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Sunday, December 4, 2022

It is quite clear: Golob’s coalition wants to hijack RTV Slovenia!

By: Lea Kalc Furlanič

Amendment of the law on RTV Slovenia following an expedited procedure, strike, pressure on right-wing journalists, management, programme council, etc. are manoeuvres with which Golob’s coalition wants to completely subordinate the public RTV service to the interests of a single political option. At the same time, the SDS parliamentary group is trying to preserve the plurality of public RTV, which is why, among other things, it proposes abolishing the mandatory subscription fee.

As it appears, the priority of the new coalition (Golob’s Gibanje Svoboda, SD, and Levica) is concern for the subordination of the public service RTV Slovenia to the interests of a single political option rather than concern for the areas of health, economy, infrastructure, etc. This is the only way we can explain why they were in a hurry to call an extraordinary session of the National Assembly and include in it, in addition to the law on the government, with which they want to increase the number of ministries, an amendment to the law on RTV Slovenia or first of all, withdraw from the process the amendments to the laws on government and RTVS submitted by SDS. Of course, Golob’s coalition’s proposal contains a change in the composition of the programme board, and with it, indirectly, the management of public RTV.

The RTV Broadcasting Act was fine for 17 years, but now it is not

We asked SDS MP Alenka Jeraj for an explanation on the basis of which legal basis the coalition was able to convene the 1st extraordinary session of the National Assembly on May 18th and include in it the item on the amendment of the Act on RTV, as extraordinary sessions are usually convened due to extraordinary circumstances, such as epidemics, etc. She explained: “They proposed a public presentation of opinions on the law, and this starts the process or a condition for placing an item on the agenda. They wanted to reject it and get it off the table as soon as possible, so that their bill could then be decided upon. They want to replace the members of the RTV programme board as soon as possible. In the past, the court has already decided that elected officials cannot be dismissed before the end of their mandates. They talk about democracy, but they do not pay any attention to it. For 17 years, the law was adequate, but now suddenly it is no longer okay.”

We also spoke with Mitja Iršič, a consultant (now former) at the Ministry of Culture. “The convening of the extraordinary session is legal (signatures were contributed by a quarter of the MPs), but the big question is whether it is legitimate. The MPs of the future coalition like a bulldozer hijacked the procedural holes in the rules of procedure with the very clear intention of getting the law out of the parliamentary process as soon as possible, so that they could propose their own,” said Iršič.

And what are the formal and political consequences of the change in the law proposed by the coalition? “We will see about that. So far, the court has not allowed early dismissal. It is obvious that they want to replace the current appointees as soon as possible,” Jeraj explained. Iršič answered: “The formal consequences are that the composition of the RTVS programme council changes, or the current programme council is replaced, and with it, of course, the management of the public broadcaster, which is also the ultimate goal of the law. From a political point of view, it is a very carefully prepared hijacking of the medium, as it is clear that the guild associations that they propose to the programme council are informal branches of left-wing politics. At the same time, it is a slap in the face and mistrust of viewers and listeners, as they indirectly appoint their representatives to the supervisory bodies of RTV Slovenia through the instrument of elections. Now they would be replaced ad hoc by institutions with a proven left-friendly composition. The RTVS programme board, which would be composed according to the new proposal, would not reflect the Slovenian electorate, and RTV would forever be frozen in an ideological coma from which it has only recently begun to wake up.”

Ljerka Bizilj, a long-time editor at RTVS, assessed: “I do not think that so far, any coalition, when it took power, has used the possibility of amending the Act on RTV in order to change the leadership and change the composition of the programming and supervisory board. The current bill includes too many employees in the programming world (5 out of 17), since RTV is the domain of viewers, not employees. And RTV should be a politically balanced public service!”

“We followed people’s suggestions”

In contrast to Golob’s coalition, SDS wants a neutral and plural RTVS. “In SDS, we have always defended media pluralism, fought for it since the creation of independent Slovenia. Unfortunately, analyses have shown that our national RTVS is not up to the challenges of the times to be really neutral and objective, which was also shown in the election campaign,” pointed out MP Andrej Hoivik. With this, Branko Grims said: “RTVS should be the most neutral and plural, which would be a reference for all other televisions. Unfortunately, that is not the case.” MP Alenka Helbl pointed out that with the bill on broadcasting, the SDS also proposed changes regarding the public interest. They concretised concepts such as: plurality, diversity of media, worldview plurality, etc. They added media literacy and independent, ethical, credible journalism. That is why the SDS proposes a consultative referendum, where voters would be asked whether they are in favour of abolishing the compulsory payment of the RTV contribution. The payment of the RTV contribution costs a Slovenian household approximately 150 euros per year, compared to other countries, this contribution is the highest in our country in terms of the number of inhabitants.

According to MP Danijel Krivec, the proposal to abolish the mandatory subscription is aimed at reflection, as well as following the wishes of citizens who do not watch certain programmes: “I think it is time to try a voluntary contribution as well; it is not a limitation, because whoever wants can participate more, if of course he agrees with the programme scheme. It is a change that benefits all citizens and RTVS users.”

“We have followed the suggestions of people who have collected signatures on petitions several times so that the RTV contribution would be voluntary and not mandatory. This would force RTV to rationalise, because compared to many other countries, they have an above-average number of employees, and the programme, especially informative, is getting worse and worse. In the last ten years, they have lost between 200,000 and 250,000 viewers, but only the current management is dealing with this problem and is trying to reverse the trend,” emphasised Jeraj. MP Dejan Kaloh provided some numbers: Slovenia has two million inhabitants and 2,182 employees at the national RTV, Slovakia has 5.5 million inhabitants and 400 employees, and Greece has 11 million inhabitants and 600 employees at the national RTV.

Part of the RTV contribution also to other media

Ljerka Bizilj is more critical of this change. In her opinion, Slovenia needs a public service and cancelling the RTV contribution would be harmful: “It is not right to cancel the contribution, because no politician is capable of creating a law on RTV that would enable a professional public service, and is not ready to support personnel, who stand for political balance, at the head of RTV!”

Mitja Iršič, on the other hand, thinks more broadly and deeply. He said that it is primarily a question of whether citizens themselves have the right to choose what kind of media they will invest in. The necessity of financing RTVS stems from a constitutional decision from 2001, which in a very strange way interprets Article 39 of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia (right to information) as meaning that the state is obliged to finance RTV as a public medium of special interest. “So, the state should recapitalise RTV in some way, even if it were 50 million in the red every year?” he asked. And he continued: “The opposition correctly concluded that such a situation is unsustainable and that we must turn to the people to say for themselves how they want to finance the media. I myself see such a move as a kind of shortcut to more legally realistically achievable solutions – e.g., to the Swiss model of financing public RTV, where part of the RTV contribution is also allocated to other media, and the contribution thus de facto becomes a kind of media contribution. In this way, media tenders, which are now burdening the tax authorities, could also be financed in the future.”

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