Government repeals contested regulation on STA public service obligation

Ljubljana, 22 December - The government on Thursday repealed a contested regulation on the public service of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) which was adopted by the previous government and created a system under which the agency was given public funding on a per item basis rather than in the form of bulk financing.

The STA logo.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA
File photo

The June 2021 regulation in effect resolved a dispute between the STA and the government that had lasted almost a year and left the agency on the brink of bankruptcy.

However, it created a system that STA staff and management decried as unsustainable since the per item payment incentivised the agency to create more individual pieces of news instead of more in-depth reporting just to be able to get the money it previously received irrespective of the precise number of news produced.

On the other hand, the regulation put a cap on funding meaning that once all the allocated funds were used up, any content produced beyond that was not funded.

"The damaging regulation rendered it difficult for the STA to conduct its financial operations," Culture Minister Asta Vrečko said, describing it as "unworkable".

"The STA journalists once again have autonomy in the performance of their job - keeping the general public informed," she added.

What both the STA management and staff have found most problematic about the regulation is that such a model allowed the Government Communication Office as custodian of the public service agreement to take arbitrary decisions on which content as part of the public service to finance and which not.

Now that new government repealed the regulation, the financing of the STA public service provided by the STA in 2023 will be set down in an annual funding agreement, just like it was before the regulation took effect.

Vrečko announced that the Government Communication Office will be authorised to sign the annual agreement for 2023, which is expected to happen early next year.

"It is essential that the STA has a stable source of financing and that nobody interferes in their reporting and editorial work," she said.

This has also been the expectation of the EU and other institutions which criticised the actions of the previous government as a threat to freedom of the press, she said.

"The STA is doing a good job, it is professional and our job is to provide an agreement under which it will be independent ... this is why the government has done this today," said the minister.

The agency's employee representatives welcomed the government's decision as crucial, while expressing the expectation that the per item funding would already be abandoned in the contract for 2023.

They also called for an upgrade of the existing act on the STA, which should secure an even higher degree of financial and editorial independence.

These views are shared by STA director Igor Kadunc, who wants "a modern, development-oriented law that will secure stable financing of the public media outlet that is the backbone of the Slovenian media landscape".

Kadunc expects the funding contract could already be signed in January, while the changes to the STA act, which are already being coordinated with the Culture Ministry, could be passed before the end of next year.

Minister Vrečko also announced that the STA will be nominated for for the UNESCO Press Freedom Prize, which is handed out each year on World Press Freedom Day.

In this context, the STA's employees thanked everybody who provided support to the agency with donations or other means when it was fighting for survival. "Freedom of the press is a right of the public, for which we perform our job to the best of our abilities and in accordance with ethical and professional journalistic standards every day," they stressed.

© STA, 2022