By: G. B., Nova24tv.si
The new Council of the Slovenian Radio-Television (RTVS) held its inaugural session. With 15 votes in favour, the councillors elected Goran Forbici as the president of the council, who was nominated by the Human Rights Ombudsman. Špela Stare, the Secretary-General of the Slovene Journalists Association, was elected as his deputy, appointed by the Information Commissioner, reports STA.
At the constituent session of the new RTVS Council, which replaces the previous Programming and Supervisory Council, 16 out of 17 councillors were present. Programme Council member Aleš Novak was absent with a valid excuse. After the council’s constitution, the councillors elected President Forbici and his deputy Špela Stare with 15 votes in favour. The composition of the RTVS Council, organised according to the delegate representation model, is almost entirely left leaning.
The agenda of the session included only an establishment resolution on the composition of the RTVS Council, but the councillors unanimously agreed to expand the agenda at the beginning of the session. The councillors are thus adopting the rules of procedure, appointing a committee for the rules of procedure, and a committee for the preparation of a call for the appointment of a four-member management board, which will lead and manage the public institution according to the amended law. The session will also address the implementation of the financial and programme production plan.
Who is Goran Forbici?
He is a long-time left-wing activist who admires the dictator Josip Broz Tito and has publicly shamed the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) on several occasions for the potential possibility that left-wing non-governmental organisations would no longer be able to drain the budget. During the previous government, he was involved in protests.
The other members also do not inspire much trust. In the new RTV Slovenia Council, the National Council for Culture appointed journalist Igor Prassel for a two-year period based on the proposal of the Association of Slovenian Film Creatives from the audio-visual sector, and theatre and radio director Aleš Novak based on the proposal of the Slovene National Theatre Maribor. The Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAZU) appointed philosopher Tadej Troha as a council member based on the proposal of the Scientific Research Council of SAZU.
The Executive Committee of the Olympic Committee of Slovenia appointed former kayaker Andraž Vehovar as its representative. The Workers’ Council of RTV Slovenia elected former ombudsman for viewers and listeners of RTV, Ilinka Todorovski, as its representative. The Council for Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection appointed Gaja Brecelj, the director of the environmental non-governmental organisation Umanotera.
The President of the Republic, Nataša Pirc Musar, selected Klaudija Sedar, a representative of the Evangelical Church, from the proposed representatives of registered religious communities. The Human Rights Ombudsman selected Goran Forbici, the director of CNVOS as a council member from the field of human rights protection non-governmental organisations. The Information Commissioner appointed journalist Špela Stare.
The employees of RTV also elected five of their representatives, but there were no major changes compared to the previous programming council. Gregor Drnovšek was elected as the representative for informational activities, Aleksander (Sašo) Hribar for cultural and artistic activities, Boštjan Ogris for entertainment and sports activities, Robert Pajek for technical matters, and Luka Zebec for digital development.
Grah Whatmough: Predictions of “depoliticisation” of RTV are illusory
There was a complication just before today’s session. The council members could not start the session because the convener of the session, acting general director Andrej Grah Whatmough, was absent. After the initial complication, the council members agreed that Ilinka Todorovski would lead the session until the election of the president of the RTVS council.
Just before the start of the session, Grah Whatmough wished the new RTVS council a “successful mandate marked by wisdom, tolerance, and plurality” on Twitter. He also thanked the previous programming and supervisory councils for their work.
The former general director participated in a television interview yesterday. Since assuming the leadership position during Janez Janša’s government, he immediately became a target of the media loyal to the transitional left. When the transitional left took power, one of their first goals was to remove the leadership, regardless of the consequences for the rule of law. He described the government’s predictions of “depoliticisation” of the public institution as illusory.
“This depoliticisation is more like a cliché. It is just a change packaged in the cellophane of depoliticisation. In reality, as a lawyer, it is a simple question of whether the government and the National Assembly can simply abolish all mandates of the members of the management and supervisory bodies of RTV Slovenia overnight and appoint new ones. As a lawyer, I believe the answer to that question is ‘no’,” said Grah Whatmough.
Grah Whatmough has faced one of the dirtiest campaigns in the history of the independent state over the past two years. One of the biggest accusations against him was that he does not meet the requirements for the private position of director. “In the public sphere, a perception has been created lately that I do not meet the requirements for the position I hold, which is not true. The only thing that is true is that the court, in its assessment of the appointment in 2021, found that I did not meet an additional requirement stipulated in that particular call, which was three years of experience in leading large systems. This requirement appeared for the first and last time in this call because it is not included in the statute. The programming council inserted it at their own discretion, and the court ruled that I do not meet that requirement.”
Grah Whatmough explained that he resigned when the programming council was reorganised so that he could reapply for the position because he had a “quite ambitious work programme during the first and second candidacies”. The work programme is a key document that a candidate must submit when applying for a job.
“If this additional requirement that appeared in the 2021 call had appeared in previous calls, it would be true that many previously appointed general directors would not have met that requirement. This is not just my claim; the president of one of our representative trade unions said exactly that at a presidency meeting, and that is a fact. I meet the same requirements as all the previously appointed general directors.”
The host of the show then redirected the conversation and asked Whatmough Grah about his personal life since the Slovenian public has not learned much about him so far. When the journalist asked him how his family had been coping with the relentless smear campaigns in recent years, especially his father, who is from the United Kingdom and not Slovenia, he replied: “Probably every parent finds it difficult to witness such smearing, yes. Just like me, my parents accept it upright and bravely”. He added that this trait of his comes from his upbringing on the island, where the “stiff upper lip” is instilled.
Before becoming the acting general director of the institution, Grah Whatmough served as a member of the supervisory board of the organisation for six years, where he familiarised himself with the operations of RTV. He was appointed to the board by SMC, even though he was not a member of the party. The beginnings of the controversy started immediately after his appointment as the acting director before actually assuming the position.
What was the last straw?
Grah Whatmough stated that soon after starting his mandate, he began implementing changes to ensure the financial stability of the institution. He also proposed certain programmatic changes as the acting director of the television, which came into effect last year, in 2022. However, if he were to approach them again, he would introduce them more gradually. When asked if the programmatic changes were politically motivated and whether he believes in the current process of depoliticisation, he responded: “The programme changes were certainly not political; our aim was to offer viewers something new, something that had not been seen on national television before, and we succeeded in doing so, albeit with some difficulties. The Panorama programme still exists on the second channel of the television. There are no political connotations here. Regarding the depoliticisation of the institution, I have emphasised multiple times that such expectations with the amended law are illusory. Firstly, it is hard for me to agree that there has been more politics on RTV recently than usual. I believe that politics has always been present to some extent on RTV. The only difference in the last composition of the programming council is that there have been more debates on this topic.”
The Constitutional Court should have made a substantive decision
Grah Whatmough then commented on the explanation given by the President of the Constitutional Court, Dr Matej Accetto, regarding the withdrawal of their self-restraint on the disputed amendment to the RTV Act. He respects the Constitutional Court’s decision but argues that with the recent resolution, the Court conveyed the following: “Because it cannot fulfil its role, which is to decide on the substance of the matter, […] it will revoke the partial restraint and allow the implementation of the law.” He believes that the Court could have made a substantive decision on the law if it had allocated more time for deliberation.
“We cannot ignore the fact that in part of society, the impression is being created that the Court has succumbed to government pressure. These pressures have been constant and immense, with numerous calls for the Court to decide quickly and to follow the will expressed in the referendum,” said the acting general director.
This could not happen at the BBC and ORF!
The presenter then highlighted two essential differences between the Slovenian RTV and the Austrian ORF or the British BBC, where, for example, it would not be possible for a journalist or editor employed by either organisation to criticise the management’s decisions or, as often happens at RTV, for one of the most well-known television hosts to serve as an additional host for events, and then have the same “client and payer who was present at the conference as a guest on the show the next day because that is absolutely prohibited”. It was evident that the journalist was referring to Igor E. Bergant, an employee of RTV who frequently hosts events for commercial clients.
In response to this, he said, “More problematic than criticising or smearing the management is if there is smearing or settling scores among the employees themselves. That saddened me the most when I witnessed public feuds among employees […]. Publicly smearing colleagues is unacceptable.”
Regarding the question that addressed engaging in additional activities outside working hours, even when it compromises the institution’s reputation, he replied, “This is a characteristic of our public RTV. In my opinion, this is not good practice. Involvement, even of journalists and editors, in cultural or scientific areas is not controversial. However, it can be controversial when someone hosts a private event for a private company and then the client, the president of that company, appears on a show hosted by the same presenter. Here, the appearance of impartiality is already compromised. I am not talking about actual conflict of interest but about the appearance.”
Negotiating only lawful changes
Grah Whatmough emphasised once again that as the acting Director General, he was always prepared for negotiations but only regarding lawful changes. He reminded that one of the unlawful demands from the employees was the replacement of the Editor-in-Chief. “I have explained multiple times that each Editor-in-Chief at RTV Slovenia has a protected mandate, and no one can replace the Editor-in-Chief arbitrarily, especially not through social dialogue or strike agreements.”
He vehemently denied accusations of unlawful business practices, such as “manipulating financial statements”, by the management and expressed regret for not publicly addressing the accusations of non-existent violations.
“For many years, 15 or more, RTV Slovenia has been operating with insufficient funds for the revenue it generates. From 2017 until the year before last, we operated at a loss, and we primarily covered this revenue-expenditure discrepancy through the sale of shares. Last year, we had a positive operational result for the first time since 2017, thanks to the measures we implemented. The key measure was encouraging retirements and reducing the number of employees. In two years, from April 2021 to this year’s April, the number of employees has decreased by 160, resulting in annual savings of approximately 5.6 million euros. That is why we managed to have a positive result last year. Unfortunately, last autumn, the government committed to salary increases in the public sector, bypassing us, and this salary increase alone […] will cost the institution 5.3 million euros,” explained Grah Whatmough. He clarified that the measures for the financial stabilisation of the institution were overshadowed by the salary increase. Last year, the increase in electricity costs also contributed to financial difficulties.
Whatmough will remain as the acting Director-General until the appointment of the new management, as mandated by the controversial amendment to the Law on RTV and by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia.