Brussels has warned against any attempt to “pressure” the media after Slovenia”s government discussed the suspension of funding for the country’s national press agency.
Conservative Prime Minister Janez Jansa has previously expressed dissatisfaction with the work of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA).
Last month, a senior official had indicated that the government’s funding for STA had been halted for 2021 because the agency’s management had not provided the company’s accounts.
But after a fierce backlash from journalists, the Slovenian government told Euronews that no official decision had been made, and they had only been informed of the possibility to suspend finance.
Senior STA representatives have denied claims that the agency has concealed information. The agency has also refused to provide information on employees and editorial work, denouncing a violation of “freedom of the press”.
“The public media play a special role in the European Union and we call on all Member States to refrain from any attempt to put pressure on them,” said a European Commission spokesman, Christian Wigand, at Monday’s daily press briefing.
When asked about the situation in Slovenia, the spokesman added that the European Commission was “closely monitoring the situation” and that it “needs to be examined in detail by the competent national authorities”.
“The media must be able to work freely and independently throughout the EU,” said Wigand.
Slovenia has provided €2 million per year in funding for the STA, which was set up in 1990 when the country decided to leave Yugoslavia.
Shortly after assuming office in March, PM Jansa used Twitter to attack critical media that questioned his handling of the coronavirus crisis, accusing them of spreading lies and serving the interests of the opposition.
In October, the prime minister also described the STA as a “national disgrace” for giving more space to an interview with a musician and government critic, over his own meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
But at the end of December, the country’s parliament passed a law demanding payment to the agency of the unpaid funds.
Last month, the Slovenian government also responded to the EU Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, stating that the government was obliged to ensure “appropriate financing” of the STA under law.
“Just as you, I also want the current difficulties regarding the financing of the Slovenian Press Agency to be resolved as soon as possible,” said Uroš Urbanija, Director of the Government Communication Office.
“This will be to the benefit of the employees, as well as the agency itself.”
The government has repeated that the STA’s complete documents have not yet been handed over by director Bojan Veselinovič despite the “valid contract”.
“Slovenia is founded on the rule of law and, in view of Slovenian and European legislation, any derogation from this principle is unacceptable.”
The European Commission has itself been questioned by Ljubljana over news agency funding and a possible violation of competition rules.
On Monday, Brussels also stated that it does not always have to approve the amount of funding given to national media.
“In general, member states can grant aid to news agencies” as compensation for services of general economic interest, said spokesperson Arianna Podesta.
“If the amount does not exceed a certain threshold, the aid can be paid directly, without prior notification or approval by the Commission,” she said.