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Freedom of the Press 2011 - Bulgaria

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 1 September 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2011 - Bulgaria, 1 September 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e5f71b8c.html [accessed 30 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.

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 11
Political Environment: 14
Economic Environment: 10
Total Score: 35

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. Defamation is punishable by large fines, and government officials have filed suits against journalists, but the courts tend to favor press freedom in such cases. In October 2010, a Bulgarian court acquitted German journalist Jürgen Roth of slandering former interior minister Rumen Petkov, who had sought monetary damages after Roth's book accused him of having close ties to crime bosses. The law on freedom of information is considered fairly strong, but in some cases, state institutions have reportedly resisted information requests. In April 2010, the cabinet turned over information on the prime minister's trips abroad only after a journalist filed a lawsuit to obtain it. Regulatory bodies have been accused of politicization, corruption, and other irregularities when making licensing decisions. Amendments to the Television and Radio Act approved by the parliament in May 2010 reduced the number of members of the regulating body from nine to five, making it more prone to economic and political influence; the president vetoed these amendments later in the month, but this veto was overruled by the parliament, which passed the act for a second time in June. Positively, a number of new licenses have been issued, though the process is still viewed as nontransparent.

Media outlets express a diverse range of public and political views, in most cases without government interference. However, reporters continue to face pressure and intimidation aimed at protecting economic, political, and criminal interests. The perpetrators often operate with impunity, which, combined with low pay for journalists and weak professional journalist associations, leads to self-censorship. After an apparent lull in 2009, there were some serious attacks in 2010. Radio host and crime writer Boris "Bobbie" Tsankov was murdered in a suspected contract killing on January 5. Police accused two brothers involved in organized crime against whom Tsankov had allegedly been scheduled to testify on January 13. One brother fled the country, and the investigation was ongoing at year's end. Dimitar Varbanov of the television station bTV was struck on the head with a hammer by a fraud suspect he was attempting to interview in February; the suspect was immediately arrested. Other journalists were harassed and threatened by local officials during the year for reporting on sensitive topics. In a sign of attitudinal changes at the national level, however, a ruling party member was forced to resign as deputy speaker of parliament in July after a Nova TV reporter accused him of attempting to suppress a story on alleged corruption by customs officials.

Two of the three leading national television stations, bTV and Nova TV, are owned by foreign companies. The third is state-owned Bulgarian National Television (BNT), which benefits from both state subsidies and advertising revenue. BNT and Bulgarian National Radio do not display a strong political bias, but observers have cast doubt on their editorial independence. Foreign media firms also play a dominant role in the print and radio sectors, although at least three important newspapers – in addition to bTV – changed hands during 2010 as companies reorganized their regional holdings in a difficult economic climate. In July, the Culture Ministry announced stricter rules on ownership disclosure for newspaper and magazine publishers. Pay levels for journalists have been consistently low, and the recession has only worsened journalists' financial difficulties. Even at leading outlets, many hold second jobs, and some double as media advisers for political campaigns.

Many traditional media outlets have established a presence on the internet, which is not restricted by the government and was accessed by about 46.23 percent of the population in 2010. Access in rural areas remains limited. Legislation that took effect in May 2010 obliges internet and mobile-telephony providers to turn over traffic data to assist criminal investigations.

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