By: Andrej Žitnik / Nova24tv
The Ministry of Culture’s annual media tender has in the past been an unofficial funding source for the leftists, where their ideological friends in the government handed out financial support to keep them “working hard” throughout the year. When Simoniti was in charge of the Ministry and wanted to regulate this area – including so that the private media moguls would no longer be able to leech off these funds, but from the mandatory Radio-Television Slovenia (national media outlet) contribution, which would thus become a kind of “media contribution,” a pogrom and the demonisation of the right-wing government’s efforts ensued, which reverberated all the way to Brussels. The government was accused of suppressing the media, of repression, of attacking the freedom of speech, and more. Now – to the delight of the media oligarchs – things seem to be falling back into place. The media tender will once again become a treat for the obedient, compliant media outlets.
The Mass Media Act, which regulates the aforementioned media tender, is based on some utopian socialist idea that the media, as a special industry that is also responsible for public reporting, needs a special incentive from the state. And when we are talking about the state, we are, of course, talking about you – the taxpayers. Why it has not occurred to the legislator that it is very bad for democracy if politicians have around 3 million euros at their disposal to distribute among the media is difficult to understand.
Simoniti’s Ministry wanted to lift this burden off of the shoulders of the taxpayers
As mentioned above, when the Ministry was led by Vasko Simoniti, it wanted to relieve the taxpayers – at least by taking the funds for the media tender from the contributions for RTV Slovenia, which is quite comparable to the system in other EU countries, where there is a so-called “media contribution” – but the Slovenian left successfully exported this idea to foreign media outlets as an “attack on the media.”
When we dissect this idea in its basics, we can quickly realise what the left-wing rulers are trying to tell us: taxpayers must absolutely be forced to pay a special tax to fabulously rich media hegemons like Petan, Odlazek and Petrič. The failure to do so equals an attack on the media and media freedom. For if Petan, Odlazek and Petrič did not serve the people their own versions of the “truth,” then the citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed right to information would be under threat.
Legislative logic similar to the logic of RTV funding
This logic is thus very similar to the logic of the Constitutional Court, which in 2001 cemented the funding of RTV Slovenia with an article that has nothing to do with the actual funding – with the derivative logic that if huge media conglomerates go out of business or get into financial difficulties, then the people’s constitutionally guaranteed right to information will be denied. Of course, naïve Constitutional Court judges and media law writers alike could have foreseen that such an arrangement, where politicians in the executive branch of power hand out resources for the media, could unravel extremely quickly.
And it has – under previous left-wing governments, right-wing media were completely denied access to funding, while for left-wing media, the tender was a mere formality. The media commissions were almost never able to give reasons for negative evaluations of right-wing media, so right-wing media – including ours – regularly had to take legal action in the Administrative Court, ordering the Ministry of Culture or its media expert commission to once again explain their evaluation that led to the media outlets being refused access to the funds from the public tender. Then the commission would send back almost the exact same explanation again and send the case back to the Administrative Court, and this loop could be repeated indefinitely.
In the previous mandate of Minister Simoniti, for the first time in the history of the media tender, there was a rebalancing, which meant that some right-wing media outlets also received funding, which provoked a violent reaction on the left since they saw this as stealing something that belonged to them. Now, things seem to be going back to the way they were before.
As pointed out by Simoniti, who had different ministerial roles in several governments of Janez Janša, the new scoring system, which the media commission will have to take into account, will assign 50 points to “quality” and only 2 points to “objectivity and balance.” I hope you understand what this means. For the Slovenian socialists in power, the Mladina magazine is an extremely high-quality weekly, because it eloquently confirms their self-assertions. But even they cannot claim that it is objective or balanced. Hence, it is the “quality” that will be the deciding factor.
Returning to the good old times
The PR representative of the Ministry of Culture during Simoniti’s term, Mitja Iršič, pointed out that on the B list, where the media of particular importance are listed, similar to how things were in the previous left-wing mandates, radio stations from the ownership network of tycoon Martin Odlazek will now receive a total of more than one million euros. During Simoniti’s mandate, only the best projects (according to the ratings) received funding on the list of media of particular importance. In previous (left-wing) mandates, however, all media of special interest that applied received funding (according to a proportional key, where an algorithm calculated the total sum, divided it by the number of applicants, and allocated each media outlet a proportional percentage according to the funding requested by the media outlet). Thus, in previous mandates, radio stations from the ownership structure of the tycoon Odlazek have received a guaranteed one million euros. This year, things will, apparently, once again be like they were in the good old days.
If, in the last mandate, the media caused an uproar, even writing letters to Brussels, while Dunja Mijatović begged our politicians to stop trampling on media rights of journalists because Demokracija or Nova24 received 20,000 euros, then this year you will not hear a single sentence about the fact that the messy media network of the tycoon Odlazek will once again take home a million euros of taxpayers’ money.
Why do we even need a media tender for private media companies?
Of course, there is also the basic question of why a media tender for purely private and commercially oriented companies such as the newspapers Večer and Delo, or magazines Mladina and Reporter, is necessary at all. The legislator’s explanation, as has already been mentioned, is that this is the basis for full respect for citizens’ right to information. If it may have been true in the past that the average citizen obtained information from newspapers, this is certainly no longer the case in the information age. Similarly, we are already financing the national media outlet Radio-Television Slovenia because of the same legal basis, with more than 90 million euros a year – a huge system that spends more money a year than the private ProPlus broadcaster and all the print and radio media put together. Why is it necessary to fund commercial media separately?
How did the institution of media of particular importance degenerate?
The second question is the issue of media of particular importance. Here, the legislator has more room for manoeuvres to justify why citizens should pay for these special media. These are media that cover local news and report on things that the larger media outlets do not because it is not commercially worthwhile for them. The legislator envisaged smaller local print media, radio and television stations, as well as online web portals, which could not survive on the market on their own, as the media of particular importance. But as we have recently clearly seen – Odlazek’s flouting of media legislation and the institution of the so-called programme networks has also completely corrupted this noble intention. What happened?
The network of companies of Martin Odlazek bought up local radio stations of particular importance, which retained their status but not (the majority of) their local programming. In the end, we, the taxpayers, are forced to pay for “particular importance” radio stations, where most of the time they listen to Denis Avdić and commercials for the Necenzurirano.si web portal (Uncensored), with short interludes of local news to satisfy the legal conditions of their status. However, the radio stations are still being financed by the state through media tenders – and since these are media outlets of special importance, such radio stations are practically guaranteed funding because of the very fact that they exist. In this way, Odlazek’s network can earn staggering amounts of money per year just by buying smaller radio stations and systematically destroying local networks, which are being turned into generic sub-stations of his main “Ljubljana” headquarters.
Politics that distribute taxpayers’ money to the media that is loyal to it is always a bad idea
In the end, we can therefore come to the conclusion that it is always a bad idea to give politicians a free hand to dispose of taxpayers’ money and distribute it to the media because it is clear that media that are friendly to those in power will be rewarded. Officially, this is decided by expert committees, but the expert committees are appointed by the Minister, which means that they are simply an extension of his ideology. The Minister even used to have the discretion to disagree with the decision of the panel.
We will have to face the truth sometime and admit to ourselves that people do not need the newspapers Delo, Dnevnik, Večer, or the magazine Mladina, nor do they need Odlazek’s “uncensored” radio stations to stay informed. A country the size of a suburb of Rio de Janeiro does not need half as much media as it currently has. That is why most of the media cannot survive without direct support from public funds. And if they cannot – it is only right that they stop trying to make it in this business. It is immoral that they have to be sponsored by workers on a salary of 950 euros, who work three shifts.