By: Mitja Iršič
Sometimes we get the feeling that European officials live on some other planet, and they have no idea what is happening in Slovenia. That is why sometimes when they discuss the situation in Slovenia, they sound quite ridiculous. Just remember how MEPs described a dystopian picture of the Slovenian media landscape during the time of Prime Minister Janez Janša’s government, claiming that journalists were afraid to leave their homes and that powerful right-wing politicians were ruining their careers. Of course, even every Slovenian leftist laughed at that, as it is clear to them that the real power to destroy someone’s career in Slovenia lies exclusively with the left. However, it is not all ignorance. Sometimes it is pure political manipulation, where European politicians help their Slovenian ideological allies. A prime example of this is Vice-President of the European Commission Věra Jourová.
For over two years now, she has been advocating the idea that the lack of funding for the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) by the previous government represented a significant European milestone in the persecution of media freedom. She recently explained for the Investigate Europe portal how she was outraged when the government led by Janez Janša stopped financing STA and when the agency organised a fundraising campaign. She even suggested that this was one of the main incentives for her to propose EU legislation on media.
So, is Jourová just another naïve European bureaucrat who decided to believe Slovenian left-wing activists in the service of left-wing politics? Not at all. Jourová is well aware of the situation in Slovenia and knows exactly what is happening.
How do I know? Because I was there when we patiently explained every detail to Jourová at the Ministry of Culture regarding the lack of funding for STA.
We showed her the contract on funding between the Government Communication Office of the Republic of Slovenia (UKOM) and STA, which was signed by the government of Marjan Šarec. This contract clearly stipulated that STA was obliged to provide all documentation that would enable the government to assess the appropriate amount to be allocated for funding the public service provided by the agency. Otherwise, the government would distribute taxpayers’ money ad hoc, without a proper assessment of the realistic monthly funding amount. The contract signed by the previous government also stated that payments could be suspended, and the government could legally demand the return of funds already paid if STA did not submit documents about its financial operations. The director of STA refused to provide the necessary documentation, and the Government Communication Office acted in accordance with the law by invoking the clause in the contract. If the then-director had handed over the necessary documents, funding would have continued the next day. We also told Jourová that previous left-wing governments simply paid the amount requested by STA without even asking for a breakdown of expenses – in simple terms, “on trust”. It seemed like a conspiracy driven by self-interest between the left-wing governments that had ruled for most of 2010 and the long-time director of STA.
UKOM quickly realised that the only reason the director of STA did not want to provide the appropriate documentation on cost assessments was to conceal the fact that previous governments and STA had violated the law. The STA Act clearly stipulated that the agency was obliged to provide all public services described in the law to all Slovenian citizens and media for free. Instead, STA commercially sold some public services, which meant that citizens and even media paid for the same service twice – first through taxes and then as a paid service.
The new director noticed these irregularities and promptly rectified them – public services that were supposed to be free according to the law were made available to the wider public, and the paywall, as stipulated by the law, was removed. Shortly thereafter, an agreement was reached with the Government Communication Office for funding both the backlog and regular annual payments. Smaller media outlets, who had previously been required to pay for STA’s public services even though they were supposed to be available for free according to the law, praised the government’s efforts. Thus, the actions of the Janša’s government significantly contributed to the sustainability of these smaller media outlets.
We explained all of this to Jourová in several meetings, and MEP Romana Tomc also explained the facts to her in letters. Each time, it appeared that she understood the issue. However, in her next media interview, she would start repeating one-liners about the Janša government’s attack on STA, taken straight from the arsenal of the Slovenian left-wing avant-garde. So do not fool yourselves into thinking that all European politicians are naïve victims of Slovenian left-wing propaganda. They are not – along with Slovenian leftists and left-wing media tycoons, they are fighting against real freedom of speech, against pluralism, against Slovenian journalists, and against the truth.