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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 the public

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 that language.

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 intellectual obstacles.

Igor Mekina

(AIM)