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25th Oct 2021

EU condemns Slovenian PM's harassment of journalist

  • Slovenia's prime minister Janez Janša, a right-wing populist within the European People's party (Photo: European Union, 2020)

The European Commission says it cannot launch sanctions against Slovenia, after its prime minister attempted to discredit a Politico Europe reporter for alleged bias.

"We are not starting an infringement procedure, we don't do that against a tweet," said EU commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer on Thursday (18 February).

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More broadly, Mamer said the commission condemns attacks on journalists - including the language used in a tweet by Slovenia's prime minister Janez Janša, where he claimed the journalist "was instructed not to tell the truth" and Politico of "laying [lying] for a living".

"We are not accepting the harmful words directed at journalists and we do condemn them, let's be very clear about that," said Mamer.

But he also refrained from calling out Janša by name, a right-wing leader with populist tendencies and who is next in line to take over the EU's rotating presidency.

Janša belongs to the same political party as that of the European Commission's top leadership, the centre-right European People's Party.

He has been naming critical reporters and journalists to his 82,000 Twitter followers, in moves reminiscent of former US president Donald Trump, whom Janša admires.

Such calls by a country's top leadership is often used to intimidate and silence critical voices.

Janša's assaults against a Politico Europe journalist followed her report into how the prime minister attacks public media journalists in Slovenia.

"The leader of one of the EU's smallest countries is waging a big campaign against journalists he doesn't like," notes the start of her article.

Janša has since launched an online smear campaign against her in what appears to be confirmation of the piece itself, amid accusations of biased reporting.

Government-friendly media outlets have since joined the online bashing.

The country's ministry of culture has also gone on the defence, claiming "Slovenian private media is predominately owned by media tycoons close to leftist political parties."

Pressed to defend the reporter on Thursday, the European Commission was at pains not to single out Janša.

An EU commission spokesperson instead referred back to previous statements on Slovenia press freedoms made by commission vice president Věra Jourová.

"The protection of journalists should be a priority for every country, no hate, no threats, no personal attacks," he said, quoting Jourová.

The Commission also referenced its rule of law report, published last September.

That noted a high level of political influence over media companies in Slovenia, with at least two politically-controlled TV stations.

"Online harassment or threats against journalists are frequent and rarely sanctioned by the justice system," it also noted.

Human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, published four alerts last year on attacks on the media in Slovenia.

Those alerts dealt mainly with the harassment of journalists.

The commission said it will soon be unveiling a "freedom and democracy action plan" to help tackle threats against journalists.

Similar issues against media in Hungary and Poland and have also attracted criticism from press freedom defenders.

The commission, however, noted that it is up to national authorities to make sure journalists are safe.

Malta's anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in 2017 in a plot that links back to its former prime minister.

She too was abused and threatened by powerful political officials in the lead up to her death.

No one has yet to be convicted of her murder.

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