Business War, 'Corporate Journalism' Plague Bulgarian Media, SEEMO Mission Finds
A conflict between the two largest press business groups in Bulgaria as well as "corporate journalism" undermines the credibility of Bulgarian media, the South and East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) has concluded in a report.
The Vienna-based South and East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) conducted a mission to Sofia, Bulgaria, from April 1 to 4, 2012, in order to assess the latest media developments in the light of changed media ownership and reports of pressure on media.
The SEEMO delegation met Bulgaria's Deputy PM and Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, as well as over 25 editors-in-chief, leading journalists, media experts and NGO representatives.
"The Bulgarian media scene has been profoundly transformed during the past three years, since the German-based media group Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) retreated from the country's market in 2010. Media Group Bulgaria Holding has bought WAZ publications. On the other hand, the New Bulgarian Media Group began acquiring numerous publications in 2007. Both groups own numerous media outlets and control a large share of the print market. While the former appears to be associated with the pharmaceutical industry, among other business interests, the latter is reportedly related to one government-trusted bank," SEEMO said Thursday in a preview of its report on Bulgarian media.
The media organization apparently referred to Bulgarian pharmaceutical manufacturer Sopharma and its CEO Ognyan Donev, who own Media Group Bulgaria Holding, and the Corporate Commercial Bank of Bulgarian banker Tsvetan Vasilev, which, according to unconfirmed reports is linked to the New Bulgarian Media Group of Irena Krasteva, a former civil servant in charge of the Bulgarian state lottery, and her son, a Member of Parliament from the ethnic Turkish party DPS (Movement for Rights and Freedoms).
"These two media conglomerates fight for the market and for influence. According to some interlocutors, the Bulgaria's top political leadership had to intervene in order to stop their public war. When asked about the missions or ideology of the two media groups, interviewees responded unequivocally: "There is no ideology. It is about business and personal interests." Their rivalry split the publishers union. Currently there are two publishers' unions," SEEMO notes.
The mission of the Vienna-based international NGO has found that respecting the business interests of media owners and silencing any information that may be interpreted as harmful is widely accepted by most reporters in Bulgaria as a way of doing journalism, with even independent media, valued for their intellectual content, and unrelated to the above-mentioned groups, abstaining from addressing those economic areas where their owners are active, e.g., if an owner is in the oil business, one abstains from writing in-depth articles about energy.
"Foreign media ownership is perceived as advantageous for media outlets and journalists. Foreign owners are perceived as credible, long-term thinking and generally absent from day to day editorial decisions. Bulgarian media owners, on the other hand, with less than two decades of capitalist experience, are perceived as investors with short-term vision who strive for immediate profits," SEEMO notes.
Its mission has concluded that this business model has influenced the quality of media: most dailies in Bulgaria have become tabloids, with business and personal interests determining what journalists can write or how they can deal with specific issues or political figures.
"A journalist who came to work for us from another newspaper asked me if we should write good or bad things about a particular politician. He told me that his previous employer had strict instructions regarding politicians. You were not allowed to write anything about certain politicians. About others you had to write only positive stories. As for the third group, negative coverage was advised," an unnamed Bulgarian editor is quoted as saying.
"This perception of media freedom and journalism implies that readers (and viewers) cannot rely on one specific media outlet to acquire information in the public interest. They are required to read different papers, watch different TV channels and switch between the only two radio stations (one private and one public) that produce news and programs, or opt for online media," the organization says.
SEEMO further emphasizes that "corporate journalism" as it is called in Bulgaria undermines the credibility of most media and creates distrust among journalists (perceived as followers of a particular media group)."
"The economic crisis coupled with diminishing advertisement expenditures has affected most outlets. However, the two big media groups can keep covering losses in their media outlets since they generate profits in other business. Those who live off media business face serious challenges. In fact, reporters leave small quality publications for the better paid corporate journalism posts," the organization concludes in analyzing the seemingly ugly reality in Bulgarian media.
Last but not least, SEEMO has observed that Bulgarian journalists fail to address certain topics related to diversity: gender and gender violence, homophobia, ethnic and religious minorities, to mention several.
"These issues are addressed occasionally, if there is a particular incident, generally negative, that triggers coverage. Bulgarian society and the political arena have not started debating these social topics, which top the EU's policy agenda in other countries," the independent media body says.
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