By: Sara Bertoncelj
According to the Government Communication Office’s assessment, the financing of the STA has become a direct legal obligation with the seventh anti-corona legislative package, raising the question of whether this is even in line with the EU competition rules, in particular, the rules on granting state aid. The statutory amount will therefore be paid to the STA, as soon as the European Commission gives a positive opinion, they announced.
Just a few days before the New Year, the SMC MP Janja Sluga expressed her belief that the public service should be financed and that the Government Communication Office (Urad vlade a komuniciranje – referred to as UKOM) has no right to demand what it is demanding from the Slovenian Press Agency (Slovenska tiskovna agencija – referred to as the STA). Therefore, they also included the amendment with the following content in the seventh anti-corona legislative package: “Within seven days after the legislation has come into force, all arrears to the STA must be paid; on the basis of the law itself – regardless of whether a contract for the financing of the management of the STA public service will be signed for next year on the basis of the adopted business plan, which has already been approved by the Supervisory Board of the STA. It seems to us that the situation has gotten out of control, that the STA is a hostage of certain personal stories and from this point of view, since the government and the Prime Minister have also not made any progress – I even read the Prime Minister’s tweets related to this topic yesterday – our parliamentary group believes this is the only possible solution,” Sluga explained.
UKOM believes that the change of the funding for the STA in the seventh anti-corona legislative package raises the question of compliance with the EU competition rules. After the temporary suspension of financing of the public service of the Slovenian Press Agency – the Government Communication Office demanded that the STA provide the necessary documentation so that they could assess what adequate funding means, however, the STA has not done this to date – the National Assembly approved the seventh anti-corona legislative package at the end of September, which also interferes in the STA law. At the suggestion of the coalition SMC party, a provision was introduced, according to which all arrears to the STA for the performance of public service must be paid within seven days after the law enters into force. “From the contractual relationship, in which UKOM was able to condition its obligations on the fulfilment of the STA’s obligations, this has changed into an administrative relationship, in which its obligation to finance the STA is unconditional and unilaterally determined by the STA in its business plan,” they wrote on the government website. The change in funding has thus raised the question of whether the latter is in line with the EU competition rules, in particular the rules on state aid. The statutory amount will be paid to the STA as soon as the European Commission gives a positive opinion, UKOM announced.
A representative of the STA founder has so far not received the required document
The seventh anti-corona legislative package, and thus, the aforementioned provision, entered into force on the last day of last year, and the seven-day deadline for the government’s repayment of the STA’S arrears has thus expired. UKOM refused to pay compensation for the STA’s provision of public service for the months of October and November, and also refused to pay invoices for the STA services, provided for the needs of the government administration for these two months. It did not sign a public service financing contract for this year. Funding was stopped by UKOM after it had not received all of the required data and documentation from the STA. The STA refused to send it to UKOM, as they estimated that it had encroached on the editorial autonomy, and with some of them, according to the Companies Act, only the government can access them, as the sole shareholder, STA reports. Which is not entirely true.
Article 6 of the STA and UKOM contract stipulates, inter alia, that the contractor must immediately provide the founder’s representative, at his express request, with all documentation on the financial, legal and content performance of the public service. If the contractor refuses to cooperate even after a written request, the founder’s representative may stop the payment or even withdraw from the contract without notice, in which case he may also demand the return of the already paid funds, including interest. According to the contract, UKOM could therefore also request documentation regarding the content implementation, which it did not, as the UKOM Director Uroš Urbanija found it extremely unusual that the STA director Bojan Veselinovič was even willing to sign something like that. Namely, in this way, editorial autonomy could really be encroached upon in a legal way. Urbanija thus mainly requested financial documentation. In addition, although UKOM is a representative of the founder (i.e. the government) and the STA should have therefore provided it with the documentation, under the agreement, Urbanija has repeatedly suggested that the documentation can also be addressed directly to the government. The sentence “the STA refused to send the documentation to UKOM, as they estimated that it had encroached on the editorial autonomy, and with some of them, according to the Companies Act, only the government can access them, as the sole shareholder,” therefore contains even less than a grain of truth.