Slovenians in a referendum on Sunday backed a bill to reduce political influence and restore editorial independence to the EU country’s public television.
Media and civil organizations have slammed what they see as biased coverage by RTV Slovenija — the country’s main public broadcaster with more than 2,000 employees. Its current management was appointed by the former conservative government.
The ruling center-left coalition, which won elections in the Alpine country in April, passed the bill to reform RTV shortly after taking power.
It tasks civil society institutions and groups with the supervision of the station and prevents the government and parliament from appointing new managers after every election.
Former Premier Janez Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) had requested the referendum in a last-ditch effort to thwart the bill, after gathering the 40,000 signatures necessary under Slovenian legislation to call the vote.
More than 62% of voters backed the bill, clearing the way for it to take effect, according to data published by the country’s electoral commission. Around 38% voted against it.
During his two years in office between 2020 and 2022, Jansa often slammed critical media reports, including launching personal attacks against journalists.
His SDS replaced most of RTV’s directors and the news program chief editor, resulting in protests over axed shows, reassigned journalists and other moves deemed to interfere with media freedom.
Slovenia’s press freedom rating has slumped from 36th to 54th place, according to a 2022 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report.
“There is damage that cannot be undone… but the editorial autonomy will be ensured” by the bill, Helena Milinkovic, spokeswoman of the television employees’ largest union, told AFP.
She added more than a dozen new journalists, previously working for SDS-linked media, have been hired, while more than 40 journalists and newsroom staff members have quit or retired during the last year.
The Slovenian journalists’ association had urged citizens to back the bill, saying it was the only way to protect the broadcaster from “political abuse and destruction.”
Leading international media organizations, such as the International Press Institute (IPI) and RSF, also backed the bill.
The South East European Media Organization (SEEMO), a regional media watchdog, welcomed the outcome of the referendum.
“SEEMO hopes that RTV Slovenia will work in the future as an independent professional public service media and will be a positive example for many other public services in Europe,” its secretary general Oliver Vujovic told AFP.
After the official results of the referendum are published in January, the bill sets a two-month deadline for the changes to be implemented.