Piše: Janja Strah
“We believe that the Commission of Inquiry is not only designed to intimidate media critical of the authorities, but also to destroy them. We ask you: is this media freedom?” wrote Jože Biščak and Vinko Vasle in a new letter to Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Values.
Former director of Nova obzorja Jože Biščak and Demokracija columnist Vinko Vasle informed European Commissioner Jourová about what is happening in the Slovenian media space, and in particular about the Commission of Inquiry of the Slovenian Parliament.
We publish their letter in full:
Dear Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Values
First of all, please accept our sincere apologies for our insolence, as this is the second time we have written to you in such a short space of time. But given that you were very interested in the Slovenian media during the centre-right government (March 2020 – May 2022), we thought that you would be interested in what is happening in Slovenia now. We will try to be as brief and concise as possible, and we write to you, Mrs Jourová, with all due respect.
First, a brief introduction. Just before the April elections, the current Prime Minister, Mr Robert Golob, said that after the elections certain media would have to be abolished. You will agree that such words have no place in a free and democratic world, especially since these media are registered in the media register and operate in accordance with the law. We, too, thought that this was just pre-election rhetoric, but unfortunately it turned out that the intention of the later election winner was very real.
Shortly after the new Parliament was established, the ruling coalition (Gibanje Svoboda, SD and Levica) set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate suspicions of illegal funding of parties (read: SDS, led by former Prime Minister Janez Janša) and funding of conservative media (Nova24TV and Demokracija magazine). Let us leave aside that it is somewhat inconsistent with some logic that the ruling coalition, after its landslide victory, investigates the opposition, in other words its ideological and worldview opponents. The fact is that we have a perfectly legitimate suspicion that the ruling coalition is not at all interested in political accountability, but that the Commission of Inquiry is intended to fulfil Mr Golob’s words of April: the material destruction of the opposition media. At least I, Jože Biščak, know what I’m talking about, because I was questioned before this Commission on Thursday as the former director of Nova Obzorja, which publishes the magazine Demokracija. It was as if I were before the Inquisition Tribunal, because the Commission has the role of prosecutor and judge.
The Commission is chaired by Mrs Mojca Pašek Šetinc, now a politician and former journalist at RTV Slovenia, the media outlet whose fate you were so concerned about. Mrs Šetinc has often been the target of criticism by Democracy magazine, so she clearly has very resentful intentions in running the Commission. You will agree. Although the Commission is a political body, it should, at least on the surface, give the impression of impartiality. We can no longer claim that. In addition, the Commission’s expert member is a former journalist of the portal Necenzurirano, who wrote about what is now being investigated by the Commission, and is a direct competitor of the media outlet under investigation. This means that our competitors may get a direct insight into the operations of Nova obzorja. And that is scandalous. We ask you, the European authority, to do a little research on this matter.
Just to give you some background. The order for the Commission of Inquiry states that the Commission should establish the circumstances of “the financing of the company (…) Nova Obzorja”. The problem is that the Commission understands the term “financing of a company” in the same way as the Commission’s expert has understood it in his articles: if a company places an advertisement in a magazine, this means that it is financing the magazine. We are sure that at least you know this: buying a bun in a shop does not mean that you are financing a commercial enterprise. We could not find such a description of financing in any economics textbook, nor in any financial handbook. You will agree that the term ” the financing of the company” is very specific and refers to sources of financing for a company: from debt and equity sources to grants, debt sales or crowdfunding. And, yes, the SDS party owns 30% of Nova obzorja, which publishes the magazine Demokracija. That is its asset. Other political parties also dispose of their assets. The assets of a political party are not prohibited by law, and Slovenian law defines a political party as a “legal entity governed by private law”, which means that Nova Obzorja is 100% privately owned. Democracija magazine has never hidden its ideological orientation. But Nova Obzorja has never financed the SDS party, as I, Jože Biščak, made clear to the Commission.
It was also revealed at the Commission that the Commission had (probably unauthorisedly) obtained information on all transactions in the accounts of Nova Horizons, which means that it had obtained a list of the names of the subscribers of Demokracija magazine. “We have obtained your transaction accounts,” said Lenart Žavbi, a member of the Prime Minister’s party, at the Commission. The new director of Nova obzorja, Boris Tomašič, has already protested about this, but we fear that the Commission will not take this into account, as it has announced that it will look into the transactions of some of the private business partners. This means direct intimidation of business partners and a warning: if you advertise in Demokracija magazine, we will destroy you. There have been many more such cases before the Commission, which is why we believe that the Commission of Inquiry is not only designed to intimidate media critical of the authorities, but also to destroy them. We ask you: is this media freedom?
Mrs Jourová, you said in July that you were preparing a media freedom act to protect media space. Given what you said and the timing of what was happening, you must also have had opposition media (such as Nova24TV and Demokracija magazine) in mind, because you said at the time that it was precisely because of the situation in Slovenia that you were considering binding rules to protect the media in the EU. A free media space must be plural, and a conservative worldview is perfectly legitimate, isn’t it? We assume you agree with that?
Dear Mrs Jourová, we hope we have not been too long. If we have been and if we have wasted your precious and invaluable time, we apologise with all due humility.
With respectful and excellent greetings,
Jože Biščak and Vinko Vasle
Jože Biščak, President of the Slovenian Association of Patriotic Journalists and journalist
Vinko Vasle, columnist and former director of the National Radio (RTV Slovenia)
Ljubljana, November 19, 2022