Bulgaria Journalists on Media Market: Feels Like Communist Dictatorship
Bulgarian journalists have alerted Brussels that media trends in the country are extremely alarming as lack of clarity over ownership and financing undermine the market.
They spoke on Wednesday at the open hearing in the European Parliament, organized by the Alliance for Liberal Democrats in Europe (ALDE) in a sign that European Commission and journalists would not give up on media freedom in Bulgaria.
"The hearing made it clear that the conditions for free media in Bulgaria have deteriorated. This is a trend, which may become irreversible if we don't take proper measures," commented Bulgaria's MEP Stanimir Ilchev, known also as the husband of a top TV journalist.
The Bulgarian journalists present at the hearing went a step further and drew parallels between communist dictator Todor Zhivkov and current Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who has emerged as the darling of the media from the monopolist group of Irena Krasteva.
"The relationship between the media and the government, and particularly between the media and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov is nothing short of scandalous. It resembles only the times of communist dictator Todor Zhivkov," said Ivo Siromahov, a screenwriter at the popular talk show "Slavi's show".
Yavor Dachkov, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Galeria, an anti-government newspaper, recalled the transcripts of taped phone conversations between senior government officials and Customs Office chief Vanyo Tanov, which the weekly published.
He said the fact that the prosecutor's office did not initiate a probe following the scandalous revelations is a clear example of how stifled media freedom in Bulgaria is.
The tapes alleged that the government of PM Boyko Borisov is favoring certain companies and individuals with respect to investigations and appointments in the Customs Agency.
"In a normal country and normal media environment these scandalous revelations will lead to resignations and a detailed investigation. This was not the case in Bulgaria because the government puts pressure on the media – directly or indirectly," said Dachkov.
At the beginning of the year, Reporters without Borders placed media freedom in Bulgaria on the abominably low 80th place.
The ranking showed that the Balkan country lags behind all other EU member states in terms of press freedom.
Together with Greece (70th) and Italy (61), Bulgaria has failed to address the issue of its media freedom violations, above all because of a lack of political will, Reporters without Borders said.
Experts in political science and mass communications have been warning that Bulgarian media trends are extremely alarming as the lack of clarity in the ownership and financing of part of the media in the country undermine the market.
The pressure on Bulgarian media continues, both political and economic, leading to journalism's self-censorship, experts say.
The latest developments on the media market have led to a near monopoly by a new media group spearheaded by Irena Krasteva, former head of the Bulgarian State Lottary.
The monopoly is also said to hold 80% of the newspapers distribution network.
The deals are said to show that shady figures can afford to buy back shares in large numbers or artificially prop up loss-making titles not because this is economically profitable.
They are tempted by the prospect of using the media for money laundering or for promoting other economic activities from public tenders, public works, mobile telephony, energy, tourism, etc.
The investments are made with the sole goal of turning the media into a tool for communication or pressure, opponents say.
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