Appeal by STA staff to the presidents of European institutions
Ljubljana, 31 August - Representatives of STA staff have sent a letter to top EU officials noting that despite calls to restore the financing of the STA, the issue has still not been resolved.
Ms Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission
Mr Charles Michel, President of the European Council
Mr David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament
It has been two months since Slovenia started its presidency of the Council of the EU. When its presidency stint started, warnings were raised concerning the financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and the expectation was voiced that Slovenia will quickly find a solution by ensuring financing and securing the agency's independence. The same expectations had been voiced before by EU officials, and they were told by the Slovenian Government that the issue would be resolved quickly.
It is with sadness that the shrinking staff at the STA - a tenth of the staff have left since the start of the funding problems - can now report that nothing has happened. The Government continues to engage in actions that are intentionally pushing us into a dead-end, a point at which we must give up either our independence or our jobs.
The leadership of the Government Communications Office (UKOM), with the support of the most senior Government representatives, continues to demonstrate on a near daily basis an utter lack of desire to resolve the financing dispute as it makes up an endless stream of new conditions that it says we should satisfy to sign a public service agreement for 2021 with them. The year is coming to an end and despite never laying down our work, we are at day 243 of not having received any state funding, despite this being required by not one but two laws, the act on the STA and the 7th corona relief act.
Right after the start of Slovenia's presidency stint, we were indeed offered to sign a public service agreement, but the wording thereof failed to address any of our key concerns raised during the course of negotiations, and it was damaging for the agency in that it would have undermined our commercial revenue pillar. What is more, the agreement invoked provisions of a government regulation that encroached on the act governing the STA, a regulation that has been stayed by a court pending a final decision.
If the public-facing stance of the Government that it wishes to sort out STA financing were true, the Government would have at least provided an advance payment for the public service to ensure the survival of the STA, during which time any open issues would be sorted out in negotiations.
The management of the STA has called for the continuation of negotiations, but instead of the talks continuing we are facing a worsening barrage of insults on social media by the most senior representatives of the state, a stance that makes it clear we will never get the money we are owed by the Government. Below are a few examples of "efforts to resolve the financial situation of the STA" that senior Government representatives fired off in a single hour on 30 August:
Instead of releasing funding in line with appeals by the European Commission as well as international association of journalists and others, Government representatives prefer to engage in misleading narratives and in ridiculing the STA's credible reporting. For us, the refusal to release public service funding despite the STA performing its public service obligations throughout this time, means the agency's end is just two months away: we only have sufficient funds for August wages before we face insolvency as early as the beginning of October. To get even this far, the agency has been forced to resort to solutions that are unimaginable for public service media in democratic countries, including crowdfunding and the sale of claims to the state.
Alas, everything comes to an end and without a clear solution in sight, the remaining 87-strong staff will be put on the dole, our families facing financial deprivation despite Government assurances that all Slovenians will be taken care of during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Slovenian courts take their time. We understand they have their procedural deadlines, but no legal victory, no matter how resounding, will help us if it comes months from now, beyond giving us moral satisfaction. Slovenia will have lost the first of the independent and unbiased public media, one which represents the backbone of the national media environment with its output of credible and verified news.
We ask you to support our renewed appeal to the Government to immediately and unconditionally provide funding for the STA. We have arrived at a point where a key public media outlet is at the cusp of collapse because of the refusal by the Government to provide financing, a refusal that constitutes a violation of Slovenian law.
Moral support by senior representatives of the EU has meant a lot to us, but unfortunately it no longer suffices. It is necessary to take more decisive, perhaps even unprecedented steps, to protect freedom of the press. Absent that, this will mark a new defeat of democratic values that the founding fathers of the European Union were fighting for.
STA Works Council
STA Editorial Staff Representation
STA Editorial Board
STA Trade Union of Journalists