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Scandalous: STA closes access to content for the government administration, director of UKOM Urbanija: We will never agree to blackmail and non-transparent activities!

Bojan Veselinovič (Photo: STA)

By: Sara Bertoncelj /Nova24tv

“If it turns out that STA director Bojan Veselinovič has changed his mind and recognises Ukom as the founder’s representative, Ukom will prepare a new contract, on the basis of which it will be possible to finance STA in accordance with Slovenian legislation,” Ukom said last week, when they refused to pay 169 thousand euros, for performing the public service of the STA in January, because they had not yet concluded contracts with the STA. Today, after 29 years, the agency closed access to its contents for the government administration, leaving it without one of the largest subscribers to its market services. “We will never agree to blackmail, non-transparent operation and politicisation of things, where only legal and financial issues are important,” said Ukom director Uroš Urbanija.

STA closed the government administration’s access to market content after two months without a contract. Until the end of February, the contract for STA market services had not been concluded. However, they announce that they will give access to the content to those bodies that will conclude separate subscription contracts. STA’s market services have so far been leased by the government administration through a single contract concluded with the agency by the government’s communications office (Ukom). Ukom is a representative of the founder of STA, i.e. the Republic of Slovenia. Last year’s market contract expired on December 31st, 2020, and a new agreement with Ukom for 2021 has not been concluded. “Nevertheless, until the end of February, we provided users on the government side with unlimited access to all services under last year’s contract,” the STA management said, adding that they had been working to conclude the contract since the end of last year.

Last week in a press release, the Government Communication Office (Ukom) explained that they had refused to pay for performing STA public service in January this year. Namely, Ukom had to do this, as it has no legal basis for payment – the contract for the performance of the STA public service for this year was not signed with Ukom. As we know, the director of STA Bojan Veselinovič has not wanted to hand over documents for several months. The documents would enable Ukom or the Government of the Republic of Slovenia to assess what it means to adequately finance the agency. Namely, both are stated in the contract, including the fact that the contractor must immediately provide the founder’s representative, at his explicit request, with all documentation on the performance of the public service. The contractor in this case is STA, the founder is the Republic of Slovenia, and the founder’s representative is Ukom. However, Veselinovič only agreed with the fact that Ukom was the founder’s representative when he received money from Ukom, but did not agree when he should have handed over the financial documentation to Ukom. Not only to Ukom, STA also did not forward any paperwork to the government. However, they sent an invoice to Ukom in the amount of 169 thousand euros in January, which is interesting, considering that Ukom is not recognised as the founder’s representative, then why send invoices to this address?

Veselinovič procrastinated with providing a price list, and did not offer the usual 60% discount

“Based on the starting points and inquiries we received from Ukom in mid-February, we also prepared a new offer for access to STA content, which was based on favourable conditions and starting prices from our price list for marketing activities, but Ukom director Uroš Urbanija did not respond to it,” the STA said, stressing that they were working to conclude a contract with Ukom. Ukom also stated that agreements for concluding a market contract had been in place all along. Namely, on January 4th, 2021, Ukom addressed a request to STA to provide a price list for STA’s market services. The Slovenian Press Agency, or director Veselinovič, sent an incomplete price list to Ukom only a month later, on February 1st, 2021. On February 4th, 2021, Ukom asked him to send a complete and whole price list, which was then done by director Veselinovič. So, it took exactly one month for Ukom to obtain the price list it had already requested at the beginning of the year.

When Ukom finally obtained the full price list, it informed potential users of STA’s market services within the government administration. On February 12th, 2021, Ukom sent the collected interest to STA. Director Veselinovič, in addition to the fact that he sent the price list of services only a month after Ukom’s request and that he received the interest collected from Ukom within one week, also sent Ukom the following answer, which reads: “We consider your letter to be another attempt to delay and extend the period in which users on the government side have been given free access to our content since the beginning of this year. In anticipation of an agreement on the form of cooperation in the future, for which we have been constantly striving, yet we have not received any response from you regarding our initiatives.” Subsequently, director Veselinovič really sent an offer, which Ukom was ready to accept. However, Veselinovič then sent another offer because he initially thought the services would be used only by Ukom and not by the entire government administration. However, unlike in previous years, when it granted significant discounts to the government administration (approx. 60% and even more), this time it decided that there were no such discounts, and as a result the government will have to further rationalise costs.

The STA also reminded that Ukom refused to pay compensation for the performance of the STA public service for January, which is imposed on the founder by law. As already mentioned, Veselinovič sent an invoice in the amount of 169 thousand euros to Ukom for the activities he performed in January. Ukom, however, has no legal basis on which to pay the invoices sent to it by companies with which it does not have a regulated contractual relationship. It is for this reason that Ukom had to refuse to pay the bill, and in doing so they announced, among other things: “If it turns out that STA director Bojan Veselinovič has changed his mind and recognises Ukom as the founder’s representative, Ukom will prepare a new contract, on the basis of which it will be possible to finance STA in accordance with Slovenian legislation.”

What does the government administration get from STA for 169 thousand euros a month?

In addition to access to the STA news service in Slovene and English, the STA-Ukom market agreement also included the possibility of using STA news for publication on official government websites, access to archival photographs with the possibility of their publication and promotional needs, access to news via mobile applications, preparation of daily newsletters, clipping notification services, and some other services. The agreement provided access to content for all government departments, ministries and offices, constituent bodies and all diplomatic and consular missions, they explained at STA.

In accordance with the law, STA must perform public service, for which they receive over 2 million euros from the state

In accordance with the law, the public service must be publicly open and accessible and usable by all. “Otherwise, one has to question the reasonableness of financing a product that serves no purpose,” Urbanija warned, adding that Veselinovič’s actions violate the STA law. The situation as it was thirty years ago, is immeasurable in the media market today. It would be unacceptable, for example, if we still had only public RTV television and nothing else. According to Urbanija, the state should keep pace with the time in this area as well. Namely, practically all news agencies abroad are private, so perhaps we should also think in the direction of placing the agency on the market. However, the director of Ukom also emphasised that they are always ready for talks and agreements and finding reasonable solutions to the problem. “However, they will never agree to blackmail, non-transparent operation, and politicisation of things, where only legal and financial issues are important,” Urbanija emphasised.

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