Sunday, 10 April 2011

Economic and political control of media and journalism in Bulgaria - US State Department

Intimidation of journalists, pervasive reporting, shady media ownership, economic and political pressure on mass media and monopolisation of the media market are among the factors that hamper press freedom in Bulgaria according to the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights. Below I am pasting without any changes the section on press freedom in Bulgaria from the 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices posted online by the U.S. Department of State on April 8, 2011.

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, there were reports that individuals with political and economic interests intimidated journalists. NGOs reported that journalists practiced self-censorship or took money from political and business leaders and from organized crime groups to plant positive stories about the leaders and criminal groups. In addition media owners forced journalists to pervert the facts. In many cases, the true owners of media companies could not be identified. On October 22, the National Assembly passed the Print Periodicals Media Bill, which seeks to enforce transparency in media ownership.

Individuals criticized the government freely without reprisal. However, in rural areas offering fewer employment opportunities, individuals were more hesitant to criticize local governments.

Media organizations and in a few cases political parties freely published a variety of newspapers. Private television and radio stations provided a variety of news and public interest programming. However, the acquisitions in June of a number of media outlets by groups affiliated with business and political interests led to further monopolization of private media and limited the variety of views available in print and on television. Both print and electronic media were susceptible to economic and, to a certain degree, political influence. Although the state-owned electronic media presented opposition views, observers believed that the law was inadequate to protect their programming independence and left these media vulnerable to
government pressure.

During the year there was one killing of a journalist reported. On January 5, Boris "Bobbie" Tsankov, the controversial author of tabloid publications on the country's underworld and a former radio show host, was killed by unknown persons. Authorities accused one person of contracting the killing. The investigation was ongoing at year's end.

During the year there were reports of threats or attempts to intimidate journalists. On February 8, Bulgarian news agency journalist Ivan Yanev was investigating the killing of a police officer in the village of Enina when a police spokesman from the nearby city of Stara Zagora threatened him, stating that Yanev was a "dead man." Authorities accused Yanev of reporting on the killing before the official police version was released and prohibited him from returning to the crime scene.

In July Nova Television reporter Diliana Gaytandjieva alleged that the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Lachezar Ivanov, pressured her to stop the broadcast of a program that revealed luxury real estate and vehicles owned by six customs officers. Ivanov’s motive for exerting pressure on Gaytandjieva was alleged to be a personal relationship with one of the targets of the program. Under pressure from his party, Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria, Ivanov stepped down as deputy speaker and committee chair.

During the year the police closed the investigation into the 2008 assault on Frognews editor in chief, Ognian Stefanov, whom authorities suspected of affiliation with, a Web site closed for reportedly releasing classified information. Police stated that they were unable to find the attackers.

Libel is legally punishable. Usually the courts interpreted the law in a manner that favored journalistic expression. Many defamation cases were prompted by journalists reporting about corruption or mismanagement; the most frequent plaintiffs were government officials and other persons in public positions.

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