Appeal to the European Commission concerning the fate of the Slovenian Press Agency
Ljubljana, 4 May - The staff at the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) has sent a letter to the European Commission regarding the ongoing refusal of the government to honour its public service funding obligation, and steps taken by the STA to avert bankruptcy. The letter in its entirety follows below.
Ms. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission,
Ms. Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission,
Ms. Vera Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission,
Ms. Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner,
Mr. Janez Lenarčič, European Commissioner,
Journalists at the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) are immensely grateful for all your efforts and for highlighting how important media freedom in the European Union is, as well as for the support you have so far provided for us. Unfortunately, neither your nor our efforts have yielded results, and two months before our country starts presiding the Council of the European Union, the campaign against the media in Slovenia is continuing and even intensifying.
For more than 120 days, the STA has not received payment for the public service from its founder, the Republic of Slovenia, which is currently represented by the government of Janez Janša. Although it has excellent and trustworthy journalists and has until recently had good working conditions, the agency has been brought to the brink of collapse, which in the absence of an adequate solution will happen at the time of the 30th birthday of independent Slovenia and the STA. This will happen despite the fact that the government is bound to finance the agency by the STA Act and by a provision in the anti-coronavirus legislation passed at the end of last year. The latter had been confirmed by the government coalition and tasks the government to pay for the STA's public service this year in line with the STA's business plan for 2021 even if a contract for the public service for this year has not been concluded.
To prolong our agony, the government decided to ask the European Commission whether this might be unlawful state aid while at the same time pledging to transfer the money as soon as it received a reply from the European Commission. The STA staff are very grateful that the European Commission reacted promptly, but it turned out yet again that the Janez Janša government used this step to delay a solution. What is more, it came up with a new excuse, arguing it had asked the European Commission about state aid retroactively, and that the 2.5 million euro in funds had already been paid.
The same is true for its demands to obtain the STA's business documents. After demanding them for quite some time via its media and social media but never officially, the documents have now got stuck at an unknown location because the government suddenly no longer wants to accept them.
This is despite the fact that on the day when the STA sent the business documents to the government, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs, speaking at a news conference together with Commissioner Ylva Johansson, was visibly thrilled and announced an immediate solution, which has however not happened. It seems that the minister made fun not only of us but also of the European commissioner.
it seems that we cannot count on the current government to ensure our survival. This is a reason why journalists and the civil society in Slovenia have joined forces and launched a fund-raising campaign for the STA on Monday, World Press Freedom Day. The response was magnificent, inspiring us at the agency with hope that we can succeed. But is it really the only way to defend freedom of the press in the European Union, and thus democracy, with donations by people, among whom there are perhaps some who themselves need help more than we do? We are happy that the European Commission has decided to find more effective tools to protect freedom of the press, but this could well come too late for the STA. Since nobody probably wants the Hungarian scenario to also repeat in Slovenia and perhaps some other EU member state, it is urgent that the European Commission continue using all tools to prevent the worst-case scenario. Perhaps also by allocating direct financial support for the STA from the funds whose allocation is within its purview.
The STA Workers' Council
The in-house Trade Union of Journalists
The STA Editorial Board