Slovenian Prime Minister shaken by weak ratings on press rights and freedom
As the European Parliament wrapped up a mission to Slovenia last Friday, Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld raised concerns that public debate in the country is often hostile.
His comments came after Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa criticized the European Parliament and made what some called anti-Semitic comments.
The European delegation was in Slovenia to assess democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, including press freedom in the country, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.
While public institutions function well, the mission cited areas of concern, including harassment and pressure on public broadcasters and critical journalists.
This is a concern shared by several journalists and media rights groups, including Jamie Wiseman of the International Press Institute (IPI).
“The IPI and other organizations hoped to see an improvement in media freedom in Slovenia following the country’s accession to the rotating presidency. Unfortunately, that was not the case, ”Wiseman told VOA.
During their three days in Slovenia, ‘t Veld, of the European political group Renew Europe, and his team met with representatives of government, public bodies and members of the media. But Jansa did not speak with the group.
However, Jansa asked on Twitter why the delegation had focused on Slovenia and retweeted a photo in which in ‘t Veld and 12 other MEPs are accused of being puppets of philanthropist George Soros.
Soros, a Hungarian-born businessman and founder of the Open Society Foundation, is often the target of slurs and anti-Jewish accusations that he funds and orchestrates far-left extremism, protests and other plots.
The President of the European Parliament called on the Slovenian leader “to stop provocations against MEPs” claiming that “attacks against members of this house are also attacks against European citizens”.
When Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, spoke, calling Soros’ tweet “tasteless”, Jansa replied that Rutte should not “be wasting his time with … media freedom in Slovenia” and should rather “protect your journalists from being killed in the streets.”
The remark referred to veteran crime reporter Peter R. de Vries, who was murdered in Amsterdam in July.
For in ‘t Veld, who oversaw the mission in Slovenia, the rhetoric reflected the general hostile environment and the pressure she said was under media and government agencies.
“It is very striking that members of the government are also engaging in this kind of debate which I think is unsuitable for a civilized and democratic society,” said in ‘t Veld.
“The tone of the [public] the debate is not trivial and it is not innocent and we have seen in other countries how it can lead to an erosion of confidence in democratic institutions and even to an attack on democratic institutions in the end ” , she said.
At the press conference, in ‘t Veld warned that if the pressure on the media and other bodies continued, “you might end up with a kind of climate in which the media and democratic institutions no longer function properly.” “.
The Culture Ministry, which oversees the Slovenian media, challenged the European delegation’s initial findings.
“International organizations[…]know nothing about the Slovenian media and mainly rely on reports from Slovenia, ”the ministry said in a statement prepared for VOA.
Most local media are biased in favor of left-wing parties, the ministry said, adding that this was “the greatest proof that media freedom in Slovenia is intact”.
Representatives of the Ministry of Culture declined a meeting with the European Parliament delegation because the mission did not agree to the meeting being recorded.
The ministry told VOA that recording of meetings is a prerequisite, and that without it, “anyone can interpret what has been said by themselves and according to their memory.”
Media advocates, analysts share their concerns
However, media analysts mostly share concerns about the state of press freedom in the country.
Since Jansa came to power, journalists have reported an increase in harassment and online attacks regarding their coverage by government officials, pro-government supporters and anonymous attacks.
“Although the situation remains far from the current landscape of the free press in Poland and Hungary, there are tactics used by the governments in Warsaw and Budapest that are replicated in Ljubljana,” said Wiseman, Europe’s advocacy manager for the ‘IPI.
Rights groups say independent media in Hungary and Poland face an increasingly restrictive environment, with attempts to discredit the media and control public broadcasters.
Both In ‘t Veld and Wiseman have pointed out the stopping of funding for the national news agency STA, which is required by law. The agency normally receives about half of its funding from the government, but earlier this year that revenue was cut.
If funding is not restored, “a central part of the country’s media ecosystem falls silent and an important pillar of Slovenian democracy would be dismantled,” Wiseman said.
STA director Bojan Veselinovic, who Jansa accused of being a political tool for the left, resigned last month, saying the funding dispute was “still about [the government] position on the independence of the media and the attempt to subordinate the agency.
And Manica Janezic Ambrozic, editor-in-chief of TV Slovenia’s news programs, resigned on October 15 after what Wiseman called “months of attacks orchestrated against her by political forces determined to remove her from her post.”
When RTV’s TV programming director Natalija Gorscak was sacked in August, she told VOA she believed it was because she refused to sack Ambrozic.
Like other media outlets, the station has also been accused of bias and fake news regarding reporting critical of the government.
While many journalists and analysts see the changes on RTV Slovenia as evidence of political pressure on the country’s influential public broadcaster, the station’s new general manager Andrej Grah Whatmough and the Culture Ministry have denied any interference.
The full conclusions of the European Parliament mission are expected to be released at a later date.