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Slovenia: Media Law Approved By Hair's Breadth

By Donald F. Reindl Slovenia held its most tightly contested referendum ever on 25 September, when the public passed judgment on a new state broadcasting law that the parliament adopted in July. The referendum passed by only 50.23 percent with a turnout of just under 31 percent. At stake was the management structure of Slovenia's state television and radio company (RTV), with opponents warning that the new law would politicize programming.

Television broadcasting began in Slovenia in 1957, but RTV traces its history back to 1928, when Radio Ljubljana first went on the air. In addition to Slovenian-language programming, RTV also offers regional broadcasts for Slovenia's officially recognized (albeit relatively small) Italian and Hungarian minorities. Like other media, RTV has also entered the electronic age with its own news website at

RTV is managed by a council and supervisory board responsible for the usual administrative tasks of staffing and budgets. They also determine fees and programming content, which was the main issue in the public discussions before the referendum. The new law expands and modifies the compositions of both governing bodies.

Expanded Management Structure

Under the previous law dating from 1994, five council members were appointed directly by parliament, reflecting the makeup of the governing coalition. Various ethnic and cultural groups, as well as RTV employees themselves, appointed an additional 20 council members. The new law expands the council to a 29-member programming board by increasing the appointments by religious communities from one to two, adding an additional two appointments from other civil society organizations, and adding one appointment from the Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts. The radio and TV director and various editors will now report to the general director instead of the council.

The supervisory board has been expanded from seven (five government appointees plus two employee appointees) to 11 members by reducing the number of government appointees to four, but adding five appointees from all political parties. The introduction of a parliamentary channel is also envisaged, and the changes are expected to take effect in November.
A week before the vote, the cover of the leftist magazine "Mladina" featured a crucified caricature of RTV's icon, a boy playing a flute.

Like other state or "public" media throughout Europe, RTV is partially funded through an obligatory "licensing fee" -- about 2,600 tolars ($14) per month -- paid by everyone who owns a television or radio. Appealing to voters' pocketbooks, opponents of the law claimed that the changes would result in increased monthly fees, but this was denied by the law's proponents.

The Broader Context

In many ways, the referendum had little to do with RTV, but represented a broader debate on reform and transition in Slovenia. A conservative government headed by Janez Jansa of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) was installed in December 2004. With this came pledges to implement social and legislative reform after more than a decade of rule by various left-oriented coalitions, most recently dominated by the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) party and its ally the United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD) -- the successor to the former Communist Party and recently renamed the Social Democrats.

The pace of this reform has been excruciatingly slow. With no time to draft a new law, a tax code of Byzantine complexity sponsored by the previous government came into effect in January 2005 despite unanimous objections from accountants and the self-employed. Promises to reduce Slovenia's bloated civil service have largely come to naught because of socialist-era protections built into labor laws. When efforts to promote free trade, economic liberalization, privatization, and decentralization stalled in the face of institutional obstacles, economic guru Mico Mrkaic resigned in July from the Strategic Council for Economic Development that Jansa had established. As a member of the SDS privately conceded, the coalition has the will to implement reforms, but is unable to push them through institutions that remain staffed by LDS-era appointees.
Promises to reduce Slovenia's bloated civil service have largely come to naught because of socialist-era protections built into labor laws.

Pre-referendum debate on both sides of the issue was exaggerated. Parliamentarian Branko Grims (SDS) urged Slovenes to "vote yes, so that our children will grow up in a democratic world." The head of the conservative New Slovenia (NSi) women's union, Lidija Drobnic, charged that only former communists were given air time on the issue. However, the charges are not without basis -- in 2004, RTV abruptly cancelled the airing of a documentary on the post-World War II killings orchestrated by the communists.

A week before the vote, the cover of the leftist magazine "Mladina" featured a crucified caricature of RTV's icon, a boy playing a flute. Post-referendum commentary in "Mladina" claimed that the culturally ignorant rural population had won over the objections of the more sophisticated urban population and declared that the government was trying to lead a revolution -- ignoring the fact that the voters confirmed a decision made by their elected representatives.

Inasmuch as referendums also represent a survey of public confidence, Slovenia's government will not cheer the outcome of this vote, but will certainly greet it with a sigh of relief.

[Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University doctoral candidate based in Ljubljana (]