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Slovenian government considers suspending funding to national press agency

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By Euronews  with AFP
Prime Minister Janez Janša has previously been a critic of the Slovenian Press Agency.
Prime Minister Janez Janša has previously been a critic of the Slovenian Press Agency.   -   Copyright  Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP

The Slovenian government has faced a backlash from journalists after reports that it will suspend funding for the country's national press agency.

On Tuesday, a senior official had indicated that funding had been halted for the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) for the next year.

"We cannot finance STA or sign a new contract for 2021," the head of the government's communication service, Uros Urbanija, told journalists, adding that the agency's management had not provided the company's accounts.

Conservative Prime Minister Janez Jansa has expressed dissatisfaction with the work of STA and public television, RTV Slovenia.

In October, the Prime Minister tweeted that the STA was a "national disgrace" for giving more space to an interview with a musician who was critical of the government than to his own meeting with Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban.

But in a statement to Euronews, the government's communication office said they had only been informed of the possibility to suspend finance and no official decision had been made.

"We were informed by the government communication office of the inability to perform [the] contract on the performance of public service in 2020 ... with the STA, and the inability to conclude a contract on the performance of public service in 2021," said a further statement.

"However, the Government did not reach any decision to suspend the STA's financing at Tuesday's session".

On Wednesday, the chief supervisor of the STA Mladen Terčelj rejected claims that the agency was not transparent and had concealed information.

STA director Bojan Veselinovic also told state television he had provided all the information required but would not give the government details about staff and editorial work.

“If I agreed to give them explanations about how long an interview or a report is, or why the chief editor and 21 journalists sign a declaration, then I would be breaching the media legislation,” Veselinovic said, referring to questions posed by the Information Office.

The Slovenian Journalists Association also said they were "outraged" at the option to cut funds, saying it was an attack on independent journalism.

"Clearly, this is another attempt to destroy the national news agency, which is one of the pillars of quality and impartial reporting, as we have already seen in neighbouring Hungary," the association said.

The STA, which had been founded in 1990, had received approximately €2 million from the government each year.

Coalition partners in the Slovenian government - the pensioners’ party DESUS and Modern Center Party (SMC) — also condemned the move to cease funding.

Shortly after assuming office in March, PM Jansa has used Twitter to attack critical media which questioned his handling of the coronavirus crisis, accusing them of spreading lies and serving the interests of the opposition.

This article has been updated with the statement from the Slovenian Government's Communication Office which stated that no decision on financing has yet been made.