MON, 08 APR 1996 16:40:41 GMT
Crisis of Small Media in Slovenia
AIM Ljubljana, April 2, 1996
Before the situation caused by the strike of journalists in state radio and television had not quite gone back to normal yet, Slovene media scene was shaken by warnings that due to a lack of money, social-democratic oriented daily Republika could soon be shut down, that the journal called Slovenec, oriented towards the policy of Christian Democrats, was also in a difficult situation, that radio station Radio glas Ljubljane was struggling for survival and that the editors of all three programs (informative, entertaining and morning) of television station Kanal A have interrupted work because of a lack of the essential conditions for work, and of course, of money. Namely, journalists, editors and other permanent and part-time associate have received neither wages nor fees for two months. What is happening with small media in Slovenia just half a year before parliamentary elections, when one should expect that special attention would be devoted to journals, radio and television stations, as significant instruments of a preelection struggle?
Daily Republika was the first daily newspaper in Slovenia which was published in colour and with a modern European format and content. Its first financiers were Slovenes from Italy who invested money into a joint project of this journal and Trieste journal of Slovene minority in Italy called Primorski dnevnik. When a major offensive was initiated last year by official Rome against all institutions of the Slovene minority living in Italy (two Slovene banks in Trieste and Gorizia inclusive), these institutions could not afford the investment into journals any more, and Republika was faced with a crisis. A few well-to-do Slovene firms saved it at the time with small, but irregular investments. Finally, towards the end of 1995, when Ljubljana business association Alpe Adria took over a major share of the journal, it seemed that everything would be alright. However, after only two months, the owner of the association remained the only owner of the journal because the others withdrew. The journal was not making a profit, just as it is impossible even for much larger newspapers to do on such a small market as the Slovene. The owner, therefore, made it public that the journal would be shut down by the end of March if new owners were not found by then for the remaining 49 per cent of the capital needed. When it seemed that Republika would disappear from the scene, the money was found and the newspaper survived.
The situation is somewhat different in television Kanal A. While the owner of Republika, together with the employees, tried to find a solution for his newspaper, the owner of Kanal A in the beginning refused to even consider the possibility of sharing ownership with other investors, although he himself did not have enough money to operate such an expensive project as a television station. Lack of money was resolved by cutting down the program and long delays in payments of salaries and fees. When the editorial team realized that it was impossible to work in such conditions, they stopped working and broadcasting authorial contributions, and ever since have been negotiating with the owner who accepted that it was necessary to find other financiers. According to the latest news, negotiations with potential investors from abroad (England and the USA) are in progress.
There is a number of similar stories which can all be brought down to the same thing - money. After Slovenia had gained independence, a process of privatization of the then state- and socially-owned media began. Only Radio-Television Slovenia remained state-owned, while in the other three major newspaper firms, also founded and financed by the entire Slovene society, Delo, Dnevnik and Vecer, privatization process was initiated, and in some completed and in others almost brought to the end. They did not need new investments, because they had premises constructed for them or given to them by the former socialist society, because they had the necessary equipment and machinery bought with state capital. Thanks to that they are monopolists of the market.
All the newly-established media are faced with great financial difficulties which jeopardize their very survival every now and then. Despite the fact that these small media cannot endanger the large ones, the "large" media (primarily Delo and RTV Slovenia) are doing their best to ruin the "small ones". It is interesting that the state is not much concerned about it. Its answer to the question what can be done about it is always the same: we do not know, it is all a matter of the market.
Right after declaration of Slovenia as an independent state, the Slovene government established a fund for pluralization of media. Such a fund is a well-known institution in majority of Western-European countries, established to provide money for assistance to minor media which guarantee the state plurality of the media in it. Journal Slovenec, magazine Demokracija and review Svobodna misel used to be financed partly from the fund. A year later, in 1992, the fund was abolished without any special explanations. Borut Suklje, Director of Government Office for Information, discusses the possibilities of the Slovene state to assist the media in overcoming their current difficulties: "Regardless of the difficulties which lately appear, the question of the manner in which we could preserve the diversified situation in the sphere of media in Slovenia has been put ever since the adoption of the law on media. Unfortunately, we have not gone much further from the question of principles, because the stance that financial assistance from the fund is not needed any more prevailed, since the media are privately-owned. But, at the same time, one cannot but wonder how come some of the countries of the European Union still find it necessary to have such a mechanism of assistance to minor media. That is the reason why our office is studying how this is regulated in these countries, and we shall see whether it is possible to establish such a mechanism again."
President of journalists' association - Society of Journalists of Slovenia - Marjan Sedmak is more critical and decisive about it. "Slovenia is a small market where it is very difficult to operate with a profit in normal conditions. The main joint objective of the journalists' association and newspaper publishers is to lower the threshold of profitability of informative and political press. In view of the fact that Slovenia is a small market, in some sectors we have an oligopoly and in some a monopoly. There are three publishers which publish most of the main dailies, but along with them we have Republika and Slovenec which are constantly struggling to survive. If these two newspapers disappear, we will have a case of monopoly in Slovenia in the sphere of the press. In Germany, a special parliamentary committee, which was established in 1968 and which investigated the appearance of large concerns in the sphere of the media, arrived at a conclusion that even concentration of 20 per cent of the media market in the hands of a single owner seriously threatened pluralism of media. In Slovenia, this concentration is already above 30 per cent, and if Republika or Slovenec disappeared from among the press, or Kanal A from among TV stations, it would mean significant monopolization of Slovene media scene.
The association of the journalists is in favour of reestablishment of the fund for pluralization of the media, which could, of course, just partly assist the minor media. Journalists are also in favour of a tax reduction for these media. Mr. Sedmak warns that Germany, for example, has 380 dailies and still has the mentioned pluralization fund, and so does Italy with about 90 daily newspapers. And even if the Slovene state chose to do something of the kind, it could not be effectuated by the end of this year, which means before the elections. Until then, all the journals and radio and television stations will have to try to cope with the situation as best of their ability. And it is highly questionable which of them will manage to survive.