The 109th place of Bulgaria in the Reporters Without Borders’ Freedom of the Press ranking is strongly emphasized in the analysis of the alarming decline of media freedom in Central and Eastern Europe by the French daily newspaper Le Monde. The reason – oligarch Delyan Peevski has bought 80% of the media in the country.

By way of comparison, it is underscored that in 2006, the country, currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, occupied the much more respectable 36th place, while it is now ranked between Gabon and Paraguay.

The reason for the analysis by journalist Blaise Gauquelin, Le Monde correspondent in Vienna, is the murder of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak. This is the first such case in the countries of the former Soviet bloc and Yugoslavia since the beginning of the process of their accession to the European Union in 2004.

The murder of investigative journalist Kuciak, who exposed corruption and ties to organized crime in the high echelons of power, comes against the backdrop of a clear decline of media freedom. At the same time, Russia is increasing its influence in the region dependent on its energy supplies.

According to Pauline Ades-Mevel, head of Reporters Without Borders‘ Europe and Balkans desk, politicians are increasingly hostile to the media and this creates problems for reporters working on the ground. “We have found a concentration of press groups in the hands of several oligarchs who use them in the service of their own interests and that of the authorities,” she stresses.

An example of such concentration is Czech Prime Minister Babis, owner of two newspapers and one of the largest private radio stations in the Czech Republic. A former journalist from his newspaper tells Le Monde that he has been fired because of an article on a possible conflict of interest in Babis’ situation.

However, the most striking example is Bulgaria, which currently holds, both, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the last place in freedom of the press among the Union’s Member States. “The press situation in my country is catastrophic,” says Theodor Zahov, President of the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria.

“Our work was much easier before joining the European Union. After 2007, the family of a man named Delyan Peevski started to acquire media. It now controls 80% of the country’s newspapers. Being a journalist in Bulgaria today is dangerous. Those who disagree with the official line are being prosecuted, for example, through the justice system on the basis of groundless complaints,” says Zahov.

The “Hungarian model” expands

Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria follow a “Hungarian model” in attacks on public media, accused of bias by politicians. Budapest had launched this process in 2010 with a law on the reorganization of public media in the country, at the will of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Le Monde writes.

The publication cites an ideology speech by Orban in March 2013. “All media are liberal. If you do not want to depend on the image the media create, you have to make your own structures. Do not be bashful. Find businessmen with more traditional views to create media,” he told students from the Warsaw University.

 

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