STA response to suspension of financing by the Government Communication Office
Ljubljana, 1 December - Due to the suspension of financing by the Government Communication Office (UKOM), the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) has found itself in a situation that jeopardises the agency's operational stability and its ability to perform the public service it is required to perform by law.
Despite all obligations from the contract on the performance of public service for 2020, concluded between the STA and UKOM, having been fulfilled, the STA has not received the monthly instalment of funding for the public service for October, as the request that is the basis for the payment of the monthly fee has been rejected by UKOM without a justified reason. What is more, we have not been paid the monthly invoice for the services performed on the basis of the commercial contract concluded with the UKOM, under which the agency provides its news content to government institutions and ministries.
This undermines the undisrupted functioning of the agency, as the financial compensation from the public funds represents the key source of financing of the STA, whose activity is set down in the Slovenian Press Agency Act (ZSTA-gen). The Supervisory Board of the STA has been updated on an ongoing basis on the situation in which the STA has found itself in as the national press agency.
The decision by UKOM, which the government was acquainted with yesterday, was preceded by a series of letters addressed to the director of the STA and members of the Supervisory Board of the STA since mid-October. The STA has been regularly responding to the letters from the UKOM in a manner and within the scope envisaged by the legislation and the annual contract on the performance of public service for the current year. We would like to emphasise at this point that only the government, which in accordance with the Slovenian Press Agency Act exercises the partner rights on behalf of the Republic of Slovenia as the sole founder and partner in the STA, may request information in such a scope.
In the letters, UKOM demanded a series of explanations: from content-related questions about the journalist work of the STA editorial board and specific news content and responses to that content which run against the editorial autonomy provided by law, to issues related to business operations, which are, in accordance with the ZSTAgen, supervised by the Supervisory Board of the STA. The STA received the first letter of this kind on 22 October 2020, in which it was called to provide a series of documents, information and databases related to the agency's commercial activity, under the argument that this was required for the annual contract on the performance of public service for 2021 to be concluded. Since this information is designated as a trade serecy (contracts with our commercial clients, amounts of their annual subscription fees, salaries of all employees and payments to contractors), the agency has been constantly emphasising in its replies to the eight letters that followed the first one that such requests need to be in line with the existing legislation, which the agency is obliged to respect.
Although the operation of the STA is defined by the ZSTAgen, this act stipulates that the provisions of the Companies Act (ZGD) are applicable for issues that are not regulated by the ZSTAgen, as the STA operates as a limited liability company. For that matter, the annual contract on the performance of public service may not be the basis for gaining insight into our commercial contracts, which are not part of the public service.
The STA regularly informs the Supervisory Board of the STA about its operations and provides other information in a transparent manner, and its annual reports are also discussed by the National Assembly and the National Council. The operation of STA is subjected to regular external and internal audits. All these safeguards show that the STA fulfils all the obligations it is required to fulfil by law without any major disruptions; what is more, the National Assembly, when confirming the annual reports, called the founder, i.e. the government, on several occasions to secure sufficient funding, given the fact that the STA has been covering the costs of the performance of public service also with its commercial activity for several years now.
The STA would also like to note that, despite several appeals from the STA, UKOM has not yet provided the information on the amount of budget funds that the state as the founder should secure for the performance of public service for 2021 in accordance with the Slovenian Press Agency Act.
Despite these developments, the STA will continue with comprehensive, updated and unbiased reporting in accordance with the mission of the national press agency. We are aware of our responsibility to subscribers and the public which relies on the STA news as a credible source of information. Despite the UKOM defaulting on the payment, the STA will meet its obligations to the employees, contractors and suppliers. But should this attitude by UKOM towards the STA continue, this will jeopardise not only the stability of operation and the livelihood of the staff but also the future of the agency, which like the Slovenian state, will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year.
The STA produces on daily basis more than 350 news items in the Slovenian and English language, the lead paragraphs of which are publicly available, as are all its radio-news items, diverse online content on topical issues and, after all, numerous streamed events, including daily news conferences. It is an indispensable source of information for the Slovenian media and foreign public, and one of the most active media companies in terms of development, as evident from its numerous products and partnerships.
Bojan Veselinovič, General Manager
Barbara Štrukelj, Chief Editor