By: Lea Kalc Furlanič
Uroš Urbanija took over the reins of TV Slovenija’s director half a year ago and remains acting director until the decision of the Constitutional Court. He said the following about his mission at TVS: “What I think is extremely important is that I may have opened up the space of public discourse a little. That was my basic vision. To open the doors of TVS to everyone who wants to participate, who are relevant interlocutors. The end of forbidden persons, therefore, the end of forbidden topics. We partially succeeded. Of course, this is a long-distance run.”
Uroš Urbanija graduated in journalism and Slovene studies and received a master’s degree in early Slovenian literature. First, he was a lecturer at Rome’s La Sapienza University, then he got a job at STA, later he was editor-in-chief of MMC, and editor of news shows at Planet TV, in 2020 he took over the position of director of Ukom. He has been the director of TVS since last August.
DEMOKRACIJA: Today (we talked last Thursday, fn.) the Constitutional Court is discussing the constitutionality of the amendment to the law on RTVS. What do you think of this amending act?
Urbanija: The biggest drawback of this amendment is actually the desire of Robert Golob’s government to quickly take over 100% control over RTV. It is about the desire of politicians how to control public RTV. The Prime Minister has said this several times, also expressing his pain that he was not able to take over this house immediately. They were looking for bypasses. They tried to change the law through the parliamentary majority. The government also proves that they acted unconstitutionally in a unique way. The government argued at the Constitutional Court that, according to their current management, RTVS was exposed to several irregularities. In parliamentary democracies, violations of laws are proven in court. The government majority, however, decided not to consider the Slovenian judicial system, but simply to remove by law all those who, in its opinion, have committed criminal acts.
DEMOKRACIJA: If the proposal to withdraw the amendment falls at the Constitutional Courts, what do you predict for RTVS? And what if the Constitutional Courts agrees with the initiators of the constitutional review?
Urbanija: If the amendment goes into effect, changes are expected, as announced, which are not good for RTVS. The problem of this institution is its already chaotic arrangement. Many people think that if you are the director of TVS, you can change I do not know what, but the powers of both the director and the general manager are relatively small. We also have editors-in-chief and editors, each in this house manages his own powers. The problem is that it is extremely difficult to make any changes in the house. That this is really difficult can be clearly seen from the viewership results for the last ten years. Just look at the show Odmevi. Even though the ratings of this show have been falling for 10 years, no one has managed to change anything. Under the new system, when the management body expands, there are even more of these management structures, so their responsibility is even less, and the powers of what you can and cannot change are also less. A system that leads to even greater chaos. But if the US delays the implementation of the amendment, things remain as they are. Not optimal, but essential for the existence of democratic journalism: the current government majority will not have 100% control over public RTV.
DEMOKRACIJA: At the moment, the fight of left-wing journalist activists for the “takeover” of RTVS is raging. How do you rate their attempts to sander and demolish?
Urbanija: Yesterday, at the workers’ council, we also discussed the viewership, which is constantly criticised by active journalists, saying it is bad. But let me return to the Odmevi show. Even Slavko Bobovnik is arguing a lot about this. I told them two examples: Odmevi had 160,800 viewers in 2013, and 110,000 in 2018, when Bobovnik retired. In five years, Odmevi under the management of Bobovnik lost 50,000 viewers. If Mr. Bobovnik accepted subjective responsibility in 2018 and therefore retired, he did the right thing. Last year, the number of viewers of Odmevi show increased compared to the year before, which gives some small hope. Another obvious example is Dnevnik show, the viewership of which is falling. I myself have said many times that Dnevnik has too few stories and too much political activism. Let’s remember the activist outbursts of some leaders and editors. If they think that the average viewer is interested in the internal vicissitudes, they have not mastered the basic craft of journalism. If they think that the viewers are interested in whether the article was commissioned by the editor-in-chief, the daily editor, or if the journalist remembered it, then it is best to re-subscribe to FDV University. Because unfortunately, some hosts really think that. The second problem is covert advertising, raping viewers with their activism, and the third issue is the usurpation of programme time for their own interests, which was, for example, breaking into the studio. If anyone thinks that these are the main stories that interest the entire country, they are dead wrong. And the results are visible. I would not worry about Dnevnik if the stories it brings were excellent, but the current viewership is still bad due to a bad ten-year run. But when we see every day that we practically do not have our own stories, and when it comes to new stories, we are most often groping for the competition, then we must be very worried about the future – what are the perspectives of the RTV news programme? They are very bad at this kind of work. And that is more worrying than poor current ratings.
DEMOKRACIJA: With the new responsible editor of the news programme, Jadranka Rebernik, you probably tried to sort out the situation…
Urbanija: When I came to TVS, there was a lot of pressure on me that there were not enough journalists, that the team needed to be younger. I worked intensively on this, we got some successful young, perspective journalists, presenters, editors who bring a new dynamic to Dnevnik, Odmevi. I have to commend that. This is a small attempt to get this sinking ship back into calm waters. But a problem arose because many people may have felt threatened. Part of the activists who do not work anyway or do little, who even publicly announce that they do not work and at the same time announce that they would go on strike, have lost all the levers of extortion by the management. Anyone who wants to work is welcome in this TV house. Unfortunately, we have many who avoid work. Especially among the journalists of this house, a system based on cheating works, many journalists use their rights to cheat the entire system and cheat it in a thousand and one ways. Here I can mention the work exits, to which they are of course entitled. Or, on the other hand, those who sit in RTV for whole days, and there are no results of their work. This is precisely why the board of directors of TVS last week adopted the norms for the journalists of this company, which is a very important document, because they have been trying to adopt it for the last 15 years before me, but no one succeeded. I myself coordinated the document with all the responsible editors until we unanimously approved it. I hope that this will make it clear to everyone who really works hard in this house, who is actually the one who also works for those others who, unfortunately, we rarely see on the screens.
DEMOKRACIJA: Does the constantly repeated mantra of left-wing activists and, of course, Golob’s government, saying that RTVS needs to be depoliticised, annoy, or anger you?
Urbanija: No, it neither bothers me nor angers me. It is obvious platitudes, nonsense that are unbelievable. What does depoliticisation actually mean? That they will cancel the news programme? That we will not report on politics? If this is the desire, they should change the law where it says that we are obliged to report on the most important political events. This would be a kind of depoliticisation. After all, we have segments of the programme that are completely depoliticised, where politics has no entry, for example music shows, concerts. But already in the entertainment programme there are signs of politics. An example is the show What’s Happening. It reports on politics in a satirical manner. Is it the desire of Golob’s government to depoliticise even satirical shows? To ban satire from a top creator like Tilen Artač? At the expense of politics? This is what worries us when we talk about the government’s announcements to depoliticise this institution. What will be left? A few musical shows, cultural, as others are somehow related to politics.
DEMOKRACIJA: If we are a bit satirically political: basically, under the guise of depoliticisation, they want to replace the leadership that got the mandate under Janša’s government…
Urbanija: Actually, they want to take over RTVS 100% with their staff. But this is not depoliticisation. It actually amounts to usurpation. The usurpation of this house in a semi-democratic way by the rulers.