Worry spate of attacks on journalists as new government formed in Slovenia

Expression

In July and August 2018, the Slovenian Association of Journalists reported two physical attacks and a verbal threat on journalists. On 8th August, a man drove into a journalist and a cameraman working for Television Slovenia (TVS) in Nova Gorica. They were recording a report on the relationship between the inhabitants of Gorizia and Nova Gorica, when the perpetrator screamed at the journalists and later drove towards them with his car. The camera was destroyed, but the cameraman managed to avoid being hit. The attacker was not found and reportedly fled across the border to Italy.

The Slovenian Association of Journalists stated: 

“With great concern, we find that there are more and more cases in recent times when Slovenian journalists are targeted by threats and attacks, verbal and physical." (Translated from Slovenian)

Earlier in 2018, the Slovenian Association of Journalists had reported to the CIVICUS Monitor increased pressure on journalists in the lead up to the elections.

In a separate incident, at the end of July 2018, a Slovenian man who had been convicted in Italy of recruiting fighters for the terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State, physically attacked a journalist and filmmaker from Planet TV who were attempting to film in front of his house. The Association of Journalists and Publicists (ZNP) strongly condemned the attack: 

"Physical as well as any other similar attacks on journalists and cameramen are inadmissible as they are persons who carry out a service in the public interest. And if a person who was convicted for such acts is returned from a prison in Italy, such as the recruitment of fighters for the extremist group Islamic State, then this is certainly in the public interest."

These incidents coincide with increasing hate speech and intolerance online in Slovenia. For example, at the end of August 2018, the editor in chief of the daily Večer, Matija Stepišnik, received a death threat on Facebook. A user on the Facebook page of Nove24TV wrote that he should be shot in the head. The post was removed by Facebook and the editor reported the threat to the police.

The Slovenian Association of Journalists urged all journalists and people to report harassment and physical assault to the police and requested the Media Inspectorate to monitor the removal of harmful comments in online media. The organisation also called for a change in the criminal legislation to allow for more effective sanctioning of hate speech and threats.

Špela Stare, from the Slovenian Association of Journalists, told the CIVICUS Monitor that the current criminal law on hate speech sets the bar so high that it is difficult to sanction verbal offences if there is no physical harm to a person or to the public order. As a result, she reports an increasing normalisation of such episodes.

Merger of daily newspapers

The owners of Večer and Dnevnik, the second and third biggest daily newspapers in Slovenia, announced a merger at the end of August 2018. The Slovenian Association of Journalists expressed concern about this, due to the likely decrease in job opportunities and media plurality. According to the Association, the employees of the parent company were told of the decision when the agreement was already reached, and without the trade union having been informed in advance. Before it can go through, the merger will need the approval of the Ministry of Culture and Slovenia's competition protection agency.

Association

In mid-August 2018, a new minority government led by Marjan Šarec was formed after two months of uncertainty following elections in June which saw the anti-immigrant SDS party of former prime minister Janez Jansa win the largest share of votes. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Slovenian civil society organisations had been worried about a possible SDS-led coalition which could have reduced state support for the civil society sector. While worries persist about the stability of the new coalition, civil society organisations are more upbeat about this government's approach to supporting civil society.  

According to the Center for Information, Cooperation and Development of Non-Governmental Organizations (CNVOS), during meetings with civil society, several ministries confirmed their commitment to increasing the state budget for non-governmental organisations and improving dialogue with the sector, including on environmental policies.

The CIVICUS Monitor had previously reported the difficult relationship between the Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning and civil society organisations. During a session with the Parliament's Committee on Infrastructure, Environment and Spatial Planning, the incoming minister, Juret Leben, stated to be willing to change this. He stressed that civil society should be involved from the very beginning of developing legislation to ensure a real dialogue. He said

“It is very important to raise the process of coordination and coordination of environmental policies...with civil initiatives, associations, local communities, utilities, non-governmental organizations...At this point, I can assure that, if I have the opportunity to serve as the Minister of the Environment, [we are ready] to prepare a two-year program [of] funding for NGOs and I will coordinate [with NGOs] on a monthly basis." (Translated from Slovenian)

According to the Slovenian NGO Asociacija, the coalition's programme for civil society in the area of art and culture is also supportive and positive.

Former minister critical of NGOs' support to migrants

In separate developments, a recent incident has raised concerns among civil society organisations about the general atmosphere prevailing in Slovenia at present. At the beginning of September 2018, the former interior minister Vesna Györkös Žnidar accused non-governmental organisations of the "extremely controversial practices" (translated from Slovenian) of allegedly supporting migrants to cross the border into Croatia and “exasperate” the police. In her statement, the minister did not mention any specific organisation but she seemed to be referring to an episode involving the Legal Information Center for Non-Governmental Organizations (PIC). That organisation is contracted by the ministry to provide legal support to asylum-seekers and recently alerted the Ombudsman that police were returning asylum-seekers en masse to Croatia without their application for asylum having been properly examined. The Ombudsman adjudged such practices to have been not compliant with the law.

In a statement, Katarina Bervar Sternad, director of PIC, responded that all activities carried out by the organisation are conducted legally in Slovenia. She said:

“When a person asks us for help to go through the official procedure to request international protection, we will inform the police about where the person is located, who it is, and whether it wants to apply for international protection...We do not cooperate with those who do not want to go with the official (police) procedure and we do not even communicate anything to anyone. Likewise - again - we only help those who are in the territory of Slovenia." (Translated from Slovenian)

She stressed that this procedure partially helps police to control the flow of people. At the same time, organisations have the right to alert police to the possibility that they could file criminal complaints in cases of misbehaviour.

Ms. Bervar Sternad continued:

“We are asking ourselves about the wider context of these unfounded accusations with the fact that the Human Rights Ombudsman is still not satisfied with the Ministry of the Interior's responses to their complaints and findings in connection with the disputed treatment of foreigners.”