STA staff urges top EU officials to protect STA, media freedom in Slovenia

Slovenska tiskovna agencija (STA).

Ljubljana – Representatives of STA staff have send a letter to top EU officials noting that despite calls to restore the financing of the STA, the issue has still not been resolved. Moral support by senior representatives of the EU unfortunately no longer suffices, the letter reads.

The STA Works Council, Editorial Staff Representation, Editorial Board and the STA Trade Union of Journalists addressed the letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Council Charles Michel, and President of the European Parliament David Sassoli.

Two months ago when Slovenia started its presidency of the Council of the EU, warnings were raised concerning the financing of the STA and the expectation was voiced that Slovenia will quickly find a solution by ensuring financing and securing the agency’s independence. The same expectations had been voiced before by EU officials, and they were told by the Slovenian government that the issue would be resolved quickly.

“It is with sadness that the shrinking staff at the STA – a tenth of the staff have left since the start of the funding problems – can now report that nothing has happened. The government continues to engage in actions that are intentionally pushing us into a dead-end, a point at which we must give up either our independence or our jobs,” the letter reads.

The Government Communications Office (UKOM), with the support of the most senior government representatives, continues to “demonstrate on a near daily basis an utter lack of desire to resolve the financing dispute as it makes up an endless stream of new conditions that it says we should satisfy to sign a public service agreement for 2021 with them”.

Thus, the STA has been without funding for 243 days, despite this being required by not one but two laws, the act on the STA and the 7th corona relief act, says the letter.

It goes on to note that the STA was indeed offered to sign a public service agreement right after the start of the EU presidency, but the wording of the agreement failed to address any of its key concerns raised during the course of negotiations, and it was damaging for the agency in that it would have undermined its commercial revenue pillar.

What is more, the agreement invoked provisions of a government regulation that encroached on the act governing the STA, a regulation that has been stayed by a court pending a final decision.

The management of the STA has called for the continuation of negotiations, but “instead of the talks continuing we are facing a worsening barrage of insults on social media by the most senior representatives of the state”.

The letter includes a few examples of tweets by senior government representatives.

“For us, the refusal to release public service funding despite the STA performing its public service obligations throughout this time, means the agency’s end is just two months away: we only have sufficient funds for August wages before we face insolvency as early as the beginning of October.

“To get even this far, the agency has been forced to resort to solutions that are unimaginable for public service media in democratic countries, including crowdfunding and the sale of claims to the state.”

Nevertheless, the remaining 87-strong staff risks being made jobless, as court decisions may come too late to provide anything but “moral satisfaction”.

The STA staff urges EU officials to support the renewed appeal to the government to “immediately and unconditionally provide funding for the STA”, adding that moral support by senior representatives of the EU unfortunately no longer suffices.

“It is necessary to take more decisive, perhaps even unprecedented steps, to protect freedom of the press. Absent that, this will mark a new defeat of democratic values that the funding fathers of the European Union were fighting for,” reads the letter.

The STA management has again proposed a new round of talks with the UKOM today, and notified President Borut Pahor, Speaker Igor Zorčič and Prime Minister Janez Janša of the situation.