A coalition of press freedom organisations and journalism groups has warned that the Slovenian government is overseeing an increasingly systematic effort to undermine critical media, in a report released just a day before Slovenia takes over the presidency of the Council of the EU.
Issued by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) after a two-week fact-finding mission, the report finds that Slovenia has seen press freedom deteriorate ever since Prime Minister Janez Janša returned to power in 2020.
“Since then, the ruling SDS party has embarked on a multi-pronged campaign to reshape the media landscape in favour of a pro-government narrative, renewing tactics successful during previous administrations and forging ahead with new forms of pressure.
“The front line of this campaign is an aggressive attempt to seize greater control of the country’s public service broadcaster and national news agency using a mix of legal and administrative pressure, as well as vicious, often highly personal smears aimed at undermining the integrity and independence of these institutions,” the report added.
The report also finds that the denigration of journalists and inflammatory rhetoric that government officials, including Janša, engage in “has led to rising self-censorship and an upsurge in threats against the press, both online and offline.”
Meanwhile, “an effort by the SDS is underway to limit critical journalism at mainstream media and strengthen a network of partisan outlets linked to the government.”
“Propaganda media are being rewarded with lucrative state advertising contracts, while government officials have sought to pressure editorial offices and reduce challenging coverage at some of the country’s biggest commercial outlets.”
The report says these tactics “reflect elements of the media capture strategy employed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban”, while Hungarian capital linked to Orbán’s Fidesz party “is being used to prop up Slovenian pro-government media”.
The Janša government has defended its media policy as necessary to “rebalance” the media landscape, but the report finds the “SDS’s actions and rhetoric do not indicate a genuine interest in fostering greater pluralism but rather in delegitimizing independent media in favour of government-friendly coverage”.
While the media organisations acknowledge there are legitimate concerns regarding media ownership concentration and transparency in Slovenia, they say the SDS’s plans would exacerbate those issues or create new problems.