WED, 18 JUL 2001 23:27:13 GMT
Transition of the Media in Slovenia
A Brave New World
Three years of effort by one hundred experts finally produced the Media
Act, but certain provisions immediately came under fire from experts and
AIM Ljubljana, July 9, 2001
Hardly a month has passed since new media legislation was adopted by the
Slovenian Parliament, and the document has already shown its faults and
been subject to strong criticism in the press. The Media Act, which
spent over two years on the drawing board of three Slovenian
governments, even started out with vague, repressive and bureaucratic
provisions. This is not a new ailment: instead of dividing the matter
into several bills, lawmakers wanted to put it all in a single document.
The problems are numerous. Firstly, protection of sources of information
-- which for journalists is of the utmost importance -- has again been
avoided, despite the fact that it was a subject of many debates over the
past decade. The new law says that "editors, journalists and authors of
articles are not obliged to reveal their source of information, unless
the penal code requires that they do so." Given that the penal code does
not recognize any special rights of journalists (whereas it honors the
right of physicians, lawyers and priests not to reveal what they know),
journalists are obliged to reveal everything they know in court.
Practice outside Slovenian borders is quite different, and the rights of
journalists in Western Europe and the U.S. are defined more precisely.
This Orwellian characteristic is all but accidental -- it is quite
similar to what existed in the laws of General Franco's Spain about half
a century ago.
To make matters worse, the Media Act is the end product of years of
effort by officials of the Association of Journalists of Slovenia, who
spent hours and days working on various commissions and chatting with
state bureaucrats. Since no official protests or words of criticism came
from the journalists' organization after the adoption of the law's
shameful provisions, the purpose of the Association of
Journalists of Slovenia is quite clear: during the past decade the only
concrete effect of its activities is the 5-percent discount members
enjoy when purchasing vehicles produced by Renault...
It is also strange that the new law, which took so long to prepare,
completely neglected to regulate the Internet. The development of new
technologies was allegedly one of the main purposes of the new law. It
is widely known that Slovenian ministers communicate among themselves
(and with the electorate) via the Internet, and that in Slovenia there
are today some 400,000 households using the international network. And
now we have a media law that makes no mention of this at all. This is
also bad for companies that still have to publish their official reports
in the papers. To make things worse, publishing illegal information on
the Internet, that can be read by the entire world, is not a punishable
act in Slovenia.
The law, however, deals with many petty details and has made the lives
of small publishers miserable. They (like all other publishers) have to
print the number of copies in the impressum, and to register their
company, prospective owners have to overcome a number of administrative
hurdles. Many were also surprised by the act's harsh punishment of as
many as 59 offenses. In comparison, the entire Slovenian Penal Code,
listing 264 crimes, is but an expansion of the Media Act. The Media Act,
for instance, punishes hidden advertisements, endorsement of alcoholic
beverages, illegal influence by sponsors on media outlets' editorial
policies, advertisements "offending human dignity" and the publication
of articles in a
language other than Slovenian.
The point is clear -- very strict protection of the Slovenian language.
A potential editor in chief can be appointed and do his job only if he
has a certificate confirming his knowledge of Slovenian. The same goes
for foreigners. All media outlets in Slovenia are obliged to use
Slovenian exclusively. The only exception applies to "recognized"
minorities (meaning that the law does not recognize the numerous
population of "Southerners" and their cultural needs, discriminating
against them and listing Italians, Hungarians, and Roma as the only
"constitutionally recognized" minorities). The fate of the odd
publications that use two or three languages -- English, Croatian,
Albanian, Serbian -- and meant for a specific public is now uncertain...
If a certain media outlet tries to use a "non-Slovenian language" it has
to clearly specify (in Slovenian words, signs or sounds) why it is using
It is obvious that the new Media Act has failed in clearly covering many
segments of life, but in one aspect it is quite direct -- minorities
will no longer dare enter the publishing field, even if they have no
intention of dealing with politics and plan to publish poetry in their
native language. The fact that it contradicts European legislation is
not that important -- the integration process obviously has different
effects on big and small countries. Whereas in Germany, for instance, an
Iranian was elected chairman of PEN (both thanks to his works and a
desire to eliminate ethnic stereotypes), whereas in England newspapers
in Arabic are available at every newsstand, in small countries like
Slovenia the elimination of borders has given rise to all sorts of