Court orders Slovenia government to fund under-fire news agency

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa attends the presentation of the programme of the activities of the Slovenian Presidency during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 06 July 2021. [EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN HARTMANN]

Slovenia’s Supreme Court ruled Monday (6 September) that the conservative government must resume financing of the country’s only news agency STA, which it halted during a row over its management and reporting.

The case has become emblematic of what critics say is Prime Minister Janez Janša’s intolerance of criticism and disdain for the free press.

Monday’s Supreme Court decision was the result of a case brought against the government by the STA’s management.

“STA’s public service has to be financed by the agency’s founder,” it ruled, referring to the government.

The dispute between the government’s Information Office and the STA started shortly after Janša’s government was appointed in March 2020.

Janša criticised the agency’s reporting, calling it a “disgrace” and demanding its director Bojan Veselinovic be sacked.

Veselinovic stayed on, but in December the government froze payments to the agency, saying accounts hadn’t been filed correctly.

In January 2021 the government said it had restarted payments but this turned out to cover only the payments withheld in 2020.

It has refused to payments for 2021, arguing that the STA’s management had failed to fulfil its public service requirements.

“We hope that the Supreme Court’s ruling will help in ensuring that the government immediately resumes the financing of STA,” Veselinovic said in a statement.

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Slovenian President Borut Pahor announced he had called Veselinovic and the head of the government Information Office Uros Urbanija to meet in his office Tuesday to try to resolve the dispute.

The case is one of several that have led the European Commission to express concern over the pressure on free media in Slovenia, an EU member since 2004.

Last month, the newly appointed head of the Slovenian public Radio and Television (RTV) fired the director of television, blaming her for a fall in viewers – a move that caused fresh alarm among press freedom watchdogs.

The lack of funding to the STA has been threatening the functioning of the agency, founded in 1991, and the payment of the salaries to its roughly 90 employees.

Last spring the Slovenian Journalists Association (DNS) organised a donation campaign that gathered over €270,000 to help the agency survive.

But that is significantly less than the two million euros the agency used to receive from public funds every year.

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