Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Bulgaria

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Bulgaria, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c564fa19.html [accessed 21 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Voters elected anti-Communist opposition candidate Peter Stoyanov, a pro-market liberal, to the presidency on Nov. 3, after Stoyanov defeated Zhelyu Zhelev, Bulgaria's first non-Communist head of state, in a primary in June. The Socialist-dominated Parliament did not face elections in 1996, and it was the Parliament that showed its willingness to keep the press in check when its members in September attempted to introduce a new electronic media law. The Parliament overrode Zhelev's veto to pass the law, but the Constitutional Court of Bulgaria ultimately rejected it.

The Constitutional Court invalidated the main provisions of the law on Nov. 14. The law would have severely restricted both state-run and private radio and television stations. The draft called for a National Radio and Television Council to oversee programming, staffing, and licensing of state-run stations, and would have monitored general programming of the private radio and television stations.

Widespread complaints of censorship, specifically by journalists at Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), prompted several BNR staffers in December 1995 to found Bulgaria's first press freedom association, called Svobodna Slovo (Free Word). More than 100 journalists, translators, and sociologists officially established the organization on Jan. 8, defining it as politically independent and committed to the defense of free speech.

While Bulgaria has a number of nationwide independent newspapers and journals, including a newsmagazine that started publishing in January, the country's poor economy limited the spending power of most Bulgarians to buy print media. A poll in the local newspaper Standart found that the vast majority of Bulgarians get their domestic news via state television or radio. The poll also found that the majority of respondents felt that the state media's news coverage and commentary were politically biased.

February 20
Valentin Hadzhiev, 24 Chasa, HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION
Mitko Shtirkov, Trud, HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION

Hadzhiev and Shtirkov, reporters for the independent dailies 24 Chasa and Trud, respectively, were detained in the city of Smolyan on charges of slander. The two journalists were released the next day, but the charges against them still stand. On Feb. 19, Hadzhiev and Shtirkov had published articles stating that a newly appointed prosecutor in the city of Devin had been dismissed from the Devin police force in 1992 for bribery. A district prosecutor in Smolyan accused the journalists of reporting false facts and charged them with slander under Articles 146 and 148 of the Bulgarian Criminal Code. CPJ wrote to President Zhelyu Zhelev and Prime Minister Jan Videnov, urging them to drop the charges against the journalists.

September 5
All radio and television, LEGAL ACTION

The Bulgarian Parliament passed a bill outlining the formation of a new National Radio and Television Council, which was to be responsible for monitoring broadcasts and appointing directors to state-run radio and television. The Parliament overrode President Zhelyu Zhelev's veto against the bill. Zhelev submitted the law to the Constitutional Court of Bulgaria for further examination. On Nov.14, the Constitutional Court invalidated 15 provisions of the electronic media law. The judges declared unconstitutional the formation of an 11-seat National Radio and TV Council based on political criteria and on parliamentary representation. The provisions that such a council, which would have been a state organ, approve program schemes and program content and have the right to cancel programs, were also declared unconstitutional. The court also invalidated articles that would have deprived the judiciary of free airtime and banned journalists from giving "subjective" commentaries.

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