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Jansa is Eroding Press Freedom in Slovenia, IPI Warns

Journalists watch a press statement of Janez Jansa. Photo: EPA-EFE/CHRISTIAN BRUNA.

A new report by the International Press Institute notes with concern a decline in press freedom in Slovenia since the new government under Janez Jansa came to power.

Slovenia is among the few countries in Europe that have experienced a swift downturn in press and media freedom, according to the latest report of the International Press Institute, IPI, a global network of journalists, editors and media executives defending press freedom.

Jamie Wiseman, Advocacy Officer at IPI, stated in the in-depth report published on Tuesday that the Slovenian government led by Janez Jansa was contributing to an increasingly hostile environment for journalists.

The IPI report noted that, according to some observers, Jansa has launched “vitriolic attacks on reporters on Twitter, enabling a wider increase in digital harassment from online trolls and contributing to an increasingly hostile climate for watchdog journalism”.

Jansa, an ally of authoritarian Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, returned for a third stint as prime minister on March 13, a little over a week after Slovenia confirmed its first case of the coronavirus. He replaced Marjan Sarec, whose centre-left coalition fell in January.

The change of power coincided with what the IPI said is an unprecedented wave of insults and online smear campaigns against journalists in Slovenia.

Jansa has taken to Twitter to denounce the Slovenian public broadcaster; his government has sought to portray mainstream media outlets as heirs of the Yugoslav-era communist security services, while the government’s Crisis Headquarters, tasked with coordinating the fight against COVID-19, has retweeted anonymous attacks on the investigative journalist Blaz Zgaga.

As IPI recalled, in mid-March, a government account retweeted a claim that Zgaga was an “escaped psychiatric patient”. Shortly after that, the reporter began receiving numerous online death threats and smears, drawing condemnation from international organisations.

Observers and journalists told IPI that “animosity from officials has enabled increasing harassment of journalists online”, from which neither foreign journalists nor public television journalists were spared.

Despite reasons for worry, Wiseman wrote that “concerns that Slovenia will become another illiberal democracy akin to Hungary are, for now, premature”.

”Nonetheless the exporting of Hungarian methods to Slovenia and other states in Central and South-Eastern European countries should worry EU leaders,” he continued, urging the EU and other organisations to follow developments in Slovenia closely and react strongly if need be.

“In the coming weeks, all eyes will be focused on the end of the public consultation into the legislative amendments to the public broadcaster and press agency,” the report noted, referring to plans by Slovenia’s government to amend public service media legislation, which some experts see as an attempt to rein in state media.

On the other hand, the Slovenian Culture Ministry told BIRN in July that nothing in the set of laws indicates that public media will be put under direct state influence. “The laws are not changing corporate or programming governance of RTV Slovenia, nor do they have provisions to do that,” it pointed out.

On August 25, the government responded to an alert on the Council of Europe’s platform, which monitors press freedom, issued in May, attaching Jansa’s own essay, “War with the media”, and offered additional explanations, insisting that “freedom of expression is a right that belongs to every individual”.

“Negative criticism of an individual journalist, publisher or broadcaster by the prime minister, does not automatically render it an attack or an encroachment on media independence,“ the letter said.

“Finally the World Press Freedom Index, published annually by international non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders, ranks Slovenia 32nd, which is two places better than in 2019 and the same as in 2018,” the government observed.

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