The head of Slovenia’s STA news agency resigned Thursday (30 September), accusing the government of attempting “to subordinate the agency” by withholding funding. The EU expressed “serious concern” and called on the Slovenian authorities to reverse the “negative trend” in terms of media freedom.
Bojan Veselinovic said in a statement that he “can’t and won’t accept the conditions imposed by the government’s representative for financing the work our agency has been doing for free for the last 273 days.”
Ljubljana suspended STA’s financing last December after conservative Prime Minister Janez Janša criticised its reporting on the coronavirus crisis, calling it a “disgrace” and demanding that Veselinovic be sacked.
Janša’s administration dragged its heels even after the Supreme Court ordered the government to resume funding STA’s public service mission, citing legal disputes over the funding contract.
But “the background of the dispute with STA has always been in the government’s position towards media independence and its attempt to subordinate the agency,” Veselinovic said following the latest round of talks on restoring the payments.
Janša’s government started criticising public media coverage of the coronavirus crisis — which included reports about alleged irregularities in procurement of protective gear and vaccines — soon after taking office in March 2020.
Under pressure from the EU, the government said in January that it had restarted payments to STA.
But this turned out to cover only payments withheld in 2020.
The lack of funds has threatened to bring a halt to work at STA, which was founded in 1991, and the payment of its roughly 90 employees’ salaries.
Last spring the Slovenian Journalists’ Association (DNS) organised a donation campaign that collected more than €270,000 to help the agency survive.
But that is far short of the two million euros the agency used to receive from public funds every year.
European Commission vice-president for values and transparency Věra Jourová reiterated calls to restore STA’s financing in a letter sent to the government last week.
She warned that the current situation “presents major risks for media freedom and media pluralism in Slovenia and consequently in the EU.”
The Alpine nation of two million people currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
Asked to comment on the resignation, the EU commission said it regretted these latest development and urged the Slovenian authorities to reverse the “negative trend” in terms of media freedom.