Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 10 (of 30)
Political Environment: 12 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 12 (of 30)
Total Score: 34 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. However, the government's manipulation of media and the judiciary's lack of independence are causes for concern. Defamation is punishable by high fines, and many suits are filed in response to published reports detailing corruption of high-level officials. Although the courts usually decline to impose fines, the threat of legal action has led to some self-censorship. The government in 2006 moved to increase public access to the Communist-era archives of the state security service, which contain files identifying past informants and collaborators. Under the new policy, agreed to by the main political parties in October and passed by the Parliament in December, an independent commission would control the archives, which had previously been at the disposal of the interior minister. Except during a period of openness from 1997 to 2001, the government had often selectively leaked information on politicians and other public figures, including journalists. Critics of the new arrangement said the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, the political heirs of the Communists, had agreed to open the archives only because the most damaging files had long since been destroyed. Others noted that current prime minister Sergei Stanishev was too young to fear exposure of any personal wrongdoing.

Media outlets express a diverse range of public and political views, in most cases without government interference. Although the state-owned media are often critical of the government's actions, they remain vulnerable to political influence. Bulgarian National Television (BNT) was drawn into the October 2006 presidential campaign when the ultimately unsuccessful candidate of the nationalist Ataka party, Volen Siderov, pledged to eliminate content for the ethnic Turkish minority. The country's journalists continue to face pressure and intimidation aimed at protecting economic, political, and criminal interests. In April 2006, a bomb exploded outside the apartment of Vasil Ivanov, an investigative reporter for the private Nova TV station. The blast caused serious property damage but no injuries. Ivanov had previously received death threats linked to his work, which involved organized crime, prison abuse, and other topics.

There are a large number of private media outlets as well as publications disseminated by political parties and interest groups. However, state broadcasters BNT and Bulgarian National Radio continue to dominate their respective markets and have yet to be fully transformed into public service broadcasters. At the end of 2005, the Parliament included provisions in the budget that allowed the two broadcasters to air as much advertising as private stations, even though they would still receive state subsidies. The measure potentially violated European Union competition rules as Bulgaria prepared to join the bloc in January 2007. It also threatened the fragile economic prospects of private outlets, since commercial sponsors would likely shift ad funding to the larger stations. The government does not restrict use of the internet, which is accessed by almost 30 percent of the population.

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