On July 1st, Slovenia took over the EU presidency. Fifteen years ago, it was ninth on Reporters Without Borders’ list of press freedom, and the small country is currently 36th – and the trend is falling. Several delegations from EU parliamentarians and international media organizations got an idea of the event beforehand Janez Jansa’s war against critical journalists and the organization Reporters Without Borders, itself the target of attacks by the Slovenian Prime Minister, speaks of an EU rosion of press freedom that many consider to be unthinkable.
One week before the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa took over the EU Council Presidency, he gave a first taste of how he intends to deal with critical journalists on the Brussels floor. Jansa simply did not answer a question from a reporter for the Slovenian News Agency (STA). Unfortunately, switched on from his official seat, he could not hear the question, he said with a stony expression on his face.
We hear you here, but not in Lijubljana!
President David Sassoli gave up quickly. “We can hear you here in the press room, but obviously not in Ljubljana,” said a somewhat concerned-looking EU Parliament President. Just don’t cause a scandal before the start of the second Slovenian Council Presidency. Instead, Jansa, who dutifully asserted during the press conference how important freedom of expression and freedom of the press was, was allowed to amuse himself at a question from a Dutch colleague. Why he chose the white panther, which is also used by right-wing groups in his country, as a likeness for cufflinks that he wanted to lend to EU officials to take office. He actually expected more important questions from journalists.
The refusal to answer the question from colleague Simona Grmek from the Slovenian News Agency (STA) probably stems from the fact that the Slovenian government has been postponing its statutory payments to the STA for months. State funding accounts for around half of the budget, and the Slovenian government is actually dependent on the agency’s services during the presidency. Because she also operates an English-speaking agency service. “During the EU presidency it is actually indispensable for the government,” says Spela Stare, Secretary General at DNS, the largest and oldest journalists’ association in the country.
After Janez’s government had stopped payments for months and STA had meanwhile collected money via crowdfunding in order to be able to pay the salaries of around 100 employees, negotiations are now under way. In mid-June, a court in Lijubljana rejected the press agency’s application for payment of the outstanding 850,000 euros for 2021. Jansa assured Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week that there was still no contract between the Communication Office (UKOM) of his government and the STA.
The prospect of a contract is linked to conditions, reports Stare. Among other things, UKOM wants more powers in the supervision of the budget. The news agency fears that it will not help the SDA to survive. And despite their other income – the donations and loans they have obtained – they are running out of financial air. The previous financial crisis, the strengthening of the large tech platforms as news surrogates and, most recently, the Covid crisis have continuously exacerbated the situation of the critical press everywhere and in the small Slovenian language community.