Mr. Janez Janša, Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia
Mr. Vasko Simoniti, Minister of Culture the Republic of Slovenia
Mr. Borut Pahor, President of the Republic of Slovenia
Mr. Igor Zorčič, Speaker of the National Assembly
We, the undersigned partners of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), would like to raise serious concerns about the proposed changes to the funding of public service media in Slovenia and the unacceptably short amount of time that was allocated for public debate and consultation on the matter, which in the meantime has been extended.
Taken together the package of amendments to three media laws proposed on 9 July have the potential to financially weaken the public broadcaster and allow far greater government control over the management of public service media.
These interconnected changes raise several fundamental questions over the future independence and freedom of the country’s public service media and could lead to major changes to the wider Slovenian media landscape.
The financial forecasts set out by the RTV Slovenia (RTVS) General Manager Igor Kadunc in the wake of the announcement paint an alarming picture. If approved, the changes to the Radio and Television Slovenia Act would result in an overall annual budget reduction of approximately €13 million, leaving the broadcaster in a precarious fiscal position.
To offset these substantial losses, it is clear RTVS will be forced to cut budgets to staff and production costs. According to the trade unions of RTVS, this could result in up to 400 employees losing their jobs, jeopardising its ability to produce the professional and dependable journalism that has been so important during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Equally worrying are the proposals to amend elements of the Slovenian Press Agency Act, which will give the government greater powers to select its supervisors and dismiss its director.
We have and share serious concerns that these proposals could potentially pave the way for political influence and interference over the Agency’s executive body and its editorial policy, resulting in a deterioration in its independence akin to changes observed in other European states.
Unfortunately, the government’s recent move to exert greater control over the RTVS’s Programming Council, and its failed bid to appoint more of its favoured candidates to its Supervisory Board, do little to allay these concerns.
The Ministry of Culture had initially allocated a mere five working days for public debate and consultation on all the proposed legislative amendments. Considering the scope and significance of these changes, this was an inadequate amount of time to conduct a proper public debate into the future of the public broadcaster with all relevant stakeholders. In the meantime the public consultation period has been extended until the end of August.
We welcome this change, which we hope will be adequate to allow the public, journalists, media associations, civil society, and parliament itself to consider the ramifications of the proposals. We urge Minister of Culture Vasko Simoniti and the coalition led by the ruling Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) to engage substantively with the consultation process with a view toward ensuring that draft amendments reflect key concerns raised by expert stakeholders.
These draft changes, and the apparent attempt to rush them through parliament, have been preceded by a clear efforts during the last few months by certain public officials, including the Prime Minister, to attack critical journalism and discredit and undermine public trust in the work of the broadcaster and its staff.
Set against this backdrop, we are concerned that these proposed amendments are part of a wider politically motivated attack on RTVS by members of the ruling SDS party, one based on accusations of perceived bias rather than sound financial management of a public body.
This is entirely inconsistent with international standards and the values of media freedom and independence to which Slovenia is bound by the European Union.
The MFRR will continue to closely monitor this situation in Slovenia in the coming days and months and plans to hold a special press freedom mission to the country later in the year to engage with relevant stakeholders.
We urge the coalition government to apply the brakes to this legislative package, at the very least pending extensive further consultation and substantial revisions. It is clear that major changes to these proposals are needed to safeguard the independence and public-interest reporting of public service media in Slovenia.