By: Andrej Žitnik (Nova24tv.si)
The debate on freedom of the media, which was recently held in the European Parliament and chaired by Romana Tomc, head of the Slovenian delegation of the European People’s Party (EPP) to the European Parliament, is still a hot topic in the Slovenian and foreign public. Throughout the debate, the Slovenian left-wing media conglomerate (consisting mainly of the network of Martin Odlazek, Stojan Petrič and the television programmes of the Pro Plus company) has been firmly on the side of European Commissioner Věra Jourová, who is their unique ally on the European floor. However, whispers began to spread through the corridors of Europe that all was not well in Slovenia, and various observers of the Members of the European Parliament pricked up their ears when European guests began to report on the covert Russophilia of the Slovenian media, as they were already quite shocked when Slovenian socialist and liberal MEPs voted in favour of Russia in the European Parliament. The most important conclusion we took away from the debate is this – Věra Jourová seems to have realised that she had made a mistake with her ill-advised trip to Slovenia, and then she sent her envoy to the debate, who defended her with desperate excuses.
The Slovenian media, which are part of media tycoon Oldazek’s extensive network of companies, saw the debate as an attack on Jourová and a “show,” which is understandable because, for the first time on the European stage, the speakers who were part of the debate spoke about the problem of the Slovenian media landscape that few people talk about on the European stage – namely, they spoke about the problem of media ownership concentrations, and this is almost exclusively the problem of Odlazek’s media empire, which has almost completely subjugated the press and also has television and radio stations in its network (the intermingling of different forms of media is prohibited under the media law).
The European Commissioner for Values and Transparency and Vice-President of the European Commission, Věra Jourová, recently travelled to Slovenia, where she met with representatives of the Slovenian government (Minister of Culture, Asta Vrečko), the President of the Republic, Nataša Pirc Musar, and the President of the Constitutional Court, just as the latter was deciding on the highly politically charged issue of the constitutionality of the latest amendment to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act. That this decision was unwise and that Jourová is aware that she has been used by Slovenian left-wing politicians for their own partisan interests was clear in several parts of the recent debate in the European Parliament.
Slovenian participants in the debate repeatedly mentioned that Jourová’s meeting with the representative of the Slovenian Constitutional Court was inappropriate, because – even if this was not the intention – the European Commissioner had thereby joined the Slovenian government, media activists and radical leftists who together are exerting pressure on the Constitutional Court; especially in light of the discussions after the meeting, when she said that “the future of the national media outlet RTV depends on the Court’s decision,” because it is clear that these are words that the Slovenian government also uses when it puts pressure on independent constitutional judges to rule differently from what they feel would be right.
The representative of the European Commission, who was at the debate to defend Jourová and her Slovenian trip, pointed out that the Commissioner visits constitutional courts as part of her regular meetings and that there was no mention of the Radio-Television Slovenia Act, the constitutionality of which is currently being examined by the court. The excuse is, of course, a lie, as the European Commissioner has visited only two other constitutional courts (the one in Romania and the one in her home country) during her entire mandate (4 years), while she has visited the Slovenian Constitutional Court twice already.
The European Commission’s representative was also unable to explain who invited Jourová to Slovenia, and her explanation of what was discussed with the President of the Constitutional Court is different from what was written by the Constitutional Court. The Commissioner’s office also refused to answer our journalist’s questions about who had invited Jourová to Slovenia, claiming that the state visits had been planned months in advance – which is clearly not the case, as the visit was not on the European Commission’s official timetable even four days before the visit. The Commission had no answer to these and similar discrepancies.
The Commission also assured us that the Commissioner never sides with one side of the political spectrum in the Member States and instead always maintains a neutral stance, but at the same time, again, they were unable to explain Jourová’s statement from a few months ago when she said that the Radio-Television Slovenia Act – which the Golob government wants to use to subjugate the public service – is an important step towards media freedom in Slovenia. In doing so, she very clearly sided with the current government.
The Commission’s representative therefore spoke at the debate as a kind of defence lawyer for the Vice-President of the European Commission, and she also came to the meeting with a folder which had the word “DEFENSE” written on it, and she responded exclusively to the accusations that were made against Jourová – so it seems that the European Commission is aware of the fact that her visit was a mistake and wants to mitigate the political damage that Jourová has caused.
Pressure on the Constitutional Court judges
We have learnt from unofficial but reliable sources that the balance in the Constitutional Court is currently 5:3 in favour of declaring the Radio-Television Slovenia Act unconstitutional. Government representatives want to “break” at least one of the Constitutional Court judges (the weakest link is said to be the President of the Court, Matej Accetto), in order to get him to reverse the decision. Jourová’s “visit,” which is said to have been carefully coordinated with the Golob government, is also an international part of this effort. Incidentally, a 4:4 result does not help the government representatives much either, because then the Constitutional Court would not be able to decide for the rest of the term of the current leadership and programme councillors at RTV, and the verdict would be irrelevant after their term of office was over. But the pressure on the next Constitutional Court judge that the current authorities have their eye on (Rajko Knez) would be all the more fierce.
The European Commission understands that it was part of a political game
However, after the debate led by MEP Romana Tomc in the European Parliament, the European Commission seems to be withdrawing from this “battle,” as they clearly saw that it was an internal political fight and, above all, an attempt by the current government to influence both the media and the judiciary. The Commission understands that Jourová had gone too far this time.
We have once again asked Commissioner Jourová’s cabinet who proposed the visit to Slovenia and if it was indeed coordinated with the Slovenian government, as our sources say. We also want to clarify the cabinet’s bizarre excuse that state visits are arranged months in advance, even though the meeting was not even on the European Commission’s calendar four days before the visit.