Corporate news 18.5.2021 10:42

NGO files criminal complaint against UKOM head over STA funding

Ljubljana, 18 May - An NGO that offers legal support to individuals and organisations that find themselves in legal proceedings because of their non-violent public activity has filed a criminal complaint against the head of the Government Communication Office (UKOM) over suspension of funding to the Slovenian Press Agency (STA).

Ljubljana
The head of the Government Communication Office, Uroš Urbanija.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA
File photo

The Legal Network for the Protection of Democracy argues that UKOM head Uroš Urbanija has abused his office, crossed the boundaries of his official rights and failed to conduct his official duties, thus causing substantial damage to the STA.

The NGO in cooperation with the law firm Pirc Musar & Lemut Strle says that Urbanija did all that when he repeatedly demanded documents from the STA since last October although he had no basis for this in the STA act or the companies act, and also failed to prove he is an authorised representative of the government as the only STA shareholder.

By demanding the documents that concern the STA's editorial policy he interfered with the STA's editorial independence, which is a violation of the STA act, says the criminal complaint obtained by the STA.

At the same time, he did not honour the emergency law securing funding to the STA and the STA act and approve funding of the agency's public service even though UKOM has set aside money for this purpose.

In line with the criminal complaint, Urbanija caused almost EUR 520,000 in damage to the agency, jeopardised its existence and its right to compensation for its public service by failing to provide the funding for 138 days now.

UKOM has so far represented the STA's founder only in the closing of the contract with the agency on its public service, as the STA has since its founding been paid from the UKOM budget.

UKOM has never provided any authorisation for representing the government as the STA's founder.

The Legal Network for the Protection of Democracy says this opens the question whether all previous contracts have even been made with the right party. However, since both sides fulfilled their duties and since the founder is obligated to fund the STA's public service under the STA act, and the government never objected to this, it is no longer an issue.

Urbanija is said to have also abused his office to exercise financial pressure on the STA and trying to influence its editorial policy by making unjustified demands to access documents.

The many tweets by Prime Minister Janez Janša related to the work of the STA clearly show that the demand for the documents and suspension of funding was intended only to exercise political, ideological and financial pressure on the agency, the NGO says.

Moreover, it argues that Urbanija did the criminal offences with a clear intent, as he undoubtedly knew given his position and the unambiguous law that his actions run against the law. But he still tried to prevent the STA from conducting its public service, out of revenge and the desire for political and ideological subordination.

In a bid to help the STA in this situation, the Association of Slovenian Journalists launched a month-long fundraising campaign to secure funding for the STA on 3 May.