Monday, June 27

Is freedom of the press threatened in Slovenia?

Every Friday in Ljubjana, the capital of Slovenia, hundreds of protesters, many on bicycles, gather in front of the parliament to express their anger at the government of the prime minister. Janez Janša.

The day we filmed there, the protest is in solidarity with the Palestinians and against the government’s support for Israel in the latest conflict. However, like every week during the past year, freedom of the press is high on the protest agenda.

Sarah Štiglic is one of the protesters and also a journalism student. She tells us that she feels that the government of Slovenia is not doing them any good. “They are trying to destroy everything. They are trying to destroy our media,” he explains. It is something that makes her feel both angry and sad.

Threats of death

Blaz Zgaga is a famous investigative journalist in Slovenia. After questioning the legitimacy and management of the COVID-19 crisis unit created by the government at the start of the pandemic, it was the subject of a violent smear campaign on social media. This occurred after the government’s crisis unit republished an anonymous tweet insulting the journalist.

He says that after the tweet was posted on the government’s COVID-19 crisis unit account, “propaganda trumpets started writing about me, saying that I was a deep-state journalist, that I was a liar.” It was then that he began receiving death threats, by the dozen.

Following an appeal from several international press freedom organizations, the European Commission asked the Slovenian government to guarantee the journalist’s safety. Most of the threats stopped immediately. “It’s like someone pressing the power button, which is a clear indication that someone pressed the power button the first time,” adds Blaz.

A fan of social media

This claim that the threats are clearly organized is directed at the ultra-conservative Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa himself.

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Since coming to power a year ago, he has relentlessly criticized the media. He accuses him, on the government website, of having a monopoly on lying.

The prime minister has even earned himself an unfavorable nickname: Marshal Twitto, as critics say he never misses an opportunity to point out journalists he disapproves of on social media.

Suspension of state funds

One of the latest controversies surrounding the media in Slovenia is the suspension of state funds to the national press agency, the STA. It is a movement that has even caught the attention of the European Commission.

The government says it has blocked the funds because it has not received the necessary supporting documents from the agency. However, STA management claims that this is a lie. Without these funds, which represent 50% of the agency’s budget, Barbara Štrukelj, the editor-in-chief, says her future is in jeopardy, along with coverage of major events: “This year is the year Slovenia presides over the European Council, and it also marks the 30th anniversary of the country’s independence. Financial instability threatens the implementation of some publishing projects and investment in the development of the agency itself. “

Several outlets, including some of the most vocal against the government, also lost state funds this year. They say it is an attempt to silence voices that do not conform to the government line.

The Ministry of Culture, in charge of the media, rejects it. The representatives we spoke to say that the allocation of funds is tied to a media tender, and is based on the quality of the projects presented. They insist that there are no political ties and that the media that were not selected belong to all political parties and can appeal the decision.

According to Mitja Irsic, a public relations officer at the Ministry of Culture, “the media have to compete to obtain funds from this tender. But during previous governments, all the media got something. A commission of experts from the Ministry decided that I want to do this in a more meritocratic way. ”

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This argument is joined by the general director of the Media Directorate of the Ministry of Culture, Ursula Menih Dokl, when she tells us that they intend to “facilitate the creation of content to ensure plurality and different views on different topics.”

However, this goal for many Slovenian journalists we spoke to stems from a willingness to control the media. This is a widespread belief on RTV Slovenia, the national television station, which the prime minister constantly accuses of spreading false news and trying to destabilize the government.

Female journalists have been the main targets of Janez Jansa’s ire online. One of RTV Slovenia’s star presenters, Jelena Ascic, was one of those who faced violent attacks on social media and media affiliated with Janez Jansa’s SDS party.

For her, “this pressure is very dangerous because now when you think about some topics that you want in your program, then you think about the consequences, about the attacks for that topic and you go to safer topics for that. So these attacks are also leading to self-censorship, which is already a big problem in Slovenia. “

One of her colleagues, the host of the channel’s parliamentary program, disagrees. Attacks on social media are part of the job, he says. Denies any pressure from the ruling power. He tells us that in his opinion, “journalists can be and are critical of the current authorities. There are no obstacles to that, and no consequences.” For him, the real pressure on journalists came from the previous government and the owners of the media.

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New networks created by allies of the ruling party

To counter the mainstream media in Slovenia, which Janez Jansa has called leftist and anti-government, his SDS allies have created their own networks, sometimes supported by Hungarian investors supposedly close to Victor Orban.

Nova24 TV is one of them. Critics say he flirts with far-right ideology. Boris Tomasic, its editor-in-chief, describes the channel as “conservative.” He hosts a show called ‘Who’s Lying to You?’ It was launched at the beginning of the pandemic. “The amount of fake news that there was, and still is, in our main media outlets was unreal,” he says. “What I do is show the manipulations and lies, to point out” the other side, the truth. “

One man who recently appeared on your show is Primoz Cirman. He is a journalist known for a major investigation into a funding scandal within Janez Jansa’s party, a scandal that allegedly involves one of the prime minister’s advisers.

Primoz Cirman and his two colleagues from his media called “Uncensored” has been affected by 39 defamation lawsuits of the suspect.

Cirman has been very vocal about how he feels about this situation. He tells us that “their objective is clear! They want to destroy us professionally and individually. They basically want us to close our office and stop working.” But Cirman is not afraid. He says he and his colleague will not be dissuaded.

“We just want to do our work freely because we live in a free democratic country.”

A democratic country that, according to the protesters on Friday, is in danger, promising to continue taking to the streets of Ljubljana and calling for the resignation of Janez Jansa and the holding of early elections.

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