Can Europe Make It?

Media freedom in Slovenia

Even though Slovenia is "no longer under Communism" critical journalism in the country is still under siege and often subjugated to political power.

Mitja Stefancic
28 September 2015

Radio Televizija Slovenija log. Wikipedia/free to use and share.Recent decisions taken by some of the most influential public media organisations in Slovenia regarding the employment and dismissal of journalists have ignited debate within the country. The issues of needing to secure objective communication, pluralism, quality of information and also better working conditions for those working in the media have been raised. 

It appears that in former socialist countries such as Slovenia, which was a part of former Yugoslavia until its independence in 1991, critical journalism is still under siege and often subjugated to political power. Journalists without fixed or long-term contracts seem to experience a particularly hard time (despite some of them having produced very important pieces of work).

Marko Milosavljević Professor of Communication at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana, notes that basic rules that regulate the Slovenian national broadcasting company (Act on Radio Television Slovenia “Zakon o RTVS”) have been broken during some of the decisions made by its top management.

Firstly, some informative programmes have been moved to different channels, although the official guidelines for conduct do not allow programmes to be moved from Channel 1 and Channel 2 to Channel 3. Secondly, some recent decisions concerning the appointment of new directors appear to be debatable. For example, criticisms by media experts regarding the appointment of Mr. Bojan Traven to the position of editor of the news programme “TV Dnevnik” have been aired. These experts further claim that Traven’s appointment is particularly inappropriate due to the fact that, in the past, he has allegedly broken norms of impartial and verifiable information.

The fact that he currently holds a political position as a democratically elected municipal councilor of the Bohinj municipality (in northern Slovenia) is clearly incompatible with such an appointment. His position would clash with norms of transparent, objective and politically impartial information whose final beneficiaries should be Slovenian citizens. With regard to his appointment, news editor-in-chief of RTV Slovenia Mrs. Jadranka Rebernik stated that “we are no longer under Communism”, suggesting that personal decisions with respect to the appointment of directors are being taken.

According to some Slovenian commentators and experts in communication and media regulation, the above stated facts suggest that top managers and those holding key positions at TVSlovenia have acted with negligence while carrying out their duties. Also, they seem to act by following political interests rather than simply the quality of the information provided by their channels.

The Slovenian Association of Journalists expressed strong concern in a recent note for recent developments in some of the most influential Slovenian media networks and for conditions in which journalists with less stable contracts now have to work. The document, which explicates the concerns of the Association, suggests that several journalists have been moved from their original positions to others without any clear reason.

Furthermore, some journalists operating under precarious or unstable employment contracts have been dismissed overnight and without any timely notice. No clear reason has been given to motivate the sudden conclusion of their collaboration or the lack of renewal of their contracts.

The above note from the Slovenian Association of Journalists also concludes that recent events may have caused the lowering of information standards and a general decrease in ethical and professional standards. There are substantial limitations over the quality as well as the pluralism of the information produced and disseminated by public media in Slovenia.Recent trends with regard to Slovenian media have thus been described as “worrying”.

Similarly, the above-mentioned Association has defined the climate in which some Slovenian journalists operate as “preoccupying” – that is to say journalists work in conditions where they are forced to constantly check or temper their work. Being critical is not always acceptable although critical and investigative journalism should be among the basis for a truly democratic society.

 While some journalists who have in the past been convicted for their misconducts (e.g. breaking ethical codes of journalism) have been reintegrated in public media houses, others – including those who have been awarded for their achievements and the high quality of their journalism – have, in contrast, been dismissed from work.

Among the journalists who are at risk of losing their jobs is Erik Valenčič, a well known author who has shot some influential, acclaimed and heavily criticised documentaries in Slovenia. One such documentary, titled “Koalicija Sovraštva” (The Coalition of Hate), focuses on the rise of right wing movements in Slovenia, and attempts to contextualise them with respect to Slovenian politics, their association with some political parties and also on social changes within the country.

The documentary shows that Slovenia has recently become a popular place for the meetings of Neo-Fascist and right wing groups originating not only in Slovenian towns, but also coming from other European countries. It attracted much debate from commentators and political analysts.

Valenčič’s body of works also suggest that Slovenian right wing groups have in the recent years aligned with similar groups operating in neighbouring countries, thus paving the way to a paradox: Slovenian neo-Fascist groups now shake hands with the same groups that have been historically remarkably unsympathetic to members of the Slovenian ethnic minorities living in neighbouring countries such as Austria or Italy. 

The paradox is thus: these right-wing groups are sympathetic to other right wing groups, for example from Italy and Austria, who claim that "foreigners" (including Slovenians) need to be subjugated. Furthermore, the fact that Valenčič is also the maker of a highly acclaimed documentary on Kurdistan seems to be enough to question the real motivations behind his dismissal from RTV Slovenia.

Some commentators have even gone so far as to compare the example of Erik Valenčič with Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. According to Borut Mekina, whilst some European countries have shown a positive example by strengthening the role of media and securing their independence, this has not been the case in Slovenia. 

Instead, Slovenian public media has become even more politicised and exposed to political pressure since 2005. These examples show that while the Slovenians may no longer live under Communism – or State Socialism –nevertheless the position of free and quality information is still doubtful. 

From the recent discussions on media and freedom of information in Slovenia it appears that several attempts have been made to align autonomous journalists who hold an independent or critical political vision with political interest. If they do not do so they run the risk of being dismissed from their employment.

It seems as though freedom of information is still very much under siege in a country that has, or had, the potential to be a positive example of the transition to a market economy with a well functioning democracy based on diversity, pluralism and freedom of expression. 

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