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In Slovenia, Broadcaster RTV Faces 'Bumpy Road' to Reform

FILE — A website screenshot shows a portion of the home page of Slovenia's public broadcaster RTV. Attempts to depoliticize the media outlet have led to accusations that new management is simply replacing one political agenda with another.
FILE — A website screenshot shows a portion of the home page of Slovenia's public broadcaster RTV. Attempts to depoliticize the media outlet have led to accusations that new management is simply replacing one political agenda with another.

Attempts to depoliticize Slovenia's public broadcaster RTV have led to accusations that new management is simply replacing one political agenda with another by purging the outlet of employees considered too sympathetic to the previous administration.

Earlier this month, managers at RTV notified 15 journalists who worked on the daily news show "Panorama" that their services were not required, and that they should stay at home, on reduced pay, until needed.

New leadership at the broadcaster said the show, which was established under RTV's previous managers in 2022, was being taken off the air because of low viewership.

But the former editor of "Panorama," Rajko Geric, said he believes the decision could be related to moves to clear RTV of anyone deemed supportive of former Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose center-right government was defeated in elections in April 2022.

"Left-wing parties took over RTV" following the installation of a new administration led by Prime Minister Robert Golob, charged Geric, who has since been called back to work.

Other observers suggest the decision to cancel the show, which took an in-depth look at issues such as climate change and vaccination practices, had more to do with financial pressures on the broadcaster.

In 2022, Golob's new government passed a law aimed at preventing political interference with Slovenia's public broadcasters in what was seen as a response to complaints from many RTV journalists of political pressure from leaders appointed under the Jansa administration.

Under that law, a new council was formed to oversee RTV. The council, which has power to name the management and endorse business and financial plans, installed new leaders at RTV in August 2023.

With his government's actions, Golob said, "Politics is withdrawing from managing RTV Slovenia and giving its employees the necessary autonomy."

But in an October interview on the station's TV Slovenia, Golob said that the ruling party has "obliged ourselves that we will clean RTV of 'Jansism'" — a reference to those deemed to be supporters of former Prime Minister Jansa.

Following the interview, Geric filed a criminal complaint against Golob, accusing him of abusing power and publicly inciting hatred.

The journalist told local media it is against the law for anyone in a position of power to "announce the cleaning of the public institution according to the political views of employees."

In a written statement, RTV told VOA, "There are no political pressures and we strongly reject insinuations of political cleansing."

Despite Geric's complaints, independent analysts say that media freedom in Slovenia has been on a "positive upsurge."

The new government "reversed the negative trajectory under the previous administration, ended the practice of verbal attacks on journalists by the leading government figures, and enacted a principled attempt ... to limit political meddling and appointments," said Jamie Wiseman, the Europe advocacy officer at the Vienna-based International Press Institute or IPI.

Still, Wiseman told VOA, "The road to democratic reform at RTV will continue to be bumpy."

Public broadcaster under pressure

Slovenia's RTV has been under pressure from ruling parties ever since the country gained independence in 1991. Many academics and journalists say the level of pressure was never as bad as under Jansa's populist government.

Marko Milosavljevic, a professor of journalism and head of the communication department at Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences, told VOA that more recently, conditions for media have improved.

RTV reporting proves that "journalists are now more independent and can be more critical towards the government and other holders of power than was the case before."

In September, TV Slovenia's investigative show "Tarca" reported on a case of alleged corruption involving Sanja Ajanovic Hovnik, who was a minister of public administration in Golob's government.

Hovnik, who denied the allegations, resigned days after the show aired.

Milosavljevic said that under the previous management at RTV, a number of journalists were hired to work on programs including "Panorama" that would report "in favor of the (then center-right) government."

"The question is what to do with people who were employed due to political interests," he said, adding that the management should follow the law if it decides to end any contracts.

Slovenia's Association of Journalists and Publicists said in a statement that the notices issued this month were "retaliation" against journalists hired or promoted by the broadcaster's previous managers.

Milosavljevic believes public debate is needed to decide how to reorganize RTV and secure its financing.

RTV's main source of income is via a subscription that most households pay. However, the fee has not increased since 2012, even as inflation has reached almost 30 percent from that year to 2023.

The government determines the fee, but since 2012 each ruling party has declined to increase the rate.

In December, RTV management board member Simon Kardum resigned, saying that a new strategy was needed to save the institution.

That same month, the government awarded RTV an extra $5.4 million for programming for minorities, to help ease its financial troubles.

TV Slovenia runs a 24-7 operation and is one of the most popular channels in the country. It has more than 2,000 employees and competes with several privately owned channels.

RTV's current chief executive, Zvezdan Martic, told the daily newspaper Delo that at least 76 percent of people in Slovenia use at least one RTV service each week.

He added that the journalists who had received notice have not been terminated and noted that RTV had already called three of them back to work.