Second Interim Report of the Association of Journalists and Commentators on the Freedom of the Press in Slovenia for 2010 natisni

In its second Interim Report on the Freedom of the Press in Slovenia for 2010, the Association of Journalists and Commentators (ZNP) draws attention to the increasing pressure exerted by the ruling power on the Slovenian media. Prior to the referendum on the Radio and Television Corporation of Slovenia Act, some of the ruling politicians and columnists in favour of these politicians began to reveal more explicitly their wishes to replace some journalists on the national television. At his withdrawal from the political group of the largest governmental party SD (Social Democrats), the MP Andrej Magajna stated that his parliamentary colleagues talked about certain journalists who were to be removed after the new Act enters into force. To continue, he also said that his colleagues from the SD political group were extremely bothered by the broadcasts about the communist massacres in Slovenia after World War II, and in particular by the journalists Jože Možina and Rosvita Pesek.  Furthermore, the MPs of the ruling coalition and their columnists are also extremely bothered by some journalists who criticize the ruling power, among others also by the creators of the broadcast entitled “Pogledi Slovenije” (“Views of Slovenia”) hosted by Uroš Slak, a former host of the political show entitled “Trenja” (“Clashes”) on the commercial television POP TV, which was cancelled in June last year due to political pressure.  In addition, when asked about the purges on the Radio and Television Slovenia (RTV SLO), the Head of the political group of the second largest coalition party Zares, Cveta Zalokar Oražem, declared that it would do no harm if some of the “bad” journalists lost their jobs, which raises even more concerns that such dismissals of journalists, who are disliked by the ruling coalition, will really take place.

This year, political pressure of the ruling power on the Slovenian media was also pointed out by four editors-in-chief of the Slovenian media. Bojan Traven, the then Editor-In-Chief of Kanal A, a sister television channel to POP TV, was the first to confirm the political motives behind the cancellation of the Trenja Show but was dismissed from his post soon afterwards. Traven also openly spoke about the advertising agencies and the pressure they exert on the media in cases of reports on the events deemed inappropriate by the ruling power. The most intense political pressure was exerted in the period of the controversial Ultra and Bullmastiff Affairs.  Besides Traven, the then resigning Editor-in-Chief of daily newspaper Dnevnik, Ali Žerdin, and the Editor-in-Chief of daily newspaper Finance, Peter Frankl, also spoke of pressure exerted in the case of the Bullmastiff Affair. Žerdin mentioned an agency, which contacted and exerted pressure on the journalist, and blamed the then Minister of Agriculture, Milan Pogačnik, for it. Frankl talked about pressure exerted by the Attorney-at-Law Miro Senica, an influential partner of Katarina Kresal, who is the Minister of the Interior and the President of the LDS Party (Liberal Democracy of Slovenia).  Political pressure of the Government on the newspaper Delo was pointed out even by the then Editor-in-Chief of daily newspaper Delo, Darijan Košir, at his dismissal. The interesting fact here is that nowadays he works as the Director of the Government Communication Office.

To mark this year's World Press Freedom Day, the Association of Journalists and Commentators issued the first Interim Report for 2010, in which we draw attention to the gradually increasing political pressure on the Slovenian media and journalists. In the Annual Report for 2009, we wrote that the key issue regarding the freedom of the press in Slovenia is lack of media pluralism, as the editorial policies of major Slovenian newspapers are all supported by the left-wing ruling parties. These exert influence also through State-owned enterprises, which are the largest advertisers in the media, including those not owned by persons politically connected with the ruling parties. In doing so, we in particular exposed the Zares Party of the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Gregor Golobič, and the LDS Party of the Minister of the interior, Katarina Kresal.

The President of the Zares Party, Gregor Golobič, who tried to influence the main Slovenian media during the years-long reign of LDS (from 1992 to 2004) as its Secretary-General, gave an interview for the newspaper Dnevnik in February in which he had the decency to publicly label the “inappropriate” media. Thus, he specified the Pozareport Web Portal, the weekly newspaper Reporter, the newspaper Finance, and the commercial television Kanal A, which operates within the framework of the company Pro Plus,  naming them »sewerage media projects« (thus media sewerage). This statement is problematic mainly due to the fact that Bojan Traven was subsequently dismissed as the Editor-in-Chief of the news broadcast entitled “Svet na Kanalu A” (“World on Kanal A”) or, if abbreviated, “Svet”. The Management of Pro Plus terminated the employment contract of Traven overnight, claiming that his work performance had been poor and that he had been ignoring the principles of journalism ethics.  A year before, Traven received a major Media Achievement Award for launching the news broadcast Svet na Kanalu A, and in the meantime the show had become extremely popular among the viewers. As Svet closely monitored all the aforementioned affairs in which the Zares Party, the LDS Party and the President of the State Danilo Türk were actively involved, Pro Plus had to face increasing political pressure, which Traven publicly revealed in an interview for Vikend Magazin, a supplement of the newspaper Delo.

Immediately after the termination of Traven's contract, the anchor of Svet, Uroš Slak, expressed his protest by resigning from his post, which he took after the extremely popular talk show Trenja that he had hosted for seven years was cancelled. The last Trenja show was broadcast in June last year after the consideration of the Ultra Affair in the pre-election confrontation  of the candidates to the European Parliament triggered angry protests by the Zares Party, for its President Gregor Golobič had been seriously involved in this affair. Golobič concealed his ownership stake in one of the major companies Ultra, the profit of which has been to a great extent created from the public resources under the supervision of people close to the Zares Party. Uroš Slak suggested to Tomaž Perovič, the Director and Editor-in-Chief of the news programs on Pro Plus, a new concept for the show, which would first address the lie of Gregor Golobič regarding his assets. Perovič denied Slak's proposal, saying that »the politician should not be watched«, and the show that had dealt with social issues, which the current Government apparently found “problematic”, was cancelled soon afterwards.

The Bullmastiff Affair, which involved the former Minister of Agriculture, Milan Pogačnik, and the influential network around the current Minister of the Interior, Katarina Kresal, provoked an intense response in the media. It was a tragedy in which three bullmastiff dogs attacked their owner Saša Baričevič, a famous doctor from Ljubljana, and mauled him to death. Mr Baričevič was a good friend of the lawyer Miro Senica, the intimate partner of Katarina Kresal, and the Law Firm Senica also acted as his representative in the case of a disputed return of all three dogs to the owner after they had severely injured a passer-by on the street and should have been put to sleep years ago.  The doctor's death caused much agitation among the public, which was even more amplified by some circumstances, which gave rise to a suspicion that the dogs had been sexually abused. However, the police, acting under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior or Katarina Kresal, summarized the discoveries of the Veterinary Institute with regard to this case in a highly misleading manner.

As we have already mentioned in the introduction, the former Editor-in-Chief of Dnevnik, Ali Žerdin, revealed that the agency hired by the Ministry of Agriculture tried to influence the journalist covering the Bullmastiff Affair. Moreover, the Editor-in-Chief of Finance, Peter Frankl, revealed that Miro Senica had called him and tried to influence him in order to prevent the newspaper Finance from writing about the Bullmastiff Affair. He proposed a “non-aggression pact” similar to the one he has with another daily newspaper. As Frankl would not give in, he called the Swedish owners of the newspaper, but apparently he failed to convince them as well. Otherwise, Senica is known for his attempts to influence the owners of some other newspapers regarding certain topics in relation to his business and political networks (LDS). The Law Firm Senica is one of the largest law firms in the State and has a wide network of business partners, friends and acquaintances occupying various important positions. Every year, it organizes traditional gatherings of the Yes Society, which connects young entrepreneurs, and Aleš Zalar, the Ministry of Justice whose brother, as a ruling Judge, ordered the dogs in question to be returned to the owner, also attends these gatherings.

The Association of Journalists and Commentators warns about the situation in the newspaper company Dnevnik, which still has not appointed its new Editor-in-Chief after the resignation of Ali Žerdin. Simultaneously, the company deprived its journalists of their right to participate in the appointment of the Editor.  Žerdin enjoyed majority support of the journalists, but he was forced to resign under the pressure of the President of the Management Board, Branko Pavlin. The journalists requested the President of the Management Board to resign, but the President of the Supervisory Board and the majority owner of the newspaper, Bojan Petan, did not grant their request. Petan is known as a political ally of Gregor Golobič, the President of the Zares Party and former Secretary-General of LDS. He enabled Golobič to obtain, under the table and below the price, a majority stake in this newspaper company. At the time when the DZS Company, which is owned by Bojan Petan, repurchased the shares of Dnevnik owned by the State funds, Bojan Petan was the President of LDS in the Municipality of Brežice. Moreover, Petan and Golobič also hold capital ties in the company Margento storitve (Margento Services), in which DZS holds a 40% stake and Margento that is owned by Ultra, which is co-owned by Golobič, a 60% stake.

Unusual is also the situation in the largest Slovenian newspaper company Delo, which is indirectly owned by the State. Its former Editor-in-Chief, Darijan Košir, described his replacement as political and thus became engaged in a polemic with the former President of the State, Milan Kučan.  At this stage Košir pointed out the fact that Pivovarna Laško (Laško Brewery), which is the owner of Delo, is owned by the largest Slovenian bank NLB, which is majority State-owned, and that the ruling power has a decisive influence on the personnel management in the newspaper company Delo. Here, it is necessary to stress that Košir himself was appointed the Editor-in-Chief in a similar political manner. Before the election, he had supported the current Prime Minister Borut Pahor, and his Government appointed Košir the Director of the Government Communication Office only a few months after his dismissal from the above-mentioned function. The President of the Management Board of Delo, Jurij Giacomelli, appointed Romana Dobnikar Šeruga as the new Editor-in-Chief. In addition, the Association also draws attention to the non-transparent sell-out of the daily newspaper Večer, which is majority owned by Delo. Supposedly, Večer was bought by a company, which has only four employees and has never before been engaged in the media publishing services. Therefore, we will pay close attention to the planned sell-out of Delo.

The Association of Journalists and Commentators is greatly concerned about the position of journalists who criticize the ruling coalition, in particular those who work for the media owned by the State or its political allies. It is more difficult for these journalists to obtain regular employment in such media, and it is also impossible for them to get promoted under the same conditions as those journalists who are in favour of the ruling coalition. It often happens that journalists who are marked in this media as oppositional or right-winged cannot report on the internal political affairs or are re-assigned to other editorial offices on account of various political reasons. The ZNP also stresses the lack of plurality in the media world, as the media, which are not dependant on the ruling left-wing politics, are too weak to employ every journalist that is discriminated elsewhere.

Last year we protested against the vexation of the former Editor-in-Chief of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), Borut Meško, who was dismissed by the new Director, Bojan Veselinovič, while being on a sick leave. Thus, he had to fight a serious disease without any means of subsistence. Unfortunately, the settlement between this State agency and the dismissed Editor happened only after his death. STA is 100% owned by the State. Its Director is appointed by the Government. Bojan Veselinovič was appointed as the Director of STA by the Government led by Borut Pahor in March last year. After Borut Meško was dismissed, the agency turned into a governmental service, which conceals the news unfavorable to the ruling coalition and provides substantially less reports on the activities of the opposition than it does on the activities of the ruling coalition. Otherwise, STA regularly reports on the statements of our Association, but is careful not to publish any records related to the wrongly dismissed and now already deceased Borut Meško.

The Association of Journalists and Commentators highlights physical attacks, threats and criminal prosecutions of journalists in the passing year. In June we reported on the physical altercation with the journalist of the weekly newspaper Delavska enotnost (Worker's Unity), Mirsad Begić. Begić had been investigating the situation in the Rem Company, and was therefore attacked by the owner of the company together with two helpers. Following the event, the police issued a statement that they do not intend to prosecute the offender, as the victim sustained only minor injuries.

To continue, after the announcement of the local election results, the journalist of Finance, Jaka Elikan, was threatened with death by Jure Janković, the son of the Mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Janković. Both Janković men, the father Mayor and his entrepreneur son, described the journalist, who was writing about the business operations of the family company and verifying the information, as an instigator and intruder.  The fact is that the Ljubljana Mayor is no ordinary Chief of the Municipality, but he has sufficient economic power and a major influence on the ruling politicians, therefore his actions present an even greater pressure on the freedom of the press and the work of journalists.

The Association of Journalists and Commentators also condemned criminal prosecution of journalists who had criticized the work of the Judge Mojca Kocjančič Zalar, the wife of the Minister of Justice, Aleš Zalar, and demanded amendments to the infamous provisions of the Penal Code, which enable the State officials to launch criminal prosecution ex officio against the journalists who had supposedly offended them. The wife of the Minister of Justice launched police investigations even against those journalists who merely summarized the content of the conflicts regarding the decision to place the alleged drug dealers in detention and published the response of those who may have been affected. This criminal prosecution points to the enacted disrespect for the freedom of the press in Slovenia. Furthermore, it also reveals the system of continuous State harassment and control of journalists. If any of the politicians or other officials or even mayors feel offended by the writings of the media, the Penal Code gives them an extremely broad right to request the prosecutors and the police to investigate the activities of journalists, interrogate them and, on the basis of evidence collected in such a manner, represent the "good name and honour« of important officials from all branches of authority in the proceedings before the Court.

On the grounds of insults and alleged reproach of a criminal offence with the intention to disparage, the wife of the Minister of Justice launched police interrogations of the journalists of Dnevnik Miča Vipotnik, Mojca Furlan Rus and Peter Lovšin, the journalists of Delo, Majda Vukelić and Olga Cvetek, and the Editor of Stop Magazine, Martin Senica. Even more, supposedly an even greater number of journalists were interrogated. According to the currently valid Penal Code, a convicted journalist could be imposed a fine or punished by imprisonment of up to six months, which also applies to the editors-in-chief (or those acting as their substitutes). However, as the judges are careful not to compromise their own reputation and the State does not want to bring international shame upon itself, there is little chance that the editors of Delo and Dnevnik and the mentioned group of journalists will be given prison sentences stipulated in the Code. According to the accessible information, the officials have not yet launched any proceedings against the editors who make the decisions on what gets published, which can be attributed to the fact that these persons present »more difficult targets«.

The adoption of two Acts regulating the media field is also problematic, as it is taking place without the consensus among the ruling coalition and the opposition and without any dialogue with the journalists' organizations. To continue, neither of these two proposed Acts is comparable with the legislations of other EU Member States or any other democratic country. It is true that the Minister of Culture, Majda Širca, really did invite experts and some representatives of journalists' organizations to assist in the preparation of these Acts, but these people participated in the discussions on the legislation only in the beginning. The Association of Journalists and Commentators did not take part in the preparation of the Acts. With the new RTV Slovenia Act, the current Government wants to subject the largest Slovenian medium to its control even after the expiry of their term of office. And with the proposed Media Act, it wants to interfere with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression and limit the freedom of the press. The proposed provisions provide for extensive powers of the Inspector appointed by the Ministry responsible for the media (currently the Ministry of Culture), who would thus be able to identify and punish hate speech in the media at his sole discretion. Such a provision could lead to political abuse of the law and termination of the media, which might act against the will of the ruling coalition. In a similar manner, the proposed provision, according to which the Commission appointed to a large extent by the Minister responsible for the media (currently the Minister of Culture) would decide on the ownership concentration in the media and issue an order under which every media publisher would be obliged to provide the philosophical definition of the medium in their substantive concept, could also lead to political abuse.

The second Interim Report of the Association of Journalists and Commentators on the Freedom of the Press is presented at the anniversary of Borut Meško’s dismissal from the State-owned STA and dedicated to his memory.

 

Association of Journalists and Commentators

Administrative Council

Igor Kršinar, President of the Association

 

Ljubljana, December 2010

 

 

Please, refer to the links below to view the Report for 2009.