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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Director of the Government Communication Office: Former Director of the Slovenian Press Agency Held Its Employees Hostage for More Than a Year, Just So He Could Circumvent Legislation

By: Anita Gužvič / Nova24tv

The ordeal in question lasted for more than a year, and even after all that time, the Government Communication Office and the Slovenian Press Agency, under the leadership of Boris Veselinovič, could not negotiate a new contract. With the new acting director of the agency, Igor Kadunc, the Government Communication Office managed to do that in just a few days. Yesterday, Kadunc and Uroš Urbanija, director of the Government Communication Office, signed a contract for the Slovenian Press Agency’s provision of public service. On the show Tema dneva (Topic of the Day), Urbanija explained what was different this time.

“I was also wondering what the problem was, why the former director Bojan Veselinovič refused to sign the contract which would allow for normal financing of the Slovenian Press Agency. He found the article in the contract that stipulates the legal obligations that the agency has in relation to the performance of public service problematic,” said Uroš Urbanija, director of the Government Communication Office. With the present acting director Igor Kadunc, they only met twice before signing the contract. As Urbanija said, the finances have already been released, and the agency has already received the payment of the bill for the month of August. The rest of the money will be transferred during this month, as soon as the procedures are settled. The entire contract is defined in the amount of 2 million 28 thousand euros, which will be proportionally distributed among individual months, according to the amount of public service performed.

“The first time we met, we presented the starting points. I also immediately handed him the draft contract, so we saw the problematic parts. The second time we met, we also resolved the dilemmas from the first meeting,” Urbanija said, adding that it turned out that what the law stipulates cannot be defined in the contract any differently than how it is defined by the law, and that this was actually the point which helped them find the common group very quickly. Namely, Veselinovič opposed the following of the Slovenian Press Agency Act, which defines photographs as part of the public service, which means that they must be free of charge. “As you know, the Slovenian Press Agency did not actually follow this under Veselinovič, and the photos had to be paid for,” Urbanija said.

Veselinovič kept the agency’s journalists hostage, so he could circumvent the law
The agency’s staff also commented on the signing of the contract and said that they welcomed the fact that the Government Communication Office had finally concluded a contract with the Slovenian Press Agency, but that they are still worried that the contract might limit their “journalistic freedoms,” and on the other hand they also pointed out the problem of many members of the staff leaving, as they decided to join other media outlets. Urbanija also regrets that some good journalists left the Slovenian Press Agency, but first and foremost, the active journalists should turn to the former leadership – that is, Mr Veselinovič, who actually held all of the employees of the agency hostage due to his many attempts to circumvent the law, and in violation of the statutory provisions, he received money for a public service which he did not, in fact, wish to perform in a way that is defined by law.

The first report on the work done for this year was not handed in until October – for the month of August
Urbanija said he does not feel responsible for the lengthy process of the signing of the contract, as the Government Communication Office is also responsible for the transparent use of taxpayer money. “Imagine if people from all of the companies we do business with would come to us and demand money, and we would simply give it to them without actually checking if they are performing a public service. Moreover, we might even have established that the public service was not being performed, but this company would still demand money. I don’t know how audit services, inspections, and everyone else would tolerate this. In any case, it is unethical, immoral, and also unacceptable to spend taxpayers’ money in this way. We cannot give money to any company without the key question of whether public service is being performed, or without even getting a report on the work that has been done,” Urbanija gave an example and added that they only got the first report on the work that has been done so far this year on the 8th of October – for the month of August. The bill for this has now already been paid.

Slovenian Press Agency signed a suspicious deal with the newspaper Dnevnik
A few months ago on the show Tema dneva (Topic of the Day), Radovan Cerjak, a supervisor of the agency, revealed that the agency had lost some 100 thousand euros during the time of director Veselinovič’s leadership due to suspicious contracts with the newspaper Dnevnik. When asked whether the Government Communication Office would investigate what irregularities were happening during Veselinovič’s time, Urbanija said that this was a task for the supervisory services. “However, it is true, as it has been said many times before, that director Veselinovič concluded so-called compensation transactions with certain companies, from which the Slovenian Press Agency had no benefits, not even financial ones, while on the other hand, the individual media outlets had huge financial benefits.”

What does the Government Communication Office expect from the new leadership of the Slovenian Press Agency?
“Firstly, I expect that the public service, as defined by the Slovenian Press Agency Act, will be performed as stipulated by the law. And I expect there to be no cheating here. The law is very clear – summaries of news in Slovenian and English, radio news, content from national minorities, news from around the world, from national minorities living in other countries, and last but not least, the photos, must be accessible to all, free of charge, under the same conditions,” Urbanija was clear.

The Government Communication Office will not influence the editorial policy; the three guidelines that were followed in the new contract
Urbanija also said that he did not try to influence the content of the Slovenian Press Agency’s articles – on the contrary, the previous contract, which was signed by the government of Marjan Šarec with former director Veselinovič, contained an article that allowed for the agency to have to explain to the government what they were writing about. “The previous contract even stipulated that the Government Communication Office could get involved in the substantive part of the Slovenian Press Agency. In the new contract, we tried to follow the legal recommendations to the maximum – this was our first guideline. Remember, the contract that Veselivonič signed for many years, was deemed problematic by practically any lawyer that read it. It was at least legally controversial, if not illegal, so our second goal was to sign a contract that would not even be legally controversial, much less illegal. The third guideline, however, is that we have some measurable leverage about the performed public service. So – we did not want to say that it does not matter how much they do; it does not matter if they prepare one summary per month or a thousand, as they would be paid the same in both cases – no. Under the new contract, this is very precisely defined: the more public services they provide, the more funds they get. There is also a maximum limit,” Urbanija said.

Veselinovič heavily interfered with the content
Urbanija said that the substantive provisions were no longer in the contract, as they were not a matter for the Government Communication Office, nor for director Veselinovič although he was the one who grossly interfered with the content and the editorial powers of the Slovenian Press Agency, and thus abused his powers. “But basically, the managerial part is completely separate from the editorial part, and the same goes for this contract.”

The new contract is about respecting the rule of law and the laws themselves
When it comes to the signing of the contract with Kadunc, we are not talking about victories or defeats, but above all, about respecting the rule of law, respecting the laws themselves, and ensuring that there is no room for manipulation here, Urbanija was clear. “In the last year, there has been lots of pressure put on me to look away and just give the agency the money. Remember the opposition MPs at the recent session of the Culture Committee; they did not even allow me to explain the situation with the MPs of the Levica party and the Party of Alenka Bratušek; they did not even allow me to present my arguments or to explain the problem of this non-transparent operating of the Slovenian Press Agency or the financial work under Veselinovič.” Urbanija concluded by saying that he hopes everyone can now understand what the problem was and that there will never be another director or official with such demands for illegal activity.

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