Varuh ДЌlovekovih pravic

In Brussels, Ombudsman Svetina discusses the freedom of the media and the rule of law in Slovenia

On 26 March 2021, the Democracy, Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights Monitoring Group of the European Parliament which operates in the framework of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs continued the discussion on the freedom of the media and the rule of law in Slovenia. Ombudsman Peter Svetina has accepted the invitation of the Group, headed by the Dutch MP Sophie in 't Veld, and participated in the second round of discussions in Brussels.

In his speech, which was presented during the afternoon panel, he evaluated the standard of respect of human rights in Slovenia as relatively good, but noted that not all aspects are regulated the way they should have been, and human rights violations do occur. “13 decisions of the constitutional court of Slovenia remained unimplemented. Some of these issues have been dragging on for years and have “survived” several different governments, without having one of them prepare the necessary changes in the legislation. One such example is the Mental Health Act which has been contested by none other than the Ombudsman, while the deadline for removing the unconstitutionality expired several years ago,” emphasised the Ombudsman.

“As far as the European Court of Human Rights is concerned, I can point out that, up until now, i.e. from 1993 to 2019, 9,722 complaints have been brought before this Court, while 3.48% have been resolved in favour of the applicant. A positive fact is that, up to the present point, Slovenia executed all but eight sentences,” noted the Ombudsman in the part concerning the rule of law. “In any case, there are several areas where a step forward needs to be made in order for every single member of Slovenian society to be able to feel the effects of the aforementioned relatively good standard, and that no vulnerable social groups would be excluded or disadvantaged in any way,” he added.

“In the past year, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which often requires swift adoption of measures by the government, brought numerous limitations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. These limitations may be legitimate or not, that is, if they do not consider the principles of necessity of measures, proportionality, non-discrimination, limited duration, professional justification and legality,” the Ombudsman pointed out, adding that, in the past year, the Ombudsman’s institution dealt with over 4,800 cases, experiencing a 30% increase of issues compared to the year before.

The Ombudsman is worried due to the fact that no measures have been adopted to improve working conditions or to organise the business performance and material standing of judges and certain groups of employees; another worrying point is the prosecutors’ reports saying that undue pressure is being exerted on them. In his opinion, complications in appointing prosecutors can have concrete consequences on the organisation of work, taking into consideration the general lack of staff among prosecutors. “The processes must be implemented using the existing standards without unnecessary delays, while any shortcomings in the applicable organisation must be dealt with as soon as possible,” said Ombudsman Svetina.

In the part concerning the freedom of the media, the Ombudsman pointed out that “both of our public services, i.e. Radiotelevizija Slovenija and Slovenian Press Agency, need special attention and must not become a hostage or the prey of whoever happens to win the elections. Access to a credible information news service is a human right and an underlying rationale of democracy.”

“Concerning the latest issues related to the financing of the Slovenian Press Agency, I am worried by the fact that the existing legislation is not being implemented. Just like I said when we were discussing the appointment of prosecutors, I believe that the financing procedures must be executed pursuant to the existing standards and without undue delay, while any shortcomings in the applicable organisation must be dealt with in an appropriate manner,” said the Ombudsman.

“In order to promote independent journalism, the share of precarious workers must be reduced significantly, while long-lasting and safer forms of employing journalists must be found,” said the Ombudsman. “The awareness that journalists are an important pillar of a democratic society and that any pressure whatsoever exerted on journalists is unacceptable must prevail. This applies to all journalists, regardless of their world view,” added the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman further believes that the amounts of damages that are actually awarded for interfering with media publications seem to be too low for them to have a deterrent effect on all sensationalist and populist media. “It is necessary to suitably prosecute hate speech in public places, regardless of its author, without the prosecution to interfere with the freedom of speech to a disproportionate extent,” noted the Ombudsman.

In addition to the discussion, Ombudsman Peter Svetina also held a meeting in Berlaymont with the European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič, and with Iztok Jarc, the ambassador with the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Slovenia to the European Union. The Ombudsman thanked Mr Lenarčič for his work in the field of humanitarian aid and civil protection which are also indispensable during the pandemic. He notified Mr Lenarčič of the general condition in the field of human rights in Slovenia, and with the work of the Ombudsman’s institution. In addition, the Ombudsman also discussed with the ambassador Iztok Jarc in the framework of their meeting at the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Slovenia to the European Union.