by Vinko Vasle & Jože Biščak
First, let us express our great astonishment that you understood the “case” of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) completely one-sidedly and that you did not try to get a second opinion. You call yourself “Reporters Without Borders,” which means that you are also committed to professional standards of communication.
Furthermore, we would like to kindly remind you that your claim, that the Government of the Republic of Slovenia or its President Janez Janša had cancelled the financing of the STA, is not true. At a correspondence session, the government only took note of a letter from Uroš Urbanija, director of the Government Communication Office (UKOM), stating that inadequate communication with the STA leadership, especially longtime director Bojan Veselinović, made it impossible to assess how much funds the agency needs for its operations. This assessment also depends on the current operations of the agency and especially its director, which is completely normal. Therefore, UKOM had requested the provision of data, which it did not receive, with an explanation that UKOM is not a legal entity that could request this and that only the government could request it. This claim is ridiculous as UKOM is a part of the government – it concludes contracts with the STA on behalf of the government every year – thus it is entitled in this capacity to request information. Transparency in the operations of this agency is a precondition for its financing from the state budget.
However, it is obvious that the STA authorities are imagining this transparency in their own way and are stubbornly doing something that unnecessarily led to the only logical measure: until UKOM receives the relevant data, there can be no funding.
Behind this incomprehensible stubbornness of the director of the agency Veselinović, there is very likely a concern and fear that to-him-unfavourable information would come to light. Not only that an explanation of why he pays himself 8,500 euros a month (which is – by the way – twice the salary of a Slovenian minister and a higher salary than the salaries of the Prime Minister and the President) is needed, but there are also allegations and suspicions of illegal spending of budget funds, unusual outflows and spills of money from the agency, etc that need to be investigated. Therefore, a comprehensive review or audit of the Agency’s operations is necessary. The reference of the chairman of the supervisory board of this agency that there is nothing wrong with the business is similar to the claim of a drunk driver that there is nothing wrong and that the police officer must believe him. It is known that trust is fine, but control is even better. At the same time, we should emphasize that this supervisory board was appointed by the former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec just before his resignation, hence it should not be trusted blindly.
Moreover, the Slovenian news agency (STA) is not problematic only from the point of the transparency of financial operations, but also from the way in which it carries out its mission. It is no secret that Bojan Veselinović ideologically belongs to the left, and that he used to be a member of the League of Communists of Slovenia and Yugoslavia. In addition, his preference was not independence and the state of Slovenia, as he comes from the officer family of the aggressor of the Yugoslav army of the former state. This might not be worth mentioning if the agency’s reporting did not continue to show that it was not acting in the interests of the general public, that it was not a “neutral” agency, but that it is trying to subtly impose its agenda, which is primarily, at the moment, an agenda against the current government and its president. This is absurd, given that the Government of the Republic of Slovenia is the founder and manager of this agency and as such, it deserves proper reporting on its work.
Through contributions of the STA, the efforts of the government and the profession to curb the COVID-19 epidemic are being belittled. Its contributions popularize aggressive, primitive individuals, such as the famous rapper Zlatan Čordić, who, due to violent acts, provocations and threats against a television cameraman, has to deal with the Police. The same applies to the informal leader of the mass illegal demonstrations in the capital Ljubljana, Jaša Jenulla, whose pedigree – the son of the Supreme State Attorney – apparently protects him.
There are even more examples of one-sided, incorrect reporting by this agency, so we believe that your claim that the government has grossly attacked the media freedom is exaggerated and does not correspond to the facts. In this sense, it is also not possible for Prime Minister Janez Janša to revoke the decision to stop funding the agency, because neither he nor the government took this decision.
Perhaps it should not be too much to expect that, as professionals in the field of journalism, you will try to be properly informed next time. “There are two sides to every story” is the foundation of journalistic professionalism, and without it there is no autonomy.
Joze Biščak, editor-in-chief of Democracija magazine and president of the Slovenian Association of Patriotic Journalists, and Vinko Vasle, longtime journalist and editor and former director of Radio Slovenia