My, how the tables have turned! A little more than eighteen months ago Zares of Gregor Golobič floated the idea of some fundamental changes to Slovenian referendum legislation. What on the surface looked like a noble idea, had way to many drawbacks, but for purposes of this post suffice it to say that among other things this junior coalition party wanted to institute a “Referendum Day” or two where all referendum bids filed until a certain date would be voted on (Read The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions if you want to jog your memory).
The Boy with the Flute is a mascot of RTVSLO ever since it was created as RTV Ljubljana (source)
Today the government of Borut Pahor and Zares in particular are in a situation where such provisions (had they been passed in time) would most likely kill one or more key pieces of reform legislation which the coalition somehow managed to squeeze through the parliament despite copious amounts of shit being thrown at it.
Notably this goes for the famed Law on Menial Work (which was, truth be told, vetoed by the National Council hours ago and will have to be voted on again by the National Assembly) and especially for the new law on national radio and television (RTV Slovenija) which was passed last week and which (again) brings sweeping changes to the institution and (according to the Ministry of Culture) is returning the now-state-run media back into the public domain.
State vs. Public
A quick but necessary digression: Soon after Janez Janša won 2004 elections (so soon in fact that the LDS did not yet have the time to fall apart) a new law on RTVSLO was passed by the parliament which turned the former into a full-blooded state radio and television, mostly through changes in composition of supervisory and programming boards and election of its members and (further down) by altering the way Radio and TV chiefs were appointed.
The changes, however, were sold as “more quality programming for less money” since of the more debated provisions of the law was the so called RTV-fee (which was set at EUR 12) held the most tangible value. Everyone who’s ever worked in media knows that you never get more (quality) content for less money, but since RTVSLO was, is, and will be a money-guzzling-bottomless-pit and since quality of programming already at that time left a lot to be desired, it wasn’t a hard sell. And even so the law was barely confirmed on a referendum.
Honey, I shrunk the coalition!
The new law was passed on 20 October with an ordinary majority and immediately caused a bit of a rift in the largest coalition party as Andrej Magajna (leader of non-parliamentary Christian Socialist party, elected as MP on a Social Democrats‘ ticket) broke ranks and gave the crucial thirtieth signature needed by opposition Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) and Slovene National Party (SNS) to call a referendum on the freshly minted law. Furthermore Magajna left SD’s club and declared himself an indpendent.
One vote less in a squabble-prone left wing coalition is quite a price to pay for a single piece of legislation. This proves that the law, which was drafted in the ministry of culture (a portfolio held by Zares’ Majda Širca) has such a strong backing in the government and PM Pahor personally that he was willing to see his majority in the parliament reduced to 47 votes. just a vote above the single-vote majority.
Cynics will obviously say that this is a small price to pay to have RTVSLO shaped according to Zares’ and Pahor’s wishes, and to an extent that is true. The true question therefore is whether RTVSLO will truly be returned to the public domain as the coalition claims or will it be further politicised as the opposition claims. Janez Janša’s SDS crying foul on political influence over RTVSLO is of course a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, but this does not automatically mean that the law is good. But it does provide some basis for gradual comeback of quality content and serious journalism to what supposedly wants to be the Slovenian BBC. But nothing will change just because there’s a new law in place. Just sayin’
Oh, the irony!
Wait. What? Who said there’s a new law in place? The referendum bid was successful, which means that the voters will have the final say in the matter. And this is where we come full circle to the beginning of the post. It is somewhat ironic that today it is the opposition which wants to institute a “Referendum day”, mostly on the grounds that there are numerous referendums being mulled (RTVSLO, law on menial work and pension reform among others) and “since we’re at it, we might just vote on them all in one go”.
We’ll neglect the fact that this is a rather poor attempt at shooting down Pahor’s government at the expense of an overhaul this country badly needs and rather focus on the fact that Zares responded fiercely to the idea. Not just because they see the referendum as a “waste of taxpayers’ time and money” (which is the official party position) but also because holding a referendum on 17 April would a) probably sink the law by default as it would not be voted on on merit but as a protest vote against the government and b) would – if it somehow survived – come into force on 1 January 2012, more than a year from now. Which is precisely one of the drawbacks of Zares’ idea pengovsky pointed out a year-and-a-half ago.
Yes, I am feeling rather smug 😀