We are exclusively publishing, in four sequels, a dossier on how the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) and its leader and Prime Minister Janez Janša follow the media strategy of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in controlling the media and their political takeover. Today is the second part. You can read the first part here.

We are publishing this research text by Lenart J. Kučić in cooperation with the Slovenian research portal podcrto.si, which systematically monitors events on the Slovenian media and political scene.

The new government did not only employ in the public institution Radio-Television of Slovenia. In May 2007, she appointed Alenka Paulin, a former SDS public relations representative, as the new director of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA). Paulin then appointed Borut Mešek, the founder of the alternative (right) association of journalists and publicists, as the editor-in-chief of that news agency. Among the newly appointed STA editors was the current director of the Government Communications Office (UKOM)Uroš Urbanija, who later participated in several other media projects sponsored by the SDS.

However, in the autumn of 2008, the SDS lost the elections, and in November, the new government of Prime Minister Borut Pahor was sworn in. In October 2010, it passed a new Law on Public Broadcasting, which would, among other things, reduce the number of councilors on the program committee appointed by the Slovenian parliament, but the SDS-led opposition demanded a referendum revision of the law. Voters rejected a new law on public broadcasting in a referendum in December 2010, so the so-called Grims law has remained in force to this day. And thus the possibility of direct influence of the governing policy on the management, employment, and program contents of public RTV.

In 2010, new supervisors and program councilors of RTVS took office. Stane Granda, in the position of president of the program council, was replaced by the editor of the daily Dnevnik Miran Lesjak. In the same year, the general director Anton Gumzej left RTVS, and the mandates of the directors of radio and television Vinko Vasle and Jože Možina expired. In May 2010, the new program council appointed Marko Fili as the new general director of RTVS. Miha Lampreht became the director of radio and Janez Lombergar of television.

After the change of government, changes began in the STA news agency. Alenka Paulin officially resigned in the fall of 2008 due to health reasons, and in the spring of 2009, she was replaced by former editor of the news program on Radio Slovenia and Dnevnik journalist Bojan Veselinovič who has remained at the helm of the STA to this day.

Borut Meško left the position of editor-in-chief of STA. During a hearing of the parliamentary committee on the establishment, financing, and operation of the free newspaper Ekspres and Slovenski tednik, it turned out that he had written anonymously for both SDS propaganda newspapers during the 2008 election campaign.

Uroš Urbanija also left the STA, and in the fall of 2009 (still under the old leadership of public RTV), he became the editor of MMC, a multimedia center within RTVS. He remained in that position for three years and then continued on his way to a new SDS media project: the establishment of Planet TV, which was created under the auspices of the state-owned Telecom Slovenia during the second government of Janez Janša from 2012-2013.

Establishment of a new pro-government television

In February 2012, a second government led by the SDS and Janez Janša began work, but in the fall of 2012, Slovenia had mass protests demanding the resignation of a corrupt political elite. Among the reasons for the protests were the findings of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, which investigated the financial situation of parliamentary party presidents. The commission also found some property irregularities with Prime Minister Janez Jansa, so in February 2013, lawmakers voted against him.

Despite his short tenure, media policy was once again one of the key priorities of Jansa’s government. The government first tried to replace public RTVS supervisors before the expiration of their term, although the RTVS Law does not allow this. However, she dismissed four of them in July 2012, and in May proposed and confirmed eight new members of the program committee close to the political right, including publicist Andrej Aplenc, SDS member Slavko Kmetič, and engineer Mitja Štular, who was also considered a counselor close to the SDS. However, due to a vote of no confidence in the government, it failed to replace the management of RTVS and take over the public institution again.

The attempt to return the national under its control is not the only media attempt by the second government of Janez Janša. In the spring of 2012, the state-owned Telecom Slovenia (TS) announced the establishment of new television, Planet TV, which was also to have its news program.

The Slovenian Media Act does not allow the simultaneous performance of telecommunications and television activities. However, TS used the same strategy to circumvent media legislation, as described in more detail in Martin Odlazek’s investigation about the media system. Namely, Telecom Slovenia was not the publisher of Planet TV but left it to its daughter company TS Media, which did not perform telecommunications activities.

This project was launched together with the Greek media group Antenna Group, which became the majority owner of TS Media (51%), the first broadcaster of Planet TV. The new broadcaster of Planet TV is then Antenna TV SL, and its director is a Bulgarian citizen Pavel Stantchev.

Even before the start of the broadcast, analysts attributed the political motive to the new television, mainly because of individuals from Telecom who were entrusted with the management of Planet TV.

Among them were several journalists and editors who held prominent positions in the media during the first government of Janez Janša. The position of editor-in-chief of Planet TV was taken by Rajko Gerič, former editor of the news program on RTVS. He accepted the dismissed editor of the Multimedia Center (MMC), Uroš Urbani, into the editorial team and the Vinko Vasle, the former director of the national radio, became editor-in-chief of the Siol, an online portal owned by Telecom Slovenia. Telecom has also hired former STA director Alenka Paulin to help develop the new television.

All these moves were not good for starting a new television. Telecom Slovenia failed to justify initial forecasts that Planet would start operating positively two years after its founding, although they changed management and editorial board several times, bought rights to sports shows, and struggled with their television production.

Vinko Vasle was the first to leave Siol. In the spring of 2014, Uroš Urbanija was fired from Planet, and the last to leave the position of editor-in-chief of Planet was Rajko Gerič, who then unsuccessfully ran for deputy chairman of the anti-corruption commission in 2019, as well as a new information commissioner.

In July 2016, Antenna TV SL entered pre-bankruptcy proceedings, and Telecom Slovenia, after the recapitalization, became its majority owner (66%). The settlement between Telecom Slovenia and Antenna Group was completed at the end of 2019 by a decision of the International Chamber of Commerce in Switzerland, which conducted the arbitration. Telecom Slovenia thus had to pay Antena a principal of EUR 17.6 million for the remaining 34% stake in Antenna TV SL (together with costs and default interest, the amount exceeded EUR 20 million). Thus, Telecom Slovenia became the sole owner of the company, which was renamed Planet TV in the spring of 2020 and was sold to the Hungarian media group TV2 in the summer of 2020 for five million euros.

Planet TV was a very expensive and financially unsuccessful project for state-owned Telecom. The television never made a profit, but its losses exceeded ten million euros a year several times. In the business year 2019, the loss of Planet amounted to almost nine million euros, and television owed Telecom about 30 million euros. The failure of the television project is also shown by the fact that Telecom estimated the value of the investment in Planet TV at zero euros in its balance sheets.

Telecom Slovenije replied that they had invested a total of EUR 72.6 million in Planet TV. According to them, that amount includes 17.6 million euros for the purchase of a 34% stake in the company, which was determined in the arbitration procedure.

According to some estimates, the actual investment of TS in Planet TV is even greater when the value of advertising and services that Planet TV received from TS is added. However, Telecom Slovenia does not want to reveal the value of advertising.
Financing the work of Planet TV, a political project of Janša and the SDS party, cost Telecom tens of millions of euros. This money could be used by TS to pay dividends, which would then be transferred to the state budget.
We also turned to the SDS for comment, but they did not respond to our request to discuss their media policy.

Entry of Hungarian investors

In the first term, the government of Janez Janša amended the Law on RTV Slovenia, which enabled it to temporarily take over this public institution through political staffing in key governing bodies; supervisory and program council. However, after the election defeat, the SDS lost most of its influence over RTVS, as the so-called Grims’ law was used equally effectively by their successors, and they replaced directors appointed during the SDS term: general director Anton Gumzej, radio director Vinko Vasle. television director Jože Možina and several editors.

In the second term of Janez Janša, the government ran out of time to take over public RTV due to a vote of no confidence in parliament. The legislation they enacted themselves did not allow them to take over the public service quickly enough as the procedures for recalling and appointing new RTVS supervisors and councilors dragged on. With that, the appointment of a new CEO and editor.

The new television under the auspices of the state-owned Telecom Slovenia did not have such restrictions, as the establishment and operation of Planet TV did not require changes in the law or staffing through parliament. However, after the vote of no confidence in parliament, the SDS also lost most of its influence in the state-owned Telecom, and thus on Planet TV. Janez Janša then, while in opposition, founded his party television – similar to Viktor Orban before him.

Janša announced his party television at the SDS senior festival in Sentilj in Slovenske gorice on May 30, 2015. In September 2015, 70 founders of Nova24TV raised 110,200 euros of founding capital, and SDS members predominated among the co-founders. The new television started broadcasting on March 1, 2016, and among its prominent directors were many prominent SDS members such as Božo Predalič, Mihael Hočevar, Aleš Hojs, and Boris Tomašič.

Hoys and Predalić have taken over important positions in the current government, the first being interior minister and the second his secretary of state. The first editor-in-chief of Nova24TV became the current director of UKOM, Uroš Urbanija, and Vinko Vasle was one of the commentators on the Nova24TV website. Two other people, who participated in the preparation of the package of new media laws in the Ministry of Culture, are connected to Nova24TV. These are Miro Petek and Mitja Iršič, who joined Vasko Simoniti, the Minister of Culture, with Petek being the editor-in-chief of Nova24TV for some time, and Iršič a columnist on the website.

The founders of the new television underestimated the complexity of television as a medium, which is why the broadcaster Nove24TV generated a loss of almost 722,000 euros in the first year of broadcasting. After several unsuccessful attempts to recapitalize, in September 2016, the then President of the Management Board of Nova24TV, Aleš Hojs, confirmed for the daily Dnevnik that they had managed to attract foreign investors; three Hungarian companies, which will invest 800,000 euros in television. The money was provided in July of the same year by Hungarian citizen Károly Varga.

This transfer announced the entry of media entrepreneurs from the circle of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban into the Slovenian media space and the gradual Hungarian takeover of the media system under the auspices of the SDS, which we described in detail in previous investigations. As with last year’s takeover of Planet TV, with which the SDS, following the example of the Hungarian Fidesz, wants to try to increase its influence on public opinion, and thus its influence on Slovenian voters.

Janez Janša’s moves to form the last government were, therefore, very similar to Orban’s moves until his victory in the 2010 elections. Both Orbán and Janša first took control of public television during the work of their first government. When they found themselves in opposition, they both founded their party television – Orbán Hír TV and Janša Nova24TV. With the help of their business connections, both of them managed to establish an additional television, which worked for them – Orbán EchoTV, and Janša Planet TV. Slovenian and Hungarian prime ministers also use the same rhetoric to justify their media exploits; the alleged strong ideological bias or hostility of the media towards the political right.

But the similarities in the work of the two do not end here. Janez Janša’s moves in the current government are very reminiscent of Viktor Orban’s moves after his 2010 re-election victory. We will clarify this in the continuation of this investigation.

Tomorrow at 11 a.m, we will continue with the third part of the text!