Referendum on RTV Slovenia, Part One: More Cowbell!

Slovenia is to hold yet another referendum this Sunday, this time on the recently passed law on national radio-television, RTV Slovenia. While not critical to the government of Borut Pahor (although it came with a price), the result will nevertheless be interpreted as an important benchmark for PM and his team and Sunday’s vote should therefore not be underestimated. But seriously, what is it all about? In short, it’s about turning state radio and television into public radio and television once again.


Boy with a flute, the mascot of RTVSLO by sculptor Zdenko Kalin (source)

The current law on RTVSLO (one the new law seeks to replace) was crafted in 2005 by then newly minted government of Janez Janša, passed by Janša’s coalition in the parliament and then confirmed by a very narrow margin on a referendum called by the freshly dethroned LDS, then still led by Tone Rop. The law was widely seen as a blatant attempt to subjugate the biggest and most influential public media in the country, mostly by changing the organisation and composition of Programming and Supervisory boards, making them more, shall we say, government friendly by increasing the number of seats in both bodies (thus making them ineffective in the long term) and increasing the number of government-appointed members: 21 out of 29 and 9 out of 11 for Programming and Supervisory boards respectively. In addition wages of all workers at RTVSLO including journalists were now subject to the Law on wages of civil servants, making their connection to the state even stronger. They were now in fact employees of the state, overseen by state-controlled boards.

The law was drafted almost single-handedly and vigorously defended by a prominent member of Janez Janša’s SDS Branko Grims, who later concocted an overhaul of the media legislation earning him the designation of Goebbels wannabe. But in all honesty, not everything about the law was inherently bad. One thing the law did achieve was to somewhat stabilise RTVSLO’s finances by introducing a special levy, a solution which has proven effective although highly unpopular (as levies tend to be) and object of many a mockery, mostly along the lines of “this is what I get for my 12 euro?”

So what did Slovenes get for their 12 euro per month? Well, not much. In fact, there’s a general consensus that RTVSLO programming has gone from bad to worse. Not only was political influence plentiful, now it was also government sanctioned. Not only was there less and less interesting content, ratings were being chased by actively mimicking programming approaches of privately-owned POP TV (which is anything but a public service). Thus RTVSLO willingly abandoned its role of a standard bearer in terms of keeping overall professionalism and quality content at acceptable levels. Add to that the constant tug-of-war between urban and rural Slovenia (more cowbell!) and you have one big money-guzzling clusterfuck which has just gone digital.

While Radio Slovenia – the “R” in “RTVSLO” – somehow managed to keep producing quality content and evade serious raids on its autonomy, this can not be said for TV which has provided us with some memorable epic fails, pengovsky’s favourite still being The Bomb in Studio/Big Bad Ultra double bill which was probably one of the lowest points RTVSLO hit since independence, courtesy of semi-competent journalists on a mission and a drive for ratings at all costs.

Shoddy programming was backed by shoddy management and in the end RTVSLO ended up paying shit-load of monies for various projects which either never saw the light of day or burnt cash faster than a Concorde with an engine on fire, adding precious little to either specific or overall ratings. It was as if accordion-based content was the only game in town…. Errr… In the village, that is. Because shows which included a lot of polka, dancing and accordion were a huge hit. Well, I guess almost anything you air during Friday primetime is bound to become a hit. In this case it was the accordion. There you go.

At any rate. The referendum is now on. And the latest polls suggest that a) the turnout will barely reach 20 percent and b) those who intend to vote are split almost down the middle, with those opposing the law holding the tiniest of edges. This will probably go down to the wire (again) especially since there is a lot riding on this vote politically. Which is why it is even more curious that the coalition has until now made only token efforts in promoting the “yes” vote and the opposition did similarly little in promoting the “no” vote.

More on that tomorrow, of course 😀

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Renegade MP Faces Criminal Investigation

Andrej Magajna, former MP for Social Democrats who quit the party’s parliamentary group over the new law on RTV Slovenia and registered as an independent found himself subject of a criminal investigation early this morning. According to POP TV CrimPolice showed up at his house at 6 o’clock with a warrant to search the premises and confiscated five computers.


Andrej Magajna (source)

Magajna said that the investigation had to do with suspicion of downloading illegal material but did not specify just what kind of material this might be. He did, however, share a couple of seemingly important pieces of information. He said that the investigation was in part launched based on information provided by a certain Luxembourg office, denied any knowledge that it has to do with child pornography and then added that “everyone downloads things from the internet, from children onwards…“.

Obviously everyone is hyped right now an is reading a lot into this. Magajna’s sentence about children and downloading is dubious and can be interpreted benevolently (as in “nowadays even kids download copyrighted material”) or maliciously (“everyone downloads pictures of children nowadays”). For the time being pengovsky is inclined to go with the former interpretation, not in the least because things are happening too fast for comfort.

Oops

Having said that, it should be noted that a quick search on the internet turns up LISA Stopline, Luxembourg Internet Safety Alert, which deals solely in collecting reports on child pornography, terrorism related content, racism, revisionism and similar. Magajna also said that he was under investigation because the internet connection was in his name, but that there are a number of people in his household using now confiscated computers and stressed that his parliament-issued laptop was also confiscated.

As pengovsky was writing this it transpired that as much as twenty-one raids related to child pornography were performed during the night, all based on information from Luxembourg. People who know cyber-crime say that often this is a case of high-jacking one’s internet connection therefore any conclusions are premature. However, with Magajna at the centre of the recent brouhaha over referendum on RTVSLO, coincidences may not be all that coincidental.

Conspiracy theories galore

Obviously, one immediately thinks about Magajna being punished for breaking ranks over the new law on RTVSLO. Easy-peasy. An investigation was being launched anyway, why not extend it, scare the shit out of him and have a peek in his computers while we’re at it. You know, just so he gets the message for future reference. If this were really the case, we’d be looking at a frightful case of intimidation and retaliation tactics, not to mention abuse of power and similar. To pengovsky’s best knowledge this would also be the first time police would be used (at the very least in such an open manner) as an intimidation tool. Usually this sort of tricks were monopolised by secret services and people with shady pasts serving their particular political masters. Not to mention the fact that Slovene police cab be very porous as far as sensitive information is concerned and an abuse of this magnitude would be leaked almost immediately.

Another theory is much more interesting, though. Maybe Magajna did not break ranks with the SD of his own accord, but was forced to. Not by his former party but by someone else. What if this is a simple case of political blackmail? Suppose Magajna indeed was under investigation and suppose not everything is in order. I’m not saying child porn, but maybe a shit-load of latest H’Wood releases. Tons of music. Who knows. And suppose this information was leaked beforehand to someone on the political right who then used it to coerce Magajna into supporting the referendum on RTVSLO?

But then again, it could be just a concidence. However, there are too many coincidences here. First, Magajna (of all people) voices concerns over the legal status of the RTVSLO (it is now to become a hybrid between public and private legal person). Of all the provisions of the law he finds this one so problematic that he “crosses the aisle” and sides with the opposition. Then he quits his native parliamentary group, just in time to save the SD from the embarrassment of having an MP under investigation. And then Magajna on live TV, rather than screaming bloody murder, reacts in the most calm of manners and says that he doesn’t believe there’s a political connection?

Either this is all a ploy with an already known outcome, or the guy is the next Jesus Christ.

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Lahovnik To Quit As Minister And MP (His Schwartz Just Ain’t Big Enough)


Lahovnik and Golobič while they were still on the same team (source)

Yesterday the government communication office released the infamous letter minister of economy Matej Lahovnik sent to Prime Minister Borut Pahor in which he detailed grievances against his former party boss and ministerial colleague Gregor Golobič. Lahovnik’s adios to Zares was not really a surprise, but the timing left a lot of people, yours truly included, a bit baffled. Pengovsky speculated on reasons why Lahovnik took the Fatboy Slim approach (right here, right now) and now it turns out that he thought his Schwartz was bigger than anyone else’s and he turned out to be dead wrong. As a result, he announced his resignation earlier today and even said that he will not re-take his position as MP.

The letter was widely expected to be a bomb-shell. It turned out to be a dud. Basically, Lahovnik complained that companies owned by or connected with Ultra (a company in which Gregor Golobič owns a 7% stake) applied for public tenders and such. Lahovnik’s main grievance – at least according to the letter – was the very fact that a company in which a sitting minister owns a stake runs for public funds. But the devil is – as always – in the details. Lahovnik goes on to write that in no instance (at least no instance which he detailed) did any of the companies win any tenders, but – and this is where he seems genuinely pissed – in one case the company files a lawsuit against his ministry for kicking it out of the tender.

Let’s be brutal. The fact that a company, where a sitting minister (or any other elected and/or public official) owns a stake,  no matter how small, runs for a public tender, is not entirely cricket. The world would be a much nicer place if these things didn’t happen. However, the Ultra issue was over and done with. At least on relation Golobič-> Zares-> Coalition-> Government (the opposition is still trying to keep the whole affair simmering on a low temperature).  If Lahovnik had a problem with that, he should have quit months ago.

From a legal point of view, however, there is nothing wrong with Ultra (or any other similar company) running for public funds. The law stipulates that a company where a public official and/or his immediate keen hold more than 20% stake cannot take part in public tenders. And if it does it anyway, it simply gets thrown out. Pengovsky should know, it happened once with The Firm™. No ifs, not buts, one simply gets a nice letter saying “Sorry, you can’t take part due to anti-corruption legislation”.

But Golobič’s share in Ultra is not above 20%. It is not even, say, 19.5%, which would imply that he is following the letter if not the spirit of the law. No, he holds a 7% share, which he apparently earned by working for the company and that’s it. There are scores of public officials which own various stakes in various companies. After all, we are running a sort of capitalism in Slovenia. But Lahovnik goes on to say, that he finds it hard to believe that Golobič would not use his influence to put Ultra at an unfair advantage vis-a-vis other companies running for tenders. That may be, but in all honesty, you don’t need to have a sitting minister among your stakeholders to better your business positions. All you need to do is know the right people.

However, as noted above, Ultra did not win any of the tenders Lahovnik takes issue with. So, not only was no law broken by Ultra running for tenders, even if pressure was brought to bear, the system worked and threw Ultra’s application out on merit. The fact that the company then filed a suit against Lahovnik’s ministry over it only reiterates the fact that the system worked, because seeking legal protection against what an applicant deems an unfair decision is perfectly normal. It is done by scores of companies practically on a weekly basis.

So, on the face of it it looks as if Lahovnik doesn’t really understand how the system works. Which is kind of hard to believe for a minister who runs a pretty important ministry and (among other things) gave thins country a electronic one-stop-shop system (e-VEM) for setting up your own company.

So, waddafuck is going on? It looks more and more that there was a clash between Lahovnik and Golobič. Either there was some sort of a leadership challenge (less likely, as Lahovnik reportedly refused taking over Zares) or – more likely – Lahovnik felt Golobič was pissing in his pool and wanted to put an end to it. Only he played his cards wrong and put an end to his political life (at least temporarily).

Namely. One area Lahovnik specifies in the letter is the energy sector. There’s a relatively huge debate going on right now in Slovenia whether to invest in Bloc 6 of Šoštanj Coal Power Plant (so called TEŠ6) or to start building the second reactor in Krško Nuclear Power Plant (known as NEK). Pengovsky says “both” and there seems to be a general consensus that Slovenia will need both investments in the mid-term, but the real question is which comes first. Lahovnik was very much in favour of TEŠ6, as it will replace the ageing blocs 3,4 and 5 and produce much less carbon dioxide to boot. However, since Šoštanj is part of Lahovnik’s electoral unit (constituency, if you will), this can also be seen as “bringing the bacon home“, to use an Americanism. Which would all be fine and dandy, had it not been for the fact that some dubious contracts were being signed for TEŠ6 even before the project started for real. I’m not saying that Lahovnik had a hand in this (he probably didn’t) and regardless of his feud with Golobič, energy still is Zares’ turf right now and if there’s a screw-up, Zares as a whole will take the blame anyway. But it seems probable that he felt he was being side-tracked and he took it personally.

The more pengovsky looks at this the more it seems as if Lahovnik only tried to do as much damage as possible and brought up the Ultra affair for no reason other than to hurt Golobič. But he took it too far and forced PM Pahor to choose between a seemingly competent minister and a whole coalition party. Pahor obviously knew where his priorities are and Lahovnik achieved nothing but maybe yet another dent in the government’s already ridiculously low ratings. As a result he really had no other option but to quit his post and PM Pahor undoubtedly told him that his credit just ran out.

This goes for his MP status as well. Upon quitting as minister he could have re-taken his MP seat as he was elected to the parliament first and made minister second. Thus he would have ousted Alojz Posedel of Zares, chipped off one sure vote for the coalition and would even help form a new parliamentary group “independent MPs”, as parliamentary Rules and Procedures specify three MPs are needed for establishing a specific group and there are already two independent MPs (Franci Žnidaršič and Vili Rezman who quit DeSUS months ago), all of which would probably weaken the coalition grip on parliamentary majority, if not immediately, definitely some time in the future.

However, Lahovnik was probably told in no unclear terms that he would be branded a political leper had he returned to the parliament and started stirring shit, so he is apparently returning to the Faculty of Economics from whence he came – and will possibly be awarded membership in one or two low-key supervisory boards somewhere out there. He might have thought he was doing a good thing, but in politics, just as in real life, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Such is the nature of the beast.

Oh, and just a technicality. Some Slovene media erroneously report that Lahovnik’s function will cease tomorrow. Not entirely true. While he has already tendered his resignation, he will remain in office in a care-taker capacity until a new minister is appointed.

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