Lack of Transparency, Pluralism Contribute to Bulgaria's Declining Media Freedom
The lack of transparency of media ownership and the decreasing media pluralism are among the main factors contributing to Bulgaria's declining media freedom.
This was one of the most common opinions expressed by participants at a discussion entitled "The risks to freedom of expression".
The event was held at the House of Europe in Sofia on Thursday and was organised by the Information Office of the European Parliament in Bulgaria.
Among the participants were Alexandra Geneste, head of the EU-Balkans desk at Reporters Without Borders, Snezhana Todorova, chairperson of the Union of Bulgarian Journalists and Kristina Hristova from the Association of European Journalists - Bulgaria.
According to the latest annual World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders, Bulgaria continues to experience noticeable problems in the field of media freedom.
In 2015, the country ranked 106th out of a total of 180 countries, recording a drop of six positions compared to last year. In addition to this, Bulgaria had the lowest ranking among all the 28 member states of the EU.
However Bulgaria is not the only European country to experience decline in media freedom as this is the case across the whole continent.
Although European countries continue to occupy the top of the ranking, their overall performance has decreased.
The erosion of pluralism, lack of transparency and concentration of media ownership are among the most common problems found across Europe.
Furthermore, there were more instances of censorship and more physical attacks, with political and economic circles continuing to exert pressure on journalists.
One of the main reasons for the drop in Bulgaria's ranking were the large-scale anti-government protests in 2013-2014 in which journalists and citizens were subject to violence.
Another factor contributing to the decline in media freedom was the crisis in the banking sector, which led to the public losing confidence in media and the institutions.
Some actions of the Financial Supervision Commission, such as imposing fines on certain media and forcing journalists to reveal their sources, further contributed to the deterioration of media freedom.
The adoption of a legislation on professional journalism by the Bulgarian parliament was one of the suggested measures, which could possibly address the shortcomings at national level.
At the European level, the participants agreed that the efforts on a European Citizens' Initiative on media pluralism should continue.
The discussion also focussed on the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which is awarded by the European Parliament to people recognised for their contribution to the defence of human rights.
This year's laureate of the Sakharov Prize is Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, writer and activist and the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, which is an online platform for political and religious debate.
In 2012, Badawi was arrested on a charge of insulting Islam and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, which a year later was increased to ten years in prison, 1000 lashes and a fine.
The first fifty lashes were administred publicly in January 2015, with the subsequent flogging postponed due to his poor health and international condemnation.
According to Reporters Without Borders, every year, some 500 journalists are arrested, another 1000 are assaulted or threatened and over 500 media outlets censored.
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