Report: Bulgarian Journalists are more and more Threatened and they Self-Censor

Society | October 22, 2022, Saturday // 15:38
Bulgaria: Report: Bulgarian Journalists are more and more Threatened and they Self-Censor @BGNES

Journalists in Bulgaria face a series of challenges: stress, online harassment, threats of lawsuits, attempts to interfere with editorial content, self-censorship. Concentrations and non-transparent media ownership continue to be current and unresolved tasks in the sector, and the merging of economic and political interests in the management of the media is a leading problem for a large part of those working in them.

These are part of the answers of media workers in Bulgaria, given in the annual survey of the Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria (AEJ). Conducted for the sixth time, the survey reports an increase in positive attitudes among journalists, although the leading factors with a deep impression on the media environment are the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the spiral of political crisis in Bulgaria. The survey is conducted every two years and is anonymous. The 2022 report is entitled "Media under fire".

Almost every second respondent gives an average assessment of freedom of speech in Bulgaria, and good - 16.2%. One in five defines it as "bad", and almost one in ten - "very bad".

204 people participated in the study, and the organization specifies that it is not representative, but it is the only study that analyzes the opinions of the journalists themselves.

For 2022, AEJ data show that:

  • Responses are increasing that there is an increase in internal pressure and self-censorship among journalists. Since 2017, self-censorship has grown by an average of 5 percent in the surveys conducted by AEJ-Bulgaria.
  • A new phenomenon is emerging - online harassment, insults and threats in social networks and media forums. One in three respondents believed that this was among the most common forms of external pressure, with such pressure also reported by journalists who claim to be under attack for their stance on the war in Ukraine.
  • One in ten says that they have been threatened with a lawsuit, which is an increase of about 4% compared to the previous AEJ survey.
  • Almost every second journalist states that they have personally been subject of pressure because of their work (47.5%).
  • Regional media are disappearing.

"The media in Bulgaria are under attack, not only because we are bombarded by complex events such as the war in Ukraine, but also because the media are regularly the target of political abuse," commented AEJ president Irina Nedeva during the presentation of the results.

The survey found that the proportion of journalists who were threatened with legal proceedings against them had increased. Every second respondent knows a colleague against whom an intimidating case has been filed.

One in three has heard of such cases, and information about such a process affects every fourth participant in the survey. "Nearly 25% impose self-censorship and avoid problematic topics because they know they may be sued," commented the organization.

Lawsuits against journalists (known as SLAPP -Strategic lawsuits against public participation) are a problem identified by a number of international organizations, which in recent years has deepened and the cases have become more frequent. At the end of 2021, an initiative was taken in the European Parliament for a single European legislation for protection against SLAPP, and the Bulgarian measures for these cases have not yet been prepared and developed.


The study found that the weight of "external pressure" as a form of restriction on freedom of speech is decreasing at the expense of internal pressure and self-censorship.

Since 2017, self-censorship has grown by an average of 5 percent in the surveys conducted by AEJ-Bulgaria. In a previous study, "external pressure" garnered the most responses (76.7%) compared to "internal" (65.8%) and "self-censorship" (20.8%). In 2022, a jump is observed - already 25.5% of the participants in the study share that they self-censor.

One of the answers in the survey reads: "It is practiced (self-censorship) by journalists, because they have the feeling that a certain material will not be well received by a certain political figure and/or party, or by society. Self-censorship in journalism is something that builds up over the years and at some point it just becomes part of the person practicing the profession. I even think that censoring yourself is far worse than having someone else censor you. Journalists are afraid of lose their jobs, especially in these difficult times we live in, and with all the competition and fighting for space in the media. Self-censorship is a combination of many things, compromises with oneself, etc."

After the internal sources of pressure on the work of journalists, the leading practice continues to be the removal or modification of content by a senior editor. "Coercion" by the media owner was listed second, followed by "instructions" from the advertising department. Scolding and reprimanding are also common tools to "regulate" and interfere with posts and videos

Almost every second journalist says that they have personally been subject to illegal pressure because of their work (47.5%), and the share of people who have witnessed it is slightly higher. The percentage of people who are of the opinion that interference in journalistic content is an invariable part of the Bulgarian media environment remains high. For just over 80% of respondents, the intervention is "more of a practice" and "widespread practice".

Political interference remains

Sources of external pressure are state, regional and municipal institutions, and in the last two years the share of journalists who indicate them has increased. "With each passing year, local and state institutions increasingly use various pressure tools, which were mainly attributed to economic entities and advertisers. The influence of local authorities in some media is also visible from the answers to the question: ‘Does the municipality pay media from your region for publishing ready-made press releases?’. One in three answers positively. And another 30.4% indicate that they do not know, but have heard of similar practices," is said in the report on the results of the survey.

However, the first place among the centers of influence on editorial content is occupied by politicians. 72.5% of the participants give it to them.

There is also an increase in the pressure exerted by criminal groups (by nearly 10 percent compared to 2020).

"Within the last two years, the results of the question that outlines the relationship between critical media and state institutions have remained almost unchanged. Refusal or systematic delay of public information, removal from lists of press releases or official information, avoidance of giving media interviews with critical journalistic voices. There are also practices of party central and state institutions not informing newsrooms in a timely manner about press conferences or current topics of public interest. Every third journalist answers that they are often the object of different treatment compared to representatives of media supporting the authorities 40.2% indicated ‘sometimes’ and ‘never’ - 11.8%. About 16% refuse to give an answer to this question," the report also states.

The media in Bulgaria is under attack, not only because we are bombarded by complex events, such as the war in Ukraine, but also because the media is regularly the target of political abuse,” said Irina Nedeva, chairwoman of AEJ.

About the survey

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ) survey has been held since 2011 and this is the sixth edition. The survey is national in scope but not representative of the professional community. One of the reasons is the lack of complete and reliable official data on those working in the media sector in the country. The results are collected through an online survey, which is filled out voluntarily through the AEJ-Bulgaria website. In 2022, 204 people participated in the survey (in 2017, the number of participants was 200, and in 2020 - 204). Respondents indicated that they work as journalists and media experts. They hold various positions - reporters, departmental and chief editors, media owners, university professors.

Follow on Twitter and Facebook

Write to us at

Информирайте се на Български -

/AEJ Bulgaria, Dnevnik

We need your support so can keep delivering news and information about Bulgaria! Thank you!

Society » Be a reporter: Write and send your article
Tags: censorship, threats, journalists, Bulgaria
Bulgaria news (Sofia News Agency - is unique with being a real time news provider in English that informs its readers about the latest Bulgarian news. The editorial staff also publishes a daily online newspaper "Sofia Morning News." (Sofia News Agency - and Sofia Morning News publish the latest economic, political and cultural news that take place in Bulgaria. Foreign media analysis on Bulgaria and World News in Brief are also part of the web site and the online newspaper. News Bulgaria