SDS under fire following dispatch about communist origins of Slovenian media

Ljubljana, 9 April - The senior coalition Democratic Party (SDS) has been criticised, not only by journalists and the opposition, but also by its coalition partners, after an official government dispatch to the Council of Europe's Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists claimed that all the main media stemmed from the communist regime.

Media taking statements in from of the Parliament House.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

The dispatch was a response to an alert issued by the Platform after Prime Minister Janez Janša tweeted in late March that the public broadcaster RTV Slovenia was misleading the public, adding "apparently there are too many of you and you are paid too well".

The Journalists' Association (DNS) said that the dispatch was far from reality of Slovenia's media market, that the writing reflected the ideological position of the the SDS and was undermining Slovenia's reputation abroad.

For 30 years, Slovenia has been a democracy with a media market, which has seen various anomalies, but is nonetheless operating in a relatively normal framework, the DNS said on Thursday.

Editorial policies, as well as ownership, vary from one media outlet to the next, so to claim that all are guided by an ideological war against the SDS is "peek paranoia", which has been evident in the existing attitude of the SDS and the incumbent government toward the media and journalists, the DNS said.

The association underlined that Slovenian journalists are performing their job in line with professional and ethical standards, and on par with their colleagues in other western democracies.

"In fact, the only instances of aberration are seen in media directly or indirectly linked to the SDS, which have received substantial funding from Hungarian companies. These have been conducting degrading campaigns against anybody who does not agree with SDS politics, they have manipulated facts and spread intolerance toward anybody who is different or thinks differently," the DNS said.

It added that the government failed to understand that freedom of the press is guaranteed by law in Slovenia, that public media are not state media and that the state, albeit the founder of public media, does not have the right to play editor.

Meanwhile, the director of RTV Slovenija Igor Kadunc repeated his reaction to the initial tweet in a statement for Radio Slovenija that RTV Slovenia was operating economically.

Bojan Veselinovič, the director of the STA, also a public media outlet, meanwhile denied allegations levelled against him in the dispatch, which explicitly mentions Veselinovič firing editor-in-chief Borut Meško, who later died due to severe illness.

Coalition partners Modern Centre Party (SMC), New Slovenia (NSi) and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) have distanced themselves from the letter, all of them saying that they had not been informed about the contents of the dispatch. The parties also said that they would demand to learn who authored the dispatch, sent to the CoE on 7 April.

The SMC said in its response to the STA that it only learnt about the letter from the media and that its position was clear: "any attack and pressure on the media is unacceptable."

The NSi as well said it had not been informed about the dispatch and would demand explanations "within the coalition", including about who wrote the dispatch. Similar sentiment was echoed also by DeSUS.

The opposition was also critical, with the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the Social Democrats (SD), the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and the Left calling for an emergency session of the parliamentary culture and foreign affairs committees to demand explanations from Foreign Minister Anže Logar.

The opposition parties believe the dispatch amounts to abuse of power for political purposes and an action that undermines the country's international renown.

The Left called on Logar to resign, while LMŠ MP Nik Prebil said in a statement that no government minister, least of all the foreign minister, must allow that such documents "bear a personal or party connotation".

Meanwhile, Matjaž Nemec, an MP for the SD and the chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said he expected Logar to explain to the committee why the dispatch could be interpreted as reinforcement of a political agenda through diplomatic networks.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry denied having drafted the dispatch. Instead, government Communications Office (UKOM) head Uroš Urbanija, told the newspaper Delo that his office had written the letter and that neither Logar nor Janša were aware of its contents.

Urbanija, a former home desk editor at the STA, former editor at RTV Slovenija, as well as Nova24TV, told the paper that the letter had been sent in a clear procedure of UKOM receiving a question from the press and responding to it without any special notification to government officials.

The ministry, while denying having written the letter, said it forwarded the explanation to the CoE in line with established diplomatic practice.

© STA, 2020