When the European Parliament concluded its mission to Slovenia last Friday, Dutch MP Sofia in ‘t Veld expressed concern that public debate in the country was often hostile.
Her comments came after Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa criticized the European Parliament and made what some say was anti-Semitic.
A European delegation was in Slovenia to assess democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, including freedom of the press, in the country that currently holds the presidency of the European Union.
While government agencies are doing well, the mission highlighted issues of concern, including harassment and pressure on public service broadcasters and critical journalists.
This concern is shared by several journalists and media rights groups, including Jamie Wiseman of the International Press Institute (IPI).
“IPI and other organizations hoped to see an improvement in media freedom in Slovenia after the country went over to a presidential change. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, ”Wiseman told Voice of America.
During a three-day stay in Telde, Slovenia, representatives of the EU political group Renew Europe and its team met with government officials, government agencies and the media. But Yansa did not speak to the group.
However, Jansa tweeted why the delegation was focusing on Slovenia and retweeted a photo in which T Veld and 12 other EU parliamentarians are accused of being puppets of philanthropist George Soros.
Soros, a Hungarian businessman and founder of the Open Society Foundation, is often subjected to anti-Jewish insults and accusations that he funds and orchestrates far-left extremism, protests and other conspiracies.
The President of the EU Parliament called on the Slovenian leader to “stop provocations against members”, saying that “attacks on members of this chamber are also attacks on European citizens.”
When Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, spoke out and called Soros’ tweet “tasteless”, Jansa replied that Rutte should not “waste time on … media freedom in Slovenia” and should instead “protect his journalists from murder in the street.” … “
The remark was a reference to veteran crime reporter Peter R. de Vries, who was killed in July in Amsterdam.
For Ying ‘t Weld, which led the mission in Slovenia, the rhetoric reflected a general hostile environment and the pressures she said were being felt by the media and government agencies.
“It is amazing that members of the government also participate in this kind of debate that I find unacceptable in a civilized and democratic society,” said Ying Veld.
“Tone [public] debates are not harmless and not harmless, and we have seen in other countries how they can lead to undermining trust in democratic institutions and even attacks on democratic institutions, in the end, ”she said.
At a press conference, Ying Veld warned that if pressure on the media and other bodies continues, “you can create a climate in which the media and democratic institutions no longer function properly.”
The Ministry of Culture, which oversees the Slovenian media, contested the initial findings of the European delegation.
“International organizations … know nothing about the Slovenian media and rely mainly on reports from Slovenia,” the ministry said in a statement prepared for Voice of America.
The ministry said that most local media outlets lean in favor of left-wing parties, adding that this is “the greatest proof that media freedom in Slovenia is not affected.”
Representatives of the Ministry of Culture rejected the meeting with the European Parliament delegation because the mission did not agree to record the meeting.
The ministry told Voice of America that the recording of the meetings is a prerequisite, and that without it, “anyone can interpret what they say and in accordance with their memory.”
Press advocates, analysts share concerns
However, media analysts largely share concerns about the state of press freedom in the country.
Since Yansa came to power, journalists have reported an increase in harassment and online attacks due to their coverage by government officials, pro-government supporters, and anonymous attacks.
“While the situation is still far from the current landscape for a free press in Poland and Hungary, there are tactics used by the governments in Warsaw and Budapest that are being copied in Ljubljana,” said Weizman, IPI’s spokesman for Europe.
Rights groups say independent media in Hungary and Poland face an increasingly restrictive environment with attempts to discredit the media and control public service broadcasters.
Ying ‘t Veld and Weisman both pointed to the cessation of funding for the national news agency STA, which is required by law. The agency usually receives about half of its funding from the government, but this revenue was discontinued earlier this year.
If funding is not restored, “the central part of the country’s media ecosystem will become silent and an important pillar of Slovenian democracy will be dismantled,” said Vaizman.
STA director Bojan Veselinovic, who Jansa accused of being a political tool for the left, stepped down last month, saying the funding dispute was “always about [the government] position on media independence and attempts to subjugate the agency. “
And Manika Janezic Ambrozic, managing editor of news programs at TV Slovenia, resigned on October 15 after Weizman described “months of organized attacks on her by political forces that decided to remove her from office.”
When RTV TV director Natalia Gorchak was fired in August, she told VOA that she believed it was because she refused to fire Ambrozic.
Like other agencies, the station has also been accused of bias and false news due to its critical reporting on the government.
While many journalists and analysts view the changes to RTV Slovenia as evidence of political pressure on the country’s influential state-owned broadcaster, the channel’s new chief executive, Andrei Grakh Vatmou, and the Ministry of Culture have denied any interference.
The full results of the European Parliament mission are to be published at a later date.