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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

A new attack by the authorities on RTV Slovenia – the Culture Committee wants an audit of operations for 2022

By: Andrej Žitnik (Nova24tv.si)

Already in the previous convocation of the Parliament, the Culture Committee of the National Assembly was a powerful tool of the left-wing opposition at the time for political confrontations with Janša’s government, which at that time was still with the President Violeta Tomić. The current president, Tamara Vonta, continues the spiritual work of Tomić, who dropped out of parliament. She runs meetings in an authoritarian manner, insults, interrupts, shouts and is ridiculously politically biased, and sympathetic to pro-government guests and sources. The last manoeuvre of the Culture Committee, aimed at dealing with the “wrong” management of RTV Slovenia, is a call to the audit court to conduct an audit of the regularity and efficiency of the operations of Radio-Television Slovenia (RTVS).

Due to suspicions of irregularities appearing in the public eye, the audit court was ordered to specifically check the correctness and legality of the composition of the annual report of the public institute for 2022. What is it about? The Gibanje Svoboda party has made the subordination of the public institution RTV Slovenia a political priority, as there are whispers in the corridors of the parliamentary office that a second term without complete control of RTV is practically impossible. Following the constitutional-legal practice, the Constitutional Court thwarted their plans when it temporarily suspended the law, and indications from the Constitutional Court say that the final decision will also be in favour of declaring the law unconstitutional.

The Gibanje Svoboda party then began to attack both the Constitutional Court and the management of RTV with all their guns. They want to force the Constitutional Court to make a “correct” ruling as soon as possible (even with the application of external pressure – e.g., the visit of European Commissioner Vera Jourova), and the management is accused of various irregularities, one of which is said to be the allegation that they prepared financial statements of business performance for the year 2022. They are annoyed that the management has announced that for the first time in seven years the public institution is no longer operating at a loss.

Successful operation of RTV Slovenia under Grah Whatmough

On February 16th, on the day of the announcement of the suspension of the disputed law on RTV, Acting General Director of RTVS, Andrej Grah Whatmough, called a press conference, the reason for which was the adoption of the annual report and final accounts of the public institution for the past year, where he presented the fruits of his good work: “I am very happy to be able to tell you that the result is positive for the first time since 2015, namely in the amount of 96 thousand euros,” announced Grah Whatmough and also explained how they managed to finally operate with a positive zero. He reminded that the institution has been operating at a large loss in recent years, the year before with a loss of almost five million and explained that the institution has had record business revenues for the last two years.

According to him, the reduction in labour costs also had a big impact on business. With the two annexes to the collective agreement, which, among other things, provide for the promotion of retirement and determine the redundancy programme, with which, according to Whatmough, saved the institution more than five million euros per year.

“Years ago, we started implementing the existing law a little more thoroughly, which states that anyone who has a device to monitor our programmes is a contributor. The difference was mainly in the new or mobile devices,” he explained, adding that later there were no other changes in this area, but more efforts are being made to collect the contribution.

“If we got any help from the state we could talk about a concrete profit instead of a positive zero,” he emphasised, adding that the money could be allocated to programmes, which is also a public mission.

Complaints about the application of amended accounting standards

Government politicians and their supporters in the media and civil society soon began to complain that the reason for the improvement in the financial situation was a technical change in the accounting standard, but not the performance of the company. Of course, these are empty excuses – the business results were confirmed by both the supervisory board and the external auditor; both without comment. Savings, of course, are not invented regardless of the business result – something that no previous management managed to achieve, RTV managed under the leadership of Grah Whatmough – they reduced the number of employees, not by force, but by incentives.

Of course, the authorities do not like this, because they are completely dependent on RTV presenting the situation as chaotic and unsustainable (and then sending such a narrative to Věra Jourova in Brussels). It is also from this point of view that the latest appeal to the court of auditors to carry out an audit should be understood. They want the Court of Auditors to conjure up irregularities out of nothing like the infamous report on the procurement of medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s wait and see if the audit court will be as creative as it was under Tomaž Vesel.

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