By: Lea Kalc Furlanič
At last week’s meeting, the government approved the text of the contract on the public service of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) for this year. Compared to last year, the value of the contract is higher for 243,600 euros or more than ten percent. To sign and implement the contract, the government authorised acting director of the communications office Petra Bezjak Cirman.
The value of the annual contract amounts to 2,271,600 euros, and the amount of monthly compensation will not depend on the news count, but the contract reintroduces a monthly payment in twelve equal amounts of 189,300 euros. The signing of the contract with STA director Igor Kadunec is scheduled for Friday at noon. The increase in the volume of funding is mainly the result of the agency’s higher costs for the implementation of public services, said Petra Bezjak Cirman.
The source of funding for STA is, among others, funds from the state budget, which STA obtains on the basis of an annual contract between the founder – i.e., the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and STA. The contracting parties agree that the Government of the Republic of Slovenia will pay the Slovenian Press Agency compensation for the performance of public service in 2023 in the total amount of 2,271,600 euros. Considering that the amount of the contract last year was 2,028,000 euros, this year STA will receive 243,600 euros more budget funds, or the amount will be higher by more than ten percent.
“The Slovenian Press Agency performs the important journalistic work of providing constant, comprehensive, accurate, and objective information about events in Slovenia and around the world. The financial uncertainty that has plagued the STA recently is now over, because according to the STA business plan, the money allocated is sufficient for the normal operation of the agency,” she stated.
All well and good, but if the contract is the same as it was under director Bojan Veselinović, which was achieved at the end of the year with the decree terminating the previous regulation from Janša’s government, then the payment of the STA public service does not depend on the number of articles and photos, but the STA is automatically guaranteed 189,300 euros every month. The conclusion arises that the government will transfer money to STA, regardless of whether they do something there or not.
To our question whether the increase in funds will possibly increase the number of employees, she said that this is in the domain of the director of STA, Kadunc. “I expect that the employees will also have something from this increase in government funding for STA, perhaps a salary increase. They are completely independent, we do not influence their decisions, they have their own supervisory board,” she defended the government’s decision.
When asked by an STA journalist whether a new law on STA is possibly being prepared, in order to prevent possible problems with the financing of STA under any government, Bezjak Cirman replied that this is a question or an initiative for the Ministry of Culture. “I believe that the latter will listen to the employees of STA, and I think that the law needs to be aired, as it is already ten years old.”
“As is known, the former director Veselinovič cheated in fulfilling the legal obligations of the STA – despite the fact that photographs are defined in the law as a public service, which is free, he sold them on the market. What will happen with the photos now?” was another question we asked. “It remains the same as it was in the previous contract, the four photos in high resolution remain free, as part of the public service,” she replied. The contract before defined the use of all photos for free.
We were also interested in what the Audit Court (RčS) ruled on STA: “Since it is a contract between a state authority and a company, we are also interested in the Court of Audit’s findings in this regard. The Court of Audit announced that the findings will be known by September 2022. Do you have any information?” As far as we know, the public has not yet been informed of what is happening at the Court of Audit regarding the STA. Cirman replied that they met with the representatives of the Court of Audit at the end of the year, at which time the audit also started, which they expect to be completed in this half of the year. And that they will receive guidelines on how to amend the Act on STA: “Ukom cooperates with RčS and we expect that the latter will give guidelines as soon as possible on what should be the correct or the legal operation of the STA, which they will determine during their audit. If anything has been wrong so far.”
Roughly about the revision of the RčS, since Ukom proposed the revision even at the time when it was led by Uroš Urbanija (during Janša’s government). The first decision of the RčS at the time was that the STA would be audited only for the business years 2019 to 2021, but Ukom appealed and proposed that the Court of Audit audits the regularity of operations in the STA at least for the business years from 2018 to 2021. Urbanija then pointed out, let the audit court “do a serious audit of the misuse of taxpayers’ money at the STA. What they proposed after a year and a half, when Ukom first asked them to audit, is a total bluff from the audit.”