As Slovenia transitions to a new prime minister, the country’s media look for signs of a reset following the hostile rhetoric and pressure many say they experienced under the outgoing administration.
Former power company manager Robert Golob and his centre-left independence movement celebrated victory in elections last month. He is expected to formally assume power in early June.
Golob indicated that the first act would be legislation to limit political pressure on journalists and protect the freedom of the public media.
The pledge strikes a different tone from outgoing leader Janez Jansa, who was criticized by the European Parliament for hostile rhetoric and pressure directed at the media. During her tenure in office, Jansa was given a suspended prison sentence for verbal assaults on two female journalists. The High Court had upheld that decision on 24 May.
Jansa’s administration introduced the changes, seen by many as an attempt to disrupt the press agency STA and broadcaster RTV Slovenia.
The government at the time defended its actions, saying it was addressing bias on the network. The Government Communications Office (GCO) echoed that view, publishing a critique of RTV on its website.
Golob won 41 out of 90 seats in parliament: more than any other party since Slovenia’s declaration of independence in 1991. His party formed an alliance with the Social Democrats and the Left. Together they hold a comfortable majority in parliament with 53 seats.
Media analysts have welcomed the resolution of the new administration to protect the media.
“I am optimistic about the upcoming government’s (media) plans, especially since I cannot imagine that the conditions at RTV Slovenia could be worse,” said Slavko Splichal, at the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences Professor of Communications.
“I have no reason to doubt that the new government will actually reduce political interference in the public media,” said Splichal, who is sitting on RTV’s program council.
Alongside allegations of favoritism, Jansa’s cabinet stopped paying national news agency STA for almost a year in 2021. Funding resumed after the head of the STA resigned and the new chief managed to reach an agreement with the government.
At RTV Slovenia, a change of leadership in 2021 has led to several popular news programs being shortened or cancelled.
Several media associations and trade unions expressed support for RTV journalists.
But the Association of Journalists and Publishers said in a May 23 statement that some changes were “necessary to enhance RTV’s pluralism and professionalism.”
The association, described by some groups as supporting the right-wing media, said “the current leadership of RTV has done nothing that limits journalism’s autonomy.”
However, critics saw the change in RTV to prevent criticism of the government.
An agreement signed on May 24 by new coalition partners now seeks to address those changes with action to “prevent continued political interference” in the public media.
“Our priority is to protect the independence of STA and RTV Slovenia and enable the uninterrupted operation of the public service,” the agreement states.
The new administration did not elaborate on how it plans to achieve those goals.
Splichal, who sits on RTV’s program council as a representative of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, said any changes needed to be accelerated to save the broadcaster.
The Program Council, which is legally bound to act independently, runs RTV. At present, the Parliament appoints a majority of its 29 members.
Analysts believe that one way to protect editorial independence may be to reduce the number of council members appointed by parliament.
The European Parliament and rights groups have cited concerns about a decline in media freedom in Slovenia.
But, says Jamie Wiseman of the International Press Institute (IPI), “there is hope among the European media freedom community that this new government may uncover some of the more damaging aspects of the previous government’s program regarding the media.”
IPI will keep a watch on concrete action from the coming government.
“Here will be the implementation of significant reforms that strengthen the editorial independence of public broadcaster RTV Slovenia,” said Wiseman, IPI’s Europe advocacy officer.
Other areas that need attention, Wiseman said in an email to VOA, are “the normalization of the work of the Office of Government Communications (GCO); and the avoidance of attempts to attack and defame the critical journalism that has done so much under previous administrations.” was harmful.”
The GCO has posted articles on its website in recent months titled Analysis of the reporting of RTV Slovenia.
The post lists material that the GCO believes shows bias against the government, including what it sees as hate speech or reports that fail to elicit a government response.
Journalists and academics generally view GCO positions as inappropriate political comments.
The GCO has previously said that no one has denied its claims, and that previous centre-left governments have also tried to pressure the media.
For their part, journalists at RTV have been vocal in their opposition to changes to their network and described the political pressure over the past year as unbearable.
“We are here because we want to stop aggression, we are here because we want freedom of expression,” said RTV’s head of coordinating trade unions of journalists, Helena Milinkovic, on 23 May during a protest and an hour-long strike. ” ,
“We fear for the existence of a public RTV,” she said, with journalists demanding “editorial autonomy, and the politicization of public RTV.”
According to the station’s figures, the broadcaster is one of the most popular channels in the country, with a monthly combined audience of around 700,000.
But bearing political pressure is not the only challenge for RTV, Splichal said. The academic believes that the broadcaster needs to increase its presence on the Internet and social media to attract a young audience and ensure its long-term future.