Posts Under: SEEMO Reactions from Countries / Regions

SEEMO alarmed – Case of Roman (Raman) Protasevich and other cases in Belarus

May 25, 2021 SEEMO Reactions from Countries / Regions disabled comments

Vienna, 24 Mai 2021

The Vienna South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) is alarmed by continuing deterioration of press freedom in Belarus.

Detainment of Roman (Raman) Protasevich (Раман Дзмітрыевіч Пратасевіч), 26, following the forced diversion of a Ryanair aircraft on a scheduled flight from Athens to Vilnius (flight FR4978) is against all laws and international standards. He was arrested at the Minsk National Airport on 23 May 2021 after the Belarusian authorities removed him from a Ryanair flight that was forced to land in Belarus. Protasevich is a journalist and co-founder of the Nexta channel on Telegram (messaging app for smartphones). Nexta and Nexta Live now have nearly two million subscribers and posts included crowd-sourced photos and videos of police brutality in Belarus. The Nexta team is based in Poland. Protasevich works since March 2021 as editor for Belamova, a different Telegram channel.

His girlfriend Sofia Sapega, 23, was also arrested after the plane landed in Minsk. She is a Russian citizen and a law student in Lithuania.

It is a clear “state sponsored” plane hijacking. SEEMO demands the immediate release of Roman Protasevich and other journalists detained in Belarus.

Belarus has been tightly-controlled by Alexander Lukashenko since 1994

On 18 May 2021 Belarusian officials announced the launch of a criminal case against the leadership of Tut.by, Belarus’s most prominent independent media outlet. Financial police searched the homes and offices of the publication’s journalists and at least 11 Tut.by employees were detained. The authorities also blocked Tut.by’s website. Security forces came also to the offices of online media Hoster.by and av.by.

According to Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) Alexander Burakou, who collaborates with Deutsche Welle, received 20 days of administrative arrest for alleged “repeated participation in an unauthorized event within a year”. Burakou was detained on 12 May 2021 near Mahiliou regional court building. Uladzimir Laptsevich, reporter of 6tv.by received a similar sentence — 20 days of arrest.

Tut.by journalist Lyubov Kasperovich was given 15 days in police custody for attending a mass event.

Journalist Tatyana Kapitonova was accused of taking part in an unsanctioned rally and jailed for 10 days.

Over 100 people, including five journalists, were detained in late March 2021. One of them was Yazep Palubiatka a journalist working for the Belarusian newspaper Hazeta Slonimskaya, who was summoned by the police on 22 March 2021.

On 18 February Belsat TV journalist Katsyaryna Andreyeva (Kaciaryna Andreeva ) and camerawoman Darya Chultsova (Daria Chultsova ) were sentenced to two years in prison for reporting on the ongoing anti-government protests.

Journalist Katerina Borisevich was arrested in November 2020 and on 2 March 2021 a Minsk court sentenced Borisevich to six months in prison and 1,150 USD in fines. She was released from custody on 19 May 2021, taking into account time already served.

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalist (https://baj.by/) In 2020, 480 detentions of journalists were recorded in Belarus.

In 2020, there were 97 cases of journalists serving administrative arrests in Belarus.

In 2020, journalists spent more than 1,200 days behind bars in Belarus.

In 2020, after Election Day on 9 August, at least 62 cases of physical violence against journalists were recorded in Belarus.

The list includes incidents which the Belarusian Association of Journalists regards as violations of journalists’ rights, committed by representatives of the authorities.

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) about RTK

May 24, 2021 SEEMO Reactions from Countries / Regions disabled comments

Vienna, 24 May 2021

The Vienna South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) is concerned about the fact that public broadcaster Radio Television of Kosovo – Radio Televizioni i Kosovës (RTK), continues to be subject to political pressure in Kosovo.

The key problem in this regard is the failure to find a sustainable way to finance the public broadcaster, as RTK is still financed by the state budget, jeopardizing its editorial and institutional independence. Article 4 of the RTK Law stipulates that: “The Assembly shall ensure the institutional autonomy and adequate financing for the execution of RTK’s public service mission”. However, according to the situation in this moment, RTK has still not received the expected allocation from the budget for the execution of its work and mission in society. The Assembly of Kosovo shall ensure the institutional autonomy and adequate financing for the execution of RTK’s public service mission.

SEEMO is additional alarmed about the fact that according to the plans for the year 2022, Government is planning to cut the budget of RTK from 11,200,000 EUR that is actual to 8,960,000 EUR.

In 2018, the Kosovo Parliament approved a new draft Law on RTK, which includes a mixed-financing mechanism, mainly from subscriptions–2.50 EUR per household to be collected through electricity bills and a small percentage (0.4 percent) of the state budget. However, connected to this draft nothing has moved.

It is a priority to improve the RTK Law and establishing a sustainable legal and financial framework, which will enable the development of Public Service Media in Kosovo. RTK shall play its important role for information to citizens, including education and entertainment especially in pandemics. Without appropriate funding PSM cannot fulfil its broad remit to society, serving minorities and vulnerable groups.

SEEMO is also greatly concerned by the proposal of quarterly reporting to Parliament, which we believe exposes RTK to potential undue political
interference. RTK should report to the Parliament annually as foreseen in the law. The annual reporting fully satisfies the needs for disclosure of expenditures and realization of the obligations.

Additional pressure on RTK is following formulation: “The Commission underlines that the expenses for the period April-June must comply with the provisions of the Law on Managing Public Finances and cannot be used for expenditures of prior obligations without approval of changes in Projection 2021”. This leaves RTK in the position that courts executors can block the RTK bank account even though RTK has a planned debt return program.

Finally, the privatisation agency of Kosovo is launching a procedure to privatize the RTK building. We urge the Assembly of Kosovo to find a solution that will enable RTK to pursue its work in the interest of society and not be undermined by this new development. RTK must work without interruption in the program and with no outside influence on broadcasting.

We would like to remind the politicians in Kosovo, including all members of the Parliament of Kosovo, the President of Kosovo, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, and all members of the government, that freedom of expression, freedom of media and freedom of information are cornerstone rights of any democratic society, whereby citizens can receive and impart information on a range of topics, and regarding matters of public importance. Members of parliament or government and other politicians from the ruling party and from the opposition in Kosovo cannot have any influence on the content of programs / editorial policy of the Public Broadcaster RTK.

Institutional independence is an absolute prerequisite for public trust in Public Service Media. Independence is one of the most important principles embedded in every democracy and according to all international standards. Public service broadcasters must be an important public source of unbiased information and diverse political opinions.

Slovenia – pressure on STA news agency and public broadcaster RTV Slovenija

December 11, 2020 SEEMO Reactions from Countries / Regions disabled comments

11 December 2020 – The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) is surprised by the decision of the Slovenian Government Communication Office (Urad vlade za komuniciranje – UKOM) to end the cooperation with the Slovenian Press Agency (Slovenska tiskovna agencija – STA) for the year 2020 and not to be able to implement the contract for 2021.

SEEMO called on the Slovenian authorities to restrain from exerting undue political pressure on STA news agency and on the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.

According to STA management there was no legal basis for UKOM to suspend financing of the public information service performed by the STA under the annual contracts. The STA said that, despite all obligations from the 2020 contract having been fulfilled. UKOM withdrew the public service funds for October 2020 as well as a contribution for marketing service.

STA added that in a series of memorandums, UKOM had demanded answers to content-related questions about the journalist work of the STA, and about specific news content and responses to that content that ran against the editorial autonomy provided by law. According to STA the agency was regularly responding to the UKOM memorandums in a manner and within the scope envisaged by the legislation and the annual contract. The press agency said it regularly informed its supervisory board about its operations in a transparent manner, and its annual reports were also discussed in parliament. Its operation is also subjected to regular external and internal audits. According to STA only the government as the sole founder of the STA might request information in such a scope.

On 8 December 2020 the STA supervisory board has called on the government to take necessary steps to resume regular financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) for the public service it performs after concluding, based on a legal opinion commissioned by the STA management, that the Government Communication Office has no legal basis to arbitrarily suspend financing. The STA supervisory board reviewed in detail the correspondence between the agency and the Government Communication Office (UKOM) and the situation after UKOM failed to transfer to the STA the overdue October 2020 instalment of the annual fee under the agreement between the STA and UKOM. The board established that the STA leadership had not acted in contravention of the valid law in its communication with UKOM, having ascertained there was no legal act whereby the government would authorise UKOM to act on its behalf as the STA shareholder in relation to the agency. In its conclusions, the board brings the government’s attention to pressure exerted on the STA by UKOM that it says is in contravention to the valid law. The author of the legal opinion, corporate law expert Gorazd Podbevšek finds the government has an obligation under law to pay for the public service and has the power and responsibility to act as STA shareholder. His conclusion is thus that there had been no legal grounds for the suspension of financing, which was hence unlawful. “Any other interpretation of the agreement, where it could be interpreted that explanations can be sought about anything, including editorial policy, commercial activities or such, would be null and void,” he said. He conceded that certain data such as those on commercial activities or business performance beyond public service can be requested by the government as STA shareholder based on article 512 of the companies act. However, under the STA law, the government cannot exercise that right in a way that would jeopardise the agency’s independence, including its financial independence. He noted that the aim of the special law is to prevent the STA from being subjugated to a political or any other bloc. “In our opinion, the government thus has an obligation to exercise shareholding rights in a way that is in accordance with the special STA legislation.”

According to STA “due to the suspension of financing by UKOM, the STA has found itself in a situation that threatens the agency’s operational stability and the ability to perform the public information service it is required to by law.”

According to UKOM, STA has been called to produce documents from which UKOM would interpret the financial operations of the agency so that the 2021 contract could be concluded. “Since the STA has failed to send us the requested documentation despite several calls, UKOM is not able to continue to honour the requests for payment…”. UKOM added that, without a comprehensive insight in the operations of the STA, it was not able to establish what “adequate financing” for comprehensive and undisrupted performance of public service, as defined in the STA act, actually meant. Consequently, UKOM is not able to conclude the contract on the financing of public service to be performed by the STA in 2021, the government office added.

Partners in the Rapid Response Initiative on Freedom of the Media (MFF) expressed serious concern about the recent decision by the government communications bureau to end funding STA. On 7 December 2020 the International Federation of Journalist (IFJ) joined the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and its affiliates, the Slovenian Journalists’ Association (DNS) and the Slovenian Union of Journalists (SUJ) to demand an immediate repeal of the decision, which threatens the agency’s ability to publish trustworthy information to citizens and threatens press freedom. A support for STA came also from EANA – the European Alliance of News Agencies. “Taking notice of the pressure exercised on our member STA by severely cutting or even stopping its income from the public service contract with the state-owned UKOM, EANA – expresses its support for the independence STA, urging the Slovenian government to make sure that any further moves against STA, that would alter the Slovenian news agency’s workflow, reputation and business, come to an end,” Also Slovenian President Borut Pahor gave a support for STA : “The Slovenian Press Agency (STA) is doing important work in the interest of the public, which is why its existence should not be jeopardised.”

STA news agency and the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija are for a longer period criticized by Prime Minister Janez Janša.

Prime Minister Janša retweets often tweets with negative comments about STA and RTV Slovenija on his Twitter account. He is known for his fights on Twitter with journalists and critical citizens.

Janša made repeated attempts to replace the management of RTV Slovenija. On 20 March 2020 in one of his tweets Janez Janša criticised the work of its public broadcaster RTV Slovenija saying, “Do not spread lies. We pay you to inform, but not to mislead the public during these times. Obviously there are too many of you and you are paid too well,” (Ne širite laži, @InfoTVSLO Plačujemo vas za to, da v teh časih informirate, ne pa zavajate javnost. Očitno je vas preveč in ste predobro plačani. @RTV_Slovenija)

On 11 May 2020 Janša published the text titled “War with the media (https://www.gov.si/en/news/2020-05-11-war-with-the-media/) where he presented his views about media.

Prime Minister Janša described in one Twitter post on 15 October 2020 STA agency as a “national disgrace, an evident abuse of the name it carries” (#STA je nacionalna sramota, eklatantna zloraba imena, ki ga nosi @STA_novice)

Prime Minister Janša, a right-wing politician, is also President of the Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenska demokratska stranka, SDS). According to observers, Janša is in his views close to Hungary´s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.