Controversy over the appointments of the large public audiovisual media leaders dominated the election year. The legitimacy of the new audiovisual control board, which was reshaped during the year, has not yet been confirmed.

Throughout a decisive election year for the country's main political forces, the subject of news and control of the media remained centre-stage in the political debate. In March 2001 the plum of managing the national medium with the biggest audience, the radio-listening public, was bitterly fought over by the network's journalists and the regulatory board. About twenty of the station's journalists were dismissed, and a new regulatory board was created. In April the Union of Press Editors accused the government of applying pressure on the daily newspapers and of interfering in the editorial policies of several publications a few weeks prior to the general elections in June. At the end of the year the new broadcasting authority was in turn challenged, and several dismissals from public television raised doubts about the new electronic media board's impartiality.

Although the reform of the penal code in 2000 removed prison sentences for abuse and slander, articles 146, 147 and 148 still subject the written press to fairly heavy fines relative to their means.

Two journalists attacked

On 17 March 2001 Gragomir Graganov, a public television (BNT) presenter of the "Sunday Show" programme, was attacked as he was returning to his home in the centre of Sofia. He was beaten by two unidentified assailants. According to the journalist it was not a hold-up. On 18 March Lubomir Stoykov, presenter of a fashion programme on the private television network, Nova Televisia, was attacked in similar circumstances. The police opened investigations in both cases.

Pressure and obstruction

On 16 February 2001 a dozen journalists of the national radio network (BNR) began a hunger strike to protest the appointment of a new director general, Ivan Borislavov by the national radio and television board on 5 February. On 20 February they ended their hunger strike after it was reported that Ivan Borislavov was hospitalised with a coronary thrombosis. Journalist Gueorgui Vassilski, one of the protest movement's spokesman, said that the hunger strike would resume if Ivan Bosislavov's appointment were confirmed. On 22 February about 500 journalists from the national radio network demonstrated in Sofia against the choice of the new director general. The journalists condemned the appointment of Mr. Borislavov for being motivated by pre-election reasons rather than the criteria of professional competence. The role of national radio, the countries most popular medium, was indeed considered decisive in the approaching legislative and presidential elections.

Mr. Borislavov, poet, translator and literary critic, was considered unlikely to stand up to political pressure. The journalists also demanded the dismissal of the members of the national radio and television board for having "ignored the obligations of professionalism and objectivity". On 4 April the administrative court invalidated the public radio director's appointment, ruling that the procedural process was riddled with irregularities. On 10 April six journalist were fired. They had been among the first to protest the new director general's appointment. Other dismissals followed in the ensuing days, mostly from within the editorial team of the political and news programme, "Horizon". In all nineteen journalist were fired: Lili Marinkova, Petar Volgin, Iren Fileva, Savelina Savova, Antoaneta Raycheva, Stanislav Zonev, Anton Mitev, Sonya Velyanova, Boryana Kirilova, Katya Todorova, Dejan Jotov, Teodor Chereshev, Vesislava Antonova, Katya Leshtanska, Silviya Velikova, Tanya Velishkova, Krasimir Lukanov, Petar Galev, Diana Chepisheva. These dismissals fomented new demonstrations and deep divisions among the radio's personnel between those for and against a new protest movement. On 28 May the appointment of Polia Stansheva, programme director, to the post of national radio head put an end to the protests.

On 5 December Lilyana Popova, director of public television (BNT) was relieved of her duties by the new electronic media board, established by law on 25 October, as a replacement for the national radio and television board. The board asserted that Lilyana Popova's qualifications – she had held the post since 1998 – did not meet the criteria required by the new law on radio and television, in particular the obligation to have worked at least five years in the media for which one is appointed director. Lilyana Popova denounced it as a politically motivated decision and the retroactive application of a new provision. Within two months of the regulatory end of Lilyana Popova's term in office in February 2002, this dismissal appears to be a demonstration of authority by the new regulatory board. Within a few days programme director, Nevena Andonova, news director, Miroslava Nejnska, sports programme executive, Grigor Hristov, and an officer on the board of the network's programmes, Neven Kopandoanova, all resigned. Eleven officers of professional media and journalist organisations voiced their solidarity and denounced the lack of transparency in the decision-making process by the new media authorities.

At the end of December Janov Dashkov, popular producer and presenter of the political programme, "Glasove" (Voices) on national television's first channel, was fired by the new interim director, Kiril Gotsev. Javor Dashkov had expressed numerous criticisms of the government that emerged from the legislative elections and its prime minister, the former king of Bulgaria. The day he was fired, a legislator of the majority, Emil Koshlukov, expressed the opinion that the programme was "prejudiced and biased" and deserved to be taken off the air.


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