Concentration and lack of transparency of ownership are the biggest obstacles to media freedom in Bulgaria. This is how the President of the Swiss branch of the international organization “Reporters Without Borders” Gerard Choppe explains Bulgaria’s collapse to the 100th place among 180 countries in the world press freedom index. In the course of just one year, the country has dropped 13 places down the ranking, while media are freer even in countries that have experienced war such as Serbia and Kosovo, and many African and Asian countries.
“Bulgaria is a bad example in terms of media freedom,” Gerard Choppe concluded at a press conference, which launched the workshop “Media Freedom and Independence.” It is organized under the project “Democracy Is a Process” of the Foundation “Darik” with the support of the Swiss Fund for Partnership and Expert Aid.
The diagnosis of the Swiss expert is that Bulgarian media and individual journalists are subject to strong political and economic pressure and work in a corrupt environment. Protecting sources and journalistic solidarity, which will be emphasized in the training, are among the countermeasures.
The Bulgarian participants in the forum pointed out that the link between bribing politicians and purchasing media in mass and increasing restrictions of media and journalists has led to increased self-censorship and refusal to be involved in true investigative journalism.
A critical look at the problems with lack of freedom in the media in our country was presented by journalists from the “Network for Free Speech” Prolet Velkova (from Darik Radio), Asen Yordanov (from the site Bivol), and Yuliana Metodieva (from the site Marginalia). They disclosed data about the brutal interference in media of the now-failed private lender Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB) in the period 2011-2014, the establishment of a monopoly on the information market, examples of non-transparency of media ownership, attempted repression of Bulgarian journalists from Deutsche Welle, Emmy Barouh and Ivan Bedrov, and from the site “Bivol” over the latter’s series of articles about banks “bad apples”, exercised personally by the majority owner of KTB, Tsvetan Vassilev.
The lawsuits against media and journalists are for disproportionately high damages (see the case of Ivan Bakalov) and are used for intimidation, while the Actg on Banks and Lending Institutions increases risks for media if they shed light on the dark sides in the management of powerful banks.
According to Asen Yordanov from “Bivol”, mass buying and the monopolization of media, financed by just one bank, which is currently collapsing, illustrates the destructive processes in Bulgarian society. In the battle for freedom of speech Bulgaria will not get help from those ruling the country as for years now they only demonstrate their desire to control media, he said. Yordanov urged unification and solidarity among journalists against attempts to stifle freedom of speech because Bulgaria is an EU member and it is unacceptable for oligarchic circles to deprive the public of its right to seek and obtain information.
This article was published in the site marginalia.bg.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian