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SLOVENIA: Government suspends press agency funding for second time in three months

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Report published by Mapping Media Freedom on 25 February, 2021, available here.

On 24 February 2021, the Slovenian Government Communication Office (UKOM) announced it had suspended the financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) for the second time in three months.

The Slovenian Journalists’ Association said the latest contractual dispute was another attempt by UKOM and its director Uroš Urbanija to destabilize the press agency through financial pressure. International press freedom groups also raised concerns it was another front in the administration’s efforts to undermine and weaken the press agency, which has come under fire from the Prime Minister Janez Janša. UKOM refused to pay the STA for the last month with the justification that the two parties had not yet signed a contract for 2021. In a press release, that the contractual relationship between UKOM and the STA has ended in January and that no payment was due. The decision meant that the STA’s invoice for EUR 169,000 for the activities in January was declined. In response, the STA director described UKOM’s repudiation as the launch of a new offensive against the agency. He argued the budget allocations had already been set out to fund the STA by the government for the next year, regardless of whether a contract with the founder has been signed or not. Slovenian journalist associations agreed and pointed to the exact article in the law as evidence.

This comes after the STA’s funding was previously suspended by UKOM in late November 2020. The impasse lasted a month and a half. During that time, STA received no funding. That dispute centred around whether UKOM had the legal right to request documents, information and databases related to the agency’s commercial activity, which the STA had warned might compromise its editorial independence. After communication with the European Commission, UKPM was legally forced to resume overdue payments on 14 January. That lasted only a matter of weeks until the funding was again suspended. It again threatens the STA’s operational stability.

The Slovenian Journalists’ Association (DNS) criticised the latest suspension, saying that the funding was legally agreed whether the new contract was signed or not. It accused the Director Urbanija of “circumventing legislation” to pressure the public service media. In a statement, the Executive Board of the Slovenian Journalists’ Union also criticised the decision and said funding had been earmarked in the state budget for the STA business plan for 2021. “We condemn the government’s continued pressure on the institutional and editorial independence of the STA and the threat to the existence of the public service through the withdrawal and conditionality of budget funds. We call on the government to respect the law and the clearly written obligation of the founder to provide funding for the public service.”