundation for the undisrupted continuation of the STA’s work in this important year, when the agency is expected to work responsibly during the super election year”, Kadunc told the STA.

The agreement “essentially follows the basics we have already established in the 2021 contract”, he said, adding: “But we have committed in the [latest] contract to work intensively to ensure that the distinction between public service and commercial activities is in line with the state aid regime as defined by Slovenia’s standards and by the EU.”

Commenting on this, UKOM said in a press release that the total annual amount planned when it comes to state aid in the form of compensation for the financing of public service for 2022 remained the same as in the previous two years, at EUR 2,028,000.

UKOM pointed out that this amount “represents an advance payment which will be subject to adjustment by means of an annex to the contract once the STA has fully reconciled the accounting distinction between public service and commercial activities”.

“The contract sets down the necessary such activities of the STA and sets a deadline of 30 June 2022 for the fulfilment of these commitments,” UKOM said.

Under the current director, the agency has also started activities to establish cost accounting information “leading to the knowledge of the correct full cost price of services, that is the price for news (in full text) by editorial or content area and for an average news item, photo, etc.”, UKOM added.

All this will be “the necessary basis for the new director to correctly implement the rules governing state aid for services of general economic interest on the one hand, and to manage the STA economically and efficiently on the other, and last but not least, for STA employees to be able to evaluate their performance at work”.

UKOM said that in this way it would be clear where funds for the STA’s public service go to. Moreover, it was again critical of former STA director Bojan Veselinovič and the STA’s supervisory board.

Kadunc noted earlier that “unfortunately, no solution could be found for the picture service, but as soon as possible we will propose an amendment to the law that would more clearly classify photographs as a commercial activity, as is the case everywhere in Europe.”

Currently, the STA is required to disseminate a portion of its photographs free of charge, a rule that has been criticised by professional photographers, as they noted this led to uneven footing in the industry.

Meanwhile, UKOM said that the contract complied with the requirements of the act on the STA, including free access to photographs.

The contract is based on the government decree on the STA’s public service, adopted last year, which changed the way public service is financed by introducing payment by volume of production. The STA is challenging the decree in court, while complying with its provisions pending a final decision from the court.

Representatives of the STA staff welcomed the signing of the contract, as this provides at least basic financial security for the agency in 2022, they said. However, they maintain that the per-piece funding model based on the number of news items and photographs is unacceptable.

The STA’s editorial board, workers’ council, in-house trade union and representatives of STA desks wrote in a joint release that the model “pushes the need to provide as much content as possible, which is a misguided approach as it limits the possibilities of directing resources to more complex content with a higher added value”.

The most problematic feature of this model or the contract in general, they reiterated, “is that it allows UKOM to arbitrarily decide which content it will or will not fund as part of public service”. “This may lead to an impermissible indirect influence on editorial autonomy, which we will not accept,” they said.

At the same time, this could also result in renewed financial instability of the STA, they warned, saying that the STA would not be paid more if it produced more than planned, but might be sanctioned if it under-produced or produced content that according to UKOM was not part of public service.

“The current complications surrounding the public service payment for the last two months of last year show that this could happen,” they added.

Also responding to the developments, the agency’s previous director Veselinovič welcomed the announcement of the basis for the STA’s financing in 2022, but also pointed out that the signing of the contract had been delayed considerably, taking into account the STA law.

He denied UKOM’s claim that only now it will be clear what the funds from the state budget intended for the STA are spent on, noting that the STA’s operations had always been transparent and supervised.

He also dismissed UKOM’s accusations against the agency’s accounting, noting audits of the STA had found no irregularities.

After performing its public service without pay since the start of 2021, the STA signed the 2021 contract with UKOM in November 2021. The contract envisaged public funding worth EUR 2 million.