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Government allegedly influencing media through business relationships; journalists pressured over critical articles

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a press release by the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate:

IPI and SEEMO Express Concern about Slovenian Media Environment, Calls for Independent Inquiry to Examine Whether Government Seeks Influence over Media

The International Press Institute (IPI), and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), are becoming increasingly concerned about possible political pressure on the Slovenian media.

One of the allegations is that the Slovenian government is indirectly influencing the media through its exploitation of business relationships with companies that have financial holdings in a range of media organisations.

Commenting on the issue, IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said, "I am deeply concerned about the Slovenian media environment at present. Business relationships and share holdings should never be used by the government as leverage to induce independent media organisations to publish favourable news stories."

"The exercise of editorial independence is fundamental to the credibility of a media organisation and for governments to seek ways of undermining this principle is deplorable in a country that is a member of the European Union."

"I would call on the Slovenian government to hold an independent inquiry into these recent events and to set up new systems ensuring that the media are always held at arm's length from the executive branch of government. If this principle has been breached in Slovenia, it is of serious concern not only for the media, but also for the public who rely on their information," added Fritz.

"SEEMO is aware of such pressures in other countries in the region, but, if found to be true, these events in Slovenia are particularly damaging because of Slovenia's presidency of the European Union in 2008. Countries who assume the presidency of the EU must lead by example, and I am concerned that it will send a mixed message to other countries about how to influence media coverage," said SEEMO Secretary-General Oliver Vujovic.

According to information provided to IPI and SEEMO, there have been a number of instances of political pressure on journalists who have written articles critical of the current centre-right government and its president Janas Janza.

In early summer, there were news reports that at Slovenia's most influential newspaper Delo a number of respected journalists were leaving. Those leaving included journalist Barbara Surk, who specialises in Middle Easter issues. Surk has claimed that she was forced to leave after she was offered a low salary.

Another journalist was Matija Grah, Delo's Vienna correspondent, who claimed that his reporting on the heated debate over bilingual street signs in Kaernten (Carinthia), Austria, a region containing a Slovenian minority, led to his removal after complaints from the Slovenian government. Delo's Zagreb correspondent, Rok Kajzer, also found himself in difficulties with the newspaper after a story concerning a disputed border area with Croatia.

Aside from Delo, there have also been problems at the daily Vecer newspaper. At the end of May, some members of the Slovenian Writer's Association expressed their own concerns about these events in a letter titled, "Against Intimidation and Punishment."

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