Slovenian government introduces controversial bill that tightens control over public broadcaster

Slovenia's government recently approved new draft legislation on its public broadcaster - RTV Slovenija. But the planned law has been heavily criticised by journalists and media experts from inside and outside Slovenia. Critics say the bill would infringe on journalists autonomy and open the door to more political influence.

Slovenia's journalists were in great uproar these past few days thanks to the government's new law proposal on public broadcasting, which would increase the power of parliament in appointments to the Programming and the Supervisory Council. The bill says that parliament will appoint 21 of its 29 members. The new government tried to impose the law without public debate and within days in an emergency procedure. General Secretary Aidan White of the International Federation of Journalists expressed great concern about Prime Minister Janez Jansa's view on public broadcaster RTV:

"I think the alarm bells for all of us began to ring very loudly, when we heard the Slovenian prime minister make a statement, which appears to be to the effect that he considers the public broadcaster as a state broadcaster."

A number of Slovenia's leading journalism experts, journalists and RTV editors feared that the bill cuts journalist autonomy. They opposed the new concept of management for the public broadcaster as envisioned in the document, since this would definitely increase the power of the leading political group. Aiden White:

"It is quite clear - the attitude that active politicians and governments have an active role to play in the operation of independent media, whether it is public or private. That attitude has no place in a modern democracy and if that is what is lying behind the changes proposed in this draft law then the draft law should be withdrawn immediately in favour of an open and public debate about the future of broadcasting. So we are very concerned about what is happening in Slovenia."

However, after strong protests, the minister delayed the cabinet vote on the bill and discussed it with the trade union and management of RTV Slovenija. After talks with the Slovenian Association of Journalists, the ministry made changes to the controversial bill. But even after these minor changes, the Director General will have much more power and influence and he will still be appointed by the leading political power, since parliament appoints him. It's clear to many that changes to the current law on public broadcasting have to be made, but not by turning it into a state television broadcaster. Miran Ornik from one of Slovenia's union of journalists:

"After the first law proposal, all nine unions of journalists working within RTV Slovenija estimated that it gives governing politicians too many possibilities to nationalize Slovenia's public broadcaster. Of course it would be absurd and intolerable to oppose a legal framework for RTV Slovenija, because the old one has its faults. But the revised proposal of the law does not assure that the weaknesses will be abolished."

After talks with trade unions and the management of RTV, Slovenia's Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti promised to allow parliamentary debate on this issue. The government quickly accepted this newly revised proposal and the issue will now go into parliamentary procedure. The demands of Slovenia's union of journalists are clear:

"It would be absolutely appropriate to enable public debate because this new law is immensely important. This means that besides the submitters of the law and members of parliament, experts and the general public should be included in this debate. Slovenia's union of journalists believes a new law is necessary but haste and bad chances for a democratic discussion before the passing of the law are intolerable."