Government approves release of funds for the STA
Ljubljana, 14 January - The government has provisionally approved the release of overdue budget payments to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) as required by the 7th economic stimulus package, the Government Communication Office (UKOM) said on Thursday.
The provisional release of funds was cleared based on a message by EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager which "indicates the possibility of a positive European Commission decision regarding the transfer of state aid for the STA" as the government awaits a final decision, UKOM said.
The government turned to the Commission to inquire whether public service payments to the STA may constitute illegal state aid after an amendment was adopted to the 7th economic stimulus act stipulating that overdue liabilities to the STA must be settled.
The Commission indicated in its public statements that the STA public service payment did not fall under its purview and deferred to the Slovenian authorities.
The STA had not received statutory payment for its public service for October and November, or payment under a separate contract for the provision of commercial services to the public administration for the two months.
Today, overdue payments for both the public service and for the commercial services were released.
The STA met the development with a relief, while making a renewed appeal to the government to provide financing in 2021 without making it dependent on any further conditions.
"Financing of the public service provided by the STA cannot be a mere temporary solution, it is an obligation on the part of the government under law," the STA management and staff said in a press release.
They noted that Commissioners Margrethe Vestager and Vera Jourova, in their letter to the STA yesterday, made it clear the Commission's assessment as to whether financing of the STA was a matter of illegal state aid is unnecessary. They also noted the special role of public media and that EU member states should refrain from attempts to put pressure on them.
As the STA supervisory board has adopted the agency's business plan for 2021 and has submitted it to the government, the legal basis for the funding of the public service in this year has been met.
"The STA expects that the government will respect legislation and will fulfil its obligations, as the STA has been for almost 30 years fulfilling its obligation of keeping the public informed," the release from the STA reads.
The independence of the national press agency is guaranteed by the STA act, implemented in 2011 to regulate the agency's status in accordance with modern standards.
Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said on Twitter that "we have managed to resolve the current complication regarding the financing of the STA, which will receive funding for the performance of public service.
"However, the responsibility of everyone involved is to sort out the contractual relationship between the STA and the UKOM in avoidance of such problems recurring."
EANA, the European Alliance of News Agencies, which in December described the suspension of financing as a form of pressure on the agency, said this was "good news for our member".
The release of funds was also welcomed by the Slovenian Journalists' Association (DNS) and the Trade Union of Slovenian Journalists, which urged UKOM to also tackle the financing of the STA public service in 2021.
The DNS called the development a "small, but important step following a fast European reaction".
Regarding that the approval of funds was merely provisional, the trade union said in a Facebook post that the European Commission had already given its answer regarding the issue of state aid.
Quoting European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager and Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova, the union said an additional assessment by the Commission was not necessary if the annual aid amount was not higher than EUR 15 million, while the STA receives about EUR 2 million annually from the state to perform public service.