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Bulgarian press freedom threatened

Parnian Shahsavary/YJI

Ruse, BULGARIA – The media environment in Bulgaria is worsening and journalists here who want to report independently and impartially feel more and more restricted.

In recent years, lots of mainstream media journalists have been repressed and forced to leave their jobs for their critical coverage.

But the Bulgarian government finds no problem with media freedom.

The European Commission, however, published a report this year about the rule of law in all 27 members of the European Union. 

In the chapter for Bulgaria, the poorest nation in the European Union with the lowest per capital GDP, the European Commission criticized Bulgaria for its deficiency in ensuring an independent judicial system and media freedom.

The Commission expressed concerns regarding transparency in media ownership, too.

According to the document, the Electronic Media Council – the authority that regulates the radio and television broadcasting in Bulgaria – is independent, but its budget isn’t enough to conduct regular media monitoring.

The European Commission focuses on the law on access to public information, which must guarantee every Bulgarian citizen access to all public information.

But instead, the law is often used by the authorities to reject journalists’ questions or slow them down for weeks.

Government press offices are also slow to answer and that makes it difficult for Bulgarian journalists to report news, especially breaking news. 

Bulgaria ranks 111th in the Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 Media Freedom Index. The organization raises alertness about the undercover connection between media, politicians and oligarchs.

“Corruption and collusion between media, politicians and oligarchs are widespread in Bulgaria,” says the Reporters Without Borders’ annual report for its Media Freedom Index.

As an example, the organization mentions Bulgarian politician Delyan Peevski, who owns two newspapers – Telegraph and Monitor – and has lots of print media distribution.

Besides his media holdings, Peevski owns dozens of other businesses of various types.

During an international conference in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia last month, Pavol Szalai, who heads the European Union and Balkans Desk for Reporters without Borders, discussed the situation with news website EURACTIV Bulgaria.

“The Bulgarian government is unfortunately demonstrating a clear lack of interest in improving freedom of the press and in respecting its international obligations,” Szalai told EURACTIV Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria has been suffering a political crisis in recent months.

Thousands of Bulgarians were protesting every evening for several months, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and General Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. They haven’t resigned, but the protests are suspended because of the coronavirus.

Lately, Borisov prefers talking and discussing Bulgaria’s agenda from his jeep in live shows streamed on Facebook rather than giving press conferences. That angers critical journalists who are not able to ask him any questions.

Kristiyan Yulzari is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International. He wrote this news analysis

Parnian Shahsavary is a Senior Illustrator with Youth Journalism International. She drew the illustration.

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