Slovenian Press Agency wins funding reprieve — for now
The Slovenian Press Agency (STA) has signed an agreement with the country’s government communication office which will allow it to access state funding this year, amounting to a reprieve in a dispute which has fuelled concerns about the independence of the press in Slovenia.
The new contract “will enable normal financing and thus also the STA’s activities this year, while we will also have something left for next year,” STA Acting Director Igor Kadunc said on Monday.
For months, the agency did not have access to legally-mandated state funding, leading staffers to warn that the news organization was on the verge of financial collapse. And while the Slovenian government has repeatedly maintained that the dispute over the STA is unrelated to press freedom, critics have argued authorities are putting pressure on the agency. European institutions have expressed similar concerns about the situation.
The deal also comes amid scrutiny of Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša’s rhetoric and tweets targeting various media outlets and journalists, which have generated concern that the press operates in a climate of fear and intimidation.
In September, European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová called on Slovenian authorities to grant STA its funding, writing to Slovenian Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti that it is “important that Member States refrain from any attempts to put direct or indirect pressure on media, including by withholding the necessary financing.”
Last month, a European Parliament delegation visiting Slovenia also underscored the STA’s predicament. Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, the Renew Europe member who led the group, told reporters that the lack of financing for the Slovenian Press Agency “needs to be addressed urgently.”
But despite Monday’s funding news, questions remain about the agency’s future financing and governance.
STA staff said in a statement that they welcome the new agreement but warned against steps that might indirectly affect editorial independence. Months without state financing have also taken a toll on the organization, the staff stressed.
“A number of excellent staff have left us, the agony has compromised the quality of the agency’s service to the public, halted a number of development projects and, last but not least, has left us psychologically exhausted,” the statement read, adding that STA employees would continue work to preserve their autonomy.