Bulgaria continues to collapse in the Reporters Without Borders media freedom index and occupies the 111th position in the 2018 ranking. This means Bulgaria has lost two positions compared to 2017, but more importantly, Bulgaria is now last not only in the EU but also across the Western Balkan countries. The embodiment of this aberrant state of affairs is the MP from DPS Delyan Peevski and his “New Bulgarian Media Group”, Reporters Without Borders state. Krassen Nikolov has the story.
Krassen Nikolov is a journalist specialised in judiciary affairs. He works for Mediapool and is a regular contributor for BulgarianPresidency.eu for the six months of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
“Although the current holder of the European Council’s rotating presidency (until the end of June 2018), Bulgaria is now lower in the Index than all the countries in the western Balkans, some of which are candidates for EU membership. Corruption and collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs is widespread. The most notorious embodiment of this aberrant state of affairs is Deylan Peevski, a former head of Bulgaria’s main intelligence agency and owner of the New Bulgarian Media Group. His group has six newspapers and controls nearly 80% of print media distribution. The government’s allocation of EU funding to certain media outlets is conducted with a complete lack of transparency, in effect bribing them to go easy on the government in their reporting or refrain from covering certain problematic stories altogether. Threats and attacks against journalists have intensified in recent months. It can prove dangerous to be a journalist in Bulgaria”, the report says.
At the beginning of the year, the European Center for the Freedom of the Media proposed to the European Commission to exercise control over the allocation of EU funds to the media in Bulgaria.
“Part of the EU funds for projects in Bulgaria are distributed only to government-friendly media. This should stop. The Bulgarian government should distribute funds equally to all media, including those who criticize it. We also urge the EU to actively monitor how European taxpayers’ money is spent in Bulgaria”, said Lutz Kinkel of the European Center at the end of January.
Another recommendation of this organisation was that the Bulgarian government should take measures to ensure pluralism, because the media market is heavily monopolized.
The editor-in-chief of the Monitor newspaper Lubomira Budakova has explained that her boss Delyan Peevski had no share in the distribution of newspapers and this could be checked in the Commercial Register.
In recent years Bulgaria has collapsed in terms of media freedom. From the 36th position in the annual Reporters Without Borders ranking on the Freedom of Speech Index in 2006, today Bulgaria ranks 111th in the world.
In the wider Balkan region, Romania is ranked highest in the Reporters Without Borders ranking (44th), followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina (62nd), Croatia (69th), Greece (74th), Albania (75th), Serbia (76)th, Kosovo (78th), Montenegro (103th), Macedonia (109th). Years ago, Macedonia was behind Bulgaria, but this year the positions were exchanged.
The latest case of harassment of a Bulgarian journalist unfolded a month ago. Hristo Geshov, a reporter from the town of Cherven Bryag, disclosed that he and his family were subjected to pressure and repression after a series of his findings about irregularities in the municipal government.
Geshov revealed how three municipal councilors from Cherven Bryag will rehabilitate their houses with European funds. According to the Commission for conflicts of interest everything is legal, but the Ministry of Regional Development is not of the same opinion.
The journalist runs a channel for investigative journalism on YouTube to reveal irregularities in the municipality. One of the videos is about the purchase of an expensive new car for the director of the local hospital, which in the meantime has accumulated debts of €250,000.
Another investigation, which has already triggered prosecution charges against the mayor and two municipal councilors, concerns a disadvantageous lease deal for the municipal company “Public Nutrition”.
Police has filed so far over 130 complaints against the journalist. He said that this week several municipal officials who have shared his Facebook posts have been fired.
Early in the year, journalists from Burgas were convicted for their publications which were based on official communications from the interior ministry and the prosecutor’s office.