The European Federation of Journalists today renewed its call for more public debate and discussion over government plans to reform the public broadcasting law which critics fear will lead to undue political influence on public media.

In a comprehensive letter to the Minister of Culture, Vasko Simoniti, the leaders of the European journalists’ movement warned that a shift of control over supervision of the public broadcaster into the political arena would be a setback for editorial independence and would undermine Slovenia’s democratic reputation.

Earlier this week EFJ General Secretary Aidan White met with Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek in Ljubljana. Later the President issued his own warnings to the government over plans to reform RTV Slovenia.

In the letter to the government, signed jointly by White and Arne Konig, the President of the EFJ, the EFJ leadership said they were convinced that the draft law requires further amendment and “is being unnecessarily rushed through the legislative process.” They warned that the changes “open the door to undue political influence.”

In an earlier letter the Minister had challenged the EFJ over the information it had received about the Slovenian broadcasting crisis, which has caused political and professional division in the country.

But the EFJ says it has discussed the issue with Slovenian journalists, with RTV Slovenia management, with Slovenian civil society groups, and with appropriate experts from the Council of Europe and the European Broadcasting Union.

“We remain convinced that the proposed law should be withdrawn to allow further discussion”, said Arne König.

The EFJ says there are three major concerns over the draft law which was first proposed by the government in early April and is now being finalised in Parliamentary discussions:

- That the changes are being rushed through without proper public debate, particularly about the consequences of changes that bring more political influence over the content and operation of the public broadcaster;

- That there are threats of political influence in editorial affairs because of vagueness in the description of duties of the new supervisory board and the introduction of political control over the selection and confirmation of civil society representatives on the board. The EFJ says this abandons the principle of no political influence, which Slovenia has pioneered in this region.

- That there are further threats of political influence because of unclear plans to launch a new parliamentary channel and unsatisfactory arrangements for future financing of RTV Slovenia. It appears the broadcaster will have to submit programme plans and activities to an annual negotiation with political representatives, leading to possible interference in programming arrangements.

The EFJ also says government representatives have not taken seriously a comprehensive package of ideas, covering organisational reform, separation of state and public interest, financial strategies, and the economic and political independence of the broadcaster, submitted by the RTV Slovenia management.

Nevertheless, if it is determined to press ahead, the EFJ says the government should, at the very least, adopt a series of amendments to the draft law made this week by senior representatives of the Council of Europe and the European Broadcasting Union who visited Slovenia last week and met the Minister of Culture.

In a letter to the EFJ the former President of Slovenia, Mr. Milan Kucan, has regretted that the Minister of Culture has used the debate on the draft law to express strongly political opposition to the president of the Council of RTV Slovenia, Mr. Janez Kocijancic.

“The debate about the future of public broadcasting should not take place in a difficult and confrontational political climate,” said Arne Konig. “People need to cool down and give more time for reflection on the best way to maintain and improve standards while keeping political hands off the controls of broadcasting.

“Nothing will be lost by expanding the discussion, but there is everything to gain, both for democracy and quality broadcasting, in creating a broad consensus for reform that involves all stakeholders.”

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The EFJ represents over 260,000 journalists in more than 30 countries