Združenje novinarjev in publicistov
Report of the ZNP on the Freedom of the Press in Slovenia for year 2009 natisni
The Association of Journalists and Commentators (ZNP) points out that the reports of the international organisations on human rights in Slovenia are not complete regarding the media and freedom of the press. Therefore and in order to provide a supplemented and a more comprehensive insight, the Association offers the following report on the freedom of the press in Slovenia and the situation in the field of media. The Association was established on 14 November 2007 as a response to the political bias of the Association of Journalists of Slovenia, which has often misused journalism for the interests of the left political option that has haad the authority most of the time. This was also the case in the matter of the journalists’ petition against censorship and political pressure, which raised accusations against the then Government of Janez Janša but also neglected political pressure and censorship by the politicians and parties of the left political option due to their own political orientation. The Association of Journalists and Commentators connects journalists and editors of various media and regular commentators in the Slovenian media, whose principal activity is not journalism.  

The Association believes that the key issue regarding the freedom of the press in Slovenia is lack of political pluralism of the media. The leading Slovenian newspapers are controlled only by the left political option, via their connections with the owners, which has its origins in the former communist successor parties. These are: Social Democrats – SD (successor to the League of Communists), Liberal Democracy of Slovenia – LDS (successor to the former Socialist Youth League of Slovenia), Zares Party (party that was formed due to the disagreements within the LDS; its President is Gregor Golobič, the former Secretary General of the LDS). As there are no conservative newspapers, the parties which are not a part of the above-mentioned left political option (Slovenian Democratic Party – SDS, Slovene People’s Party – SLS, New Slovenia – NSI) are facing a major disadvantage as regards their treatment in the media. The daily newspapers Slovenec and Jutranjik were founded in the nineties but could not survive on the substantially small Slovenian newspaper market that is mainly covered by three major newspaper publishers - Delo, Dnevnik and Večer, which gained a monopolistic position in the former non-democratic system.

The largest Slovenian newspaper company Delo that publishes the daily newspapers Delo (sold circulation of 54,000 copies) and Slovenske novice (sold circulation of 80,000 copies) is owned by the Laško Brewery (Pivovarna Laško). Until recently, the Laško Brewery was owned by Boško Šrot, via various companies, and related companies led by the members of Forum 21, which is led by Milan Kučan, the former President of Slovenia and the last President of the Communist Party. A few months before the election in 2008, Boško Šrot ordered Delo to support the Borut Pahor’s Social Democrats (SD), which in the end also won the election, and undermine the then Prime Minister Janez Janša, the President of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS). Until recently, the owner Boško Šrot was himself a member of the SD. Since 2008, Delo is also a majority owner of the newspaper company Večer (sold circulation of 39,000 copies), which had been already included in the ownership system of Boško Šrot's corporation. After Boško Šrot went bankrupt in the summer last year, the largest Slovenian bank NLB, which is owned by the State, became the head owner of the economic system of the Laško Brewery. Thus, the editorial policy is again under the influence of the Government or the Minister of the Economy Matej Lahovnik, who is a member of the Gregor Golobič’s Zares Party.

Dnevnik has a sold circulation of 43,000 copies. The majority owner of this newspaper company is the DZS Company, which is owned by Bojan Petan, who is a supporter of Gregor Golobič. He gained the majority share in 2002, when the Government was led by the LDS, where Golobič was the leading official. Beside Styria, the Swedish corporation Bonnier also publishes its daily newspaper in Slovenia; the newspaper Finance (sold circulation of 12,000 copies) mainly focuses on finances and is critical towards the Government but has a much lower circulation than the three leading daily newspapers. In addition, the Austrian company Styria owns a 25 percent share in Dnevnik and as such cannot affect its editorial policy. Styria failed to gain a majority share in both, first in Večer and then in Dnevnik newspapers, therefore it founded a free daily newspaper Žurnal 24, which has a wide circulation (112,000) but publishes only brief and non-detailed articles. Similarly to Dnevnik, Delo and Večer, the daily newspaper Primorske novice (unofficial sold circulation of 16,000 copies) that is sold mainly in the western part of Slovenia (close to Italy) is also connected, in terms of ownership participation, with State-owned companies (Luka Koper, Intereuropa, Hit) and the left-wing parties (KB 1909, Dnevnik).

However, the voters are not influenced only by the daily newspapers but also by the political information weeklies: Mladina, Demokracija and Reporter. With its average sold circulation of 13,600 copies, Mladina is closer to the left political option. Its majority owner is KB 1909 from the Italian Gorizia, which is linked to the capital remains of the Safti Company that was in the years of the communist regime led by the State Security Service (SDV), a Slovenian version of Stasi. The network of this company is connected with Milan Kučan and Forum 21. The Demokracija weekly (according to the editor's data the sold circulation varies between 6,000 and 8,000 copies) is centre-right oriented and connected through ownership with the largest opposition party, the SDS. With its average sold circulation of 10,500 copies, Reporter is also closer to the current opposition. This weekly magazine is owned by a private publisher and was founded by former journalists of Mag, who disagreed with the changed editorial policy of this magazine. Before, this magazine was closer to the parties of current opposition, but in the beginning of 2008 the last owner transformed the magazine. Thus, it became another leftist newsletter. As a consequence, the sale of the magazine dropped in one year from 12,900 to less than 3,800 copies. Afterwards, the magazine was changed into a supplement of the Delo newspaper. Mag presents a perfect example of the actual situation regarding the freedom of the press and media pluralism in Slovenia.

As all three major newspaper houses (Delo, Dnevnik, Večer) got into the hands of people, who are politically connected with the so called left political option, editorial policies have also become more inclined to support this option. Data from some research proves so as well. The researchers from the School of Applied Social Studies in Nova Gorica performed two studies in 2007 and 2008 on the situation regarding the freedom and pluralism of the media space in Slovenia. According to the results of these studies, the writing of the central printed media is characteristically more inclined to support the so called left-wing and not the so called right-wing. Thereby, a rather negative attitude was developed towards the latter during the Janša's Government, regardless of the fact that this Government had been accused of exerting political pressure on the media.  However, as the left wing is in power in Slovenia today, one cannot expect the media, which is now connected with the authority through ownership, to provide reports on political decisions of (its) Government in an independent and impartial manner. As there are informal connections between the editors, owners and politicians, journalists often themselves realise what they are allowed to write and what not in order to gain approval of their text by the editor. The presence of self-censorship is threatening to the autonomy of journalism, for it mostly requires no censorship by the editor or the owner. Journalists, who developed a critical opinion of the Government or the left-wing, are less likely to gain employment at one of the three major newspapers (Delo, Dnevnik, Večer). Moreover, those who get selected for this job form a truly small minority. The same applies to the regional daily newspaper Primorske novice that had to face increased pressure from the Pahor's Government, aimed in particular at editors and journalists, who got the promotion in the period of Janša's Government. These people are afraid of being criminalised after the degradation and dismissed from their employment. In such manner, the former editor of the policy, Vida Gorjup Posinković, became a cultural editorial office journalist, and the former editor-in-chief Tine Mamić was transferred from the politics editorial office to the editorial office of the weekly supplement Sobota, which does not engage in political topics, just before the European election. Other smaller and less influential newspapers, such as Finance, Reporter, Demokracija, and Žurnal, provide more opportunities and freedom of journalistic expression. However, there is still danger that the authority will try to influence their independence through various advertisements, for a majority of companies that advertise is owned by the State or left-wing supporters.

At the beginning of his term in October 2008, the Prime Minister Borut Pahor promised that he would call upon his ministers not to express publicly their opinion and attitudes towards the media. Despite all this, the government parties still exert pressure on the media and journalists, in particular the Gregor Golobič's Zares Party, whose member is also the Minister of Culture Majda Širca, who is responsible for the media. With their statements and through political pressure, the members of the Zares Party, thus their Minister Majda Širca, President Gregor Golobič, and the Secretary-General Bogdan Biščak posed a threat to free journalistic expression on various occasions in 2009, in particular on the national television RTVS and the largest commercial television POP TV. RTV Slovenija is a public medium of which Management does not enjoy the support of the government parties, in particular the Zares Party, which ruthlessly attacked it. Moreover, this Party also persuaded the media under their control to do the same. In February and March 2009, the National Assembly tried to lynch the Management of RTV Slovenija at the submission of their Annual Report by providing ad hoc allegations regarding their failure to fulfil the obligations and reduction of funds for cultural contents, although according to the independent verified data the Management of RTV proved otherwise. On its special session that was held upon the request by the government parties, the Slovenian Parliament took an interest in the public media programmes and attacked the journalists and all others, whom the parties happen to dislike. Many objections were related to censorship and personnel purges, although from the objective point of view, the public medium has in the last few years reported about all relevant topics in the State and there is no evidence supporting political pressure. This is completely contrary to the event that took place in the times of the LDS authority, when its Secretary-General Gregor Golobič, who is now the President of the Zares Party, called the editor of the show, while it was being broadcasted live on television, and gave her the orders regarding the questions they were to ask the then Prime Minister Tone Rop. To continue, political pressure is also supported by evidence; a major affair was caused by the editor-in-chief Uroš Lipušček, who tried to prevent the central news show from broadcasting the story about the controversial purchase of the government jet. Moreover, it was also a part of the usual practice that the representative of the veterans’ leadership, who were accused by the experts of committing massacres after World War II, directed the contents of the story about the discovery of a mass grave.

In 2009, the Zares Party tried to enforce resignation of the TV Management, in particular the Programme Director Jože Možina, by exerting pressure on them. Jože Možina, who was appointed in 2006, had been up until 2005 engaged in preparing documentaries and stories that revealed the actions of the former communist regime. The President of the Zares Party and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Gregor Golobič exerted a great deal of pressure on the TVS journalist Matej Hlebš and the editor-in-chief Rajko Gerič. Before the European election, Hlebš reported on the Ultra Company and consequently also revealed the Minister's lie about being a co-owner of this company or that the company had secured bank loans. On 20 January 2010, Golobič attacked the journalist during his speech in the Parliament. The editor-in-chief Rajko Gerič directly accused Golobič of lying, but instead of being protected from political pressure by the Association of Journalists, Hlebš was condemned even by them. Moreover, in this manner the Association violated the rules of the Journalists’ Court of Honour, as they were not allowed to discuss the matter before the Court's verdict. The Zares Party successfully exerted political pressure also on the largest commercial television POP TV, which reported on the above-mentioned economic affair (Ultra) in June in the most popular political show Trenja. After the Secretary of the Zares Party Bogdan Biščak responded rather intensely, POP TV cancelled Trenja, as it was afraid of losing its advertisements provided by the State-owned companies.

The coalition in power wrote in the Coalition Agreement that it would amend the Act on RTV Slovenija, in particular regarding the composition of the Programme Council. The coalition also promised to remove politics from the public institute, provide greater democratisation and multiple improvements. However, the draft Act on RTV Slovenija, which was prepared by the Minister Majda Širca, in fact provides for such composition of the Programme Council, where 10 out of 11 Council members are more or less selected directly through politics. Considering the current political situation, this indicates that the coalition in power and the President of the State, which are both a part of the left political option, would enjoy a majority in the Council and appoint its members for a period of seven years, which includes the option of another term. In such manner, they want to prevent the opposition from acquiring the same right if it wins the parliamentary election in 2012. In this Programme Council, the journalists would no longer have their representatives, and there are also efforts to exclude from the Council the representatives of the disabled, the Italian and Hungarian minorities, the Slovenians abroad, and the representative of the Church. Currently, all of them are guaranteed a seat in this Programme Council.

The enforcement of the new Act also includes a personnel purge, which would terminate early the mandate of all editors at the Radio and the Television. The Government does not mind that the Act does not enjoy the support of either the Association of Journalists and Commentators or the Association of Journalists of Slovenia. The Association of Journalists and Commentators points out that the adoption of this Act shall enable an even greater political influence on journalists and sanctions against the different-minded journalists and editors. The evidence for this case lies in the records of the person responsible for the Act preparation, the Ministry of Culture Majda Širca, who named RTV Slovenija a public house on her blog and wrote a number of disdainful, hostile and vulgar opinions about the TV Director Jože Možina. All this presents a catastrophic image of the official, the Minister, who has been trusted with the task of preparing the new Act on RTV by the current authority.

The national press agency, thus the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) that is a 100 percent owned by the State presents an especially serious problem. In March 2009, the Government under Borut Pahor appointed Bojan Veselinovič the Director of the STA. Veselinovič was one of the signatories to the journalists’ petition against the Janša's Government (similarly as the new editor-in-chief of Mag Veselin Stojanov and his deputy Mateja Babič, who is now the editor of Delo’s supplement Mag). Veselinovič started to exert pressure on the editor-in-chief Borut Meško, who was appointed by the former Director Alenka Paulin, who was appointed by the former Janša's Government. To continue, pressure and editorial interventions in the texts of journalists, who are critical of the new Government, also increased, therefore some of these journalists have already left and found a new employment. Because of the mobbing, Meško had to take a sick leave, but as he returned to his work post, he was dismissed after a couple of months by Veselinovič. He even terminated Meško’s employment, while he was on a sick leave. Now, he must undergo medical treatment without any means of subsistence. For this reason, the Association of Journalists and Commentators protested to the Prime Minister Borut Pahor and accused him of exerting political pressure on journalists, but he referred to the autonomy of the Director who was appointed by his Government. The Association of Journalists of Slovenia acted in a similar way, which took the Government's side and not the dismissed editor's. In addition, the Association noted this case as “dealing with the situation at the STA”. Our Association informed some international institutions of this brutal action of revenge of the left political option. Our notice on the Meško Case is attached to this report.

However, the Association of Journalists of Slovenia acted in an entirely different manner as regards the case of the TV Slovenija’s journalist Mirjam Muženič and her unsuccessful candidacy for the European Parliament on the LDS list. In accordance with the Journalists’ Code, the Management of the TVS transferred her to another editorial office, but Muženič wanted to gain back her position as the daily information programme's correspondent from Trieste, where she had monitored political activities of the Slovenian minority in Italy. The Association of Journalists of Slovenia supported her in her efforts, as did the LDS and the Zares Party, and noted this case as an example of political pressure exerted on the journalist, although she got involved in politics herself, when she announced her candidacy.

The Association of Journalists and Commentators also noted that the penal code still allows the politicians to criminally prosecute journalists on the basis of an insult to the State or the function of the Slovenian President. On the same ground, the Mayor of Celje Bojan Šrot prosecuted the Reporter’s journalist in the end of 2008. Obscurely, she was first interrogated by the police, and only afterwards the Prosecutor's Office established that criminal prosecution cannot be commenced. The Republic of Slovenia also provides for injunctions, on basis of which the media is not allowed to report on certain topics. As concerns this matter, the most resounding case was the case of Cerani vs. Dnevnik, where the District Court issued a temporary injunction against Dnevnik in order to prevent this newspaper from stating certain facts about the Italian businessman Pierpaolo Cerani. Naturally, this injunction was overruled two months later by the Higher Court. There are supposedly four more cases of such injunctions against the media, but some of them have already been overruled by the Higher Court.

Please, include our report in your observations and feel free to double check on our statements. We would truly appreciate if you could help us in any way to improve the situation regarding the freedom of the press and journalistic work in Slovenia.

The Association of Journalists and Commentators,  

Igor Kršinar, President

 
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