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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Bulgaria

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Bulgaria, February 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5652ac.html [accessed 28 July 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.

The year opened with mass public strikes and rallies – the first in Bulgaria since the collapse of communism in 1989 – demanding reforms and new elections. Several journalists from the influential private radio station Darik, Kapital, and other newspapers, were beaten by police while covering demonstrations in Sofia. The protests succeeded in ousting the Bulgarian Socialist Party government of Zhan Videnov, widely blamed for the country's deep economic, financial, and political crisis. The March elections brought the victory of the United Democratic Forces (UDF) and their majority in parliament. A new pro-reform and pro-Western government was formed, headed by the former finance minister, Ivan Kostov.

The raging economic crisis resulted in low sales for most newspapers in Bulgaria, which rely heavily on circulation because advertising remains underdeveloped – a legacy of the previous government's resistance to privatization. Dailies and weeklies are a luxury for average Bulgarians; 74 percent of those polled reported that they rely on state-controlled National TV programs for news. Ten percent said they relied on state radio, while only nine percent of the population considered print media as their primary information source. Bulgaria still has no privately owned national television station, although debate over the issue resumed some months after the new government took office. The new government announced it would privatize one of Bulgaria's two national television channels, the Efir channel, but has not made good on its pledge.

The ruling parties in the UDF coalition, have little incentive to break the government television monopoly and the parties' influence on programming. Even the new amendments to the highly restrictive 1996 Law on Radio and Television, approved in December, allow the ruling political parties to maintain some control over television and radio. According to the amendments, the National Council on Radio and Television, the chief broadcast regulatory body in Bulgaria, will continue to appoint the heads of state radio and television. The parliament appoints a majority of council members and the president selects the rest, ensuring control over the body by the ruling coalition. The council will no longer be allowed to interfere in editorial policy, however, and it will be authorized solely to oversee the press' adherence to regulations in the media law. Overall, the amendments appear to be vague and minor.

There are some 10 private radio stations in Sofia and a few scattered throughout the country. Most devote the bulk of their air time to music and entertainment programs. Only the Darik radio station in Sofia has earned a reputation for independent news reporting. Its coverage of the demonstrations early in the year, the only source of news about the events, made Darik the most popular radio station in the capital.

Press freedom in Bulgaria is guaranteed and regulated by the constitution (Articles 39, 40, and 41), the penal code (Articles 146, 147, and 148) and ratified international human rights agreements. Provisions of the penal code, which place the burden of proof on the journalist, criminalize libel and defamation; convictions under these statutes are punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. The number of new criminal and civil libel suits against journalists apparently decreased once the new government took office, but both criminal and civil libel statutes continue to be used by public officials and businessmen as an instrument of harassment against investigative reporters and editors.

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