Corporate news 19.3.2021 20:41

Journalist organisations say govt abusing police for STA attack

Ljubljana, 19 March - The government has overstepped its powers and abused the police as it tasked the Interior Ministry to examine whether STA director Bojan Veselinovič's alleged violations of the law contained elements of suspected crime prosecutable ex officio and to act accordingly, the trade union and the association of journalists said on Friday.

Ljubljana
The STA and its logo.
Photo: Tamino Petelinšek/STA
File photo

The government tasked on Thursday the STA supervisory board to dismiss Veselinovič arguing he violated the agency's legal obligations, which Veselinovič denies.

It also tasked the Interior Ministry to check if the alleged violations contained elements of suspected criminal activity and examine accountability of STA supervisors.

The Trade Union of Journalists and the Association of Journalists noted Veselinovič had the supervisors' support, so they wonder based on which evidence the government decided to try to criminalise activities of Veselinovič and the supervisors.

The two organisations would like the government to present arguments on the basis of which ministers decided to back the decision which "is de facto an indictment".

Saying this is merely the government proposing oversight is "pretending ignorance", the organisations said, adding it "is direct political pressure on the STA's management and supervisors".

The ministry meanwhile said the police are obliged to investigate suspicion of crime under valid legislation regardless of the manner in which they learn about it.

If they establish suspicion of a crime prosecuted ex officio on the basis of media reports or documents received, the police will launch an investigation and does not need any guidelines from the ministry, the police told the STA.

The journalist union and the association meanwhile expressed support to the STA management and staff in resisting the financial blackmail and political pressure.

They urged the state yet again to provide stable funding for the STA's public service, which the agency has carried out under the law despite its funds being suspended.

Prime Minister Janez Janša was urged to stop increasing risks and uncertainty for STA staff for short-term political purposes.

The National Assembly was called upon to prevent the agency's destruction and to make the government honour the legislation passed in parliament.

A similar call came from the opposition Social Democrats (SD) on Thursday before the government discussed a report on the STA's legal obligations by the Government Communication Office (UKOM).

The party said it was in the country's strategic interest to preserve and protect the STA's political independence and editorial autonomy.

It pointed to a number of the agency's achievements and collaborations over the past 30 years as well as its role for the Slovenian media landscape and foreign public.

The SD said it was "completely incomprehensible" that the government was renouncing STA services during the pandemic and just before Slovenia's EU presidency.

Today, UKOM responded to the letter of several international press freedom groups addressed to the European Commission in which they expressed concern about the deteriorating situation for media freedom in Slovenia and "renewed attacks" by Janša on the STA.

UKOM denied the allegations, repeating its accusations against Veselinovič, accusing him of lying. It also said that the organisations took a side without hearing the other side.

UKOM shares the view that the situation is untenable, however "we are not convinced that you have been completely informed about the situation".