Slovenia’s Media and Press Freedoms Face Troubling Trends on a Crucial Year

Over the past year, the media environment in Slovenia has worried local journalists and various media organisations alike. They are voicing their concerns about an increasingly hostile work environment, fear in doing their work, and a decline in press freedom under the government of Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa. He has dismissed claims and criticisms he has faced over these allegations. This comes just months before Slovenia takes on the role as Council of the European Union’s rotating presidency.

In a letter to the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the International Press Institute, along with four other media organisations, states that “the repeated denigration of journalists [and media control tactics from Jansa’s government creates] an increasing hostile climate for critical reporting which serves its fundamental role of holding the government to account,” according to Balkan Insight. They also call for stronger action and public responses to attacks on the media from Jansa or other government officials. Politico reports that these attacks include “whipping up hatred against public media reporters and editors, resulting in threatening phone calls, letters, emails and messages on social media; [One Slovenian journalist said that] The pressure I feel right now is strong”. Pro-Jansa news outlets have also been involved, such as Nova24TV, which reported last December: “STA in the service of the deep state!” (STA is the Slovenian Press Agency).

Jansa himself has called off these accusations, explaining to Politico that “it is he and his Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) who face threats” and not the journalists or media outlets. Critical reporting of his government has also come under scrutiny. Deutsche Welle reports that Jansa labeled Lili Bayer, the Brussels correspondent for the Politico magazine, a “spreader of fake news” after she wrote a critical feature examining these trends of increasing media grab by his government.

Slovenia is not the only country where there has been an increasingly unwelcoming media environment for journalists and the press. There are similar trends elsewhere in southeastern Europe, including Serbia and Bulgaria. Also, the declining press freedoms in Viktor Orban’s Hungary are important in the Slovenian context. Politico mentions that “[Orban’s] media managers have invested in Slovenia and North Macedonia [and] he has an increasing influence not only in Hungary, but also in Slovenia”. This article also refers to Orban as Jansa’s role model, meaning that they share common interests in commanding greater influence over their media landscapes.

Another concerning fact about these trends is how women are particularly targeted. One journalist said that if a woman does a story, she is met with derogatory names and words, adding that “psychologically, this situation is like a war”. These forms of name-calling and other attacks on the media create fear and distrust among the journalists, and for women, these trends are amplified. The concerns of the International Press Institute and others are critical at this time given that there is still no complete media control by Jansa. There is still time to reverse these trends and to call out those perpetuating Jansa’s rhetoric. It is important that other E.U. members also listen in to provide feedback, solutions, and proposals to ensure press freedoms and less fear on the job for journalists.

Jansa has served as prime minister in the past from 2004 to 2008 and in 2012 to 2013. The increasingly hostile media environment trends began last March when Jansa took office for a third term. Shortly after taking office, “this aggressive attitude towards the media and journalism was immediately seen,” according to Marko Milosavljevic, a professor of journalism and media policy at the University of Ljubljana. He also explains that new draft media laws are an attempt to put the media “on a leash,” which would mean greater government control over outlets reporting critical information about Jansa. This comes just months before Slovenia will take on the rotating E.U. presidency by the middle of 2021, meaning that it can set the agenda for the topics and areas of focus. The current media trends will surely be an issue brought up by Slovenia and other E.U. members, which could become contentious discussions.

Aside from condemning the declining press freedoms, E.U. members must pay close attention to member countries that are heading towards increasingly authoritarian trends. They must also ensure that there is accountability for attacking journalists, media outlets, or harassing women journalists, which can vary in each country, but the message should be the same. The letter from the International Press Institute is one way to raise attention to these issues. Additionally, given that Slovenia will take on the rotating E.U. presidency by the middle of the year, other members must be prepared to ensure Slovenia’s Jansa does not reiterate false claims or justify his actions that have instilled fear among journalists. It will be a challenge, but it will also be a test for E.U. members to uphold their values for free press and the journalists reporting information.