Nothing new in Bulgaria: independent media is under siege

Bulgaria is a member of the European Union for more than three years, but it still behaves sometimes as if it does not belong there.

Here’s a recent, and most troubled example:

On July 29 one of the leaders of the ruling parties and a member of the Bulgarian Parliament, Mr. Volen Siderov, of the right wing “Ataka”, called in the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR, more or less the equivalent of the US Public National Radio), and created a huge fuss about the interview that took place on July 28 with the son of his wife, and a member of the European Parliament, Dimitar Stoyanov (who became notorious while an observer to the EU Parliament in 2006 with this insult towards a roma MEP).
The whole interview with Mr. Siderov is here (in Bulgarian), or via Google Translate here (in English).

Radio anchor, Diana Yankulova, who is well know for her professionalism and high standards of journalist ethics, apparently was shocked by the words of the Bulgarian politician, who finished his tirade with the words, “in conclusion, I want to say, that the Bulgarian National Radio will be an objective media, when it gets rid of the people of BSP and DPS” (BSP stands for Bulgarian Socialist Party, DPS – Movement for Rights and Freedom; two of the ruling parties in the previous government, and currently in opposition in the Parliament).

The case obviously will have further development, as today the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said that Ms. Yankulova is a political appointee of BSP in the National Radio. Mr. Borissov words are here (in Bulgarian), and here (in English, Google Translate)
The Prime Minister has said that indeed, there is a political appointment in the National Radio. He said, “There is tendentious behavior. I have been subject of such activities of other journalists, and I know how emotionally a man can take these things, especially when you know who they are working for” (allegedly, for the BSP)

BSP asked today the Parliament to vote on a declaration in defense of journalists. Mr. Siderov countered that Ms. Yankulova has been head of the press center of the Interior Ministry during the last two years of the previous cabinet, which influences her behavior today (note by Veni: head of press centers in the Bulgarian ministries often are journalists, who are familiar with the topics, and are respected in their profession; they are not necessarily political appointees). The declaration was not accepted by the Parliament.

The Bulgarian PM has always refused speculations, allusions, or any facts there is pressure upon journalists from the new government. Nevertheless, when a journalist from the New Television (a national TV channel) has found some sensitive information about a MP, Mr. Latchezar Ivanov, from the ruling party, and personal doctor to Mr. Borissov, she called in advance the PM to ask what she should do with the information. Only after Mr. Borissov let her use it, she made a story, which led to the resignation of Mr. Ivanov from deputy-chairman of the Parliament. Observers of the western media commented that going to the PM and political leader, and asking him what to do with such a story, is completely inappropriate.

I am writing about this case in English, because I don’t believe there’s enough energy, spirit, and independent media in Bulgaria, which will be able to cover the facts.

This latest pressure on the free media comes after a number of worrisome cases, involving journalists in the last years. Most recently Ivo Indzhev’s life was threatened, two years ago a journalist was beaten to a coma, however the case was closed by the prosecution.

The issue with Ms. Yankulova is most probably because she let people in the studio challenge a police operation in Kardjali, south Bulgaria, few days earlier. In the middle of the night, police raided a private house, and beat a family, including a young woman, who had skull injuries. The action of the police was justified by the minister, as normal, and that the injuries occurred, because the “police entered into the apartment’s bedroom somewhat hastily”. You can read more on that story at novinite.com, where the article ends with these words:

    “At the end, as many times before, the public will never learn the truth and the case will be soon forgotten. Bad police work and the never ending attempts in Bulgaria to use everything and everyone for political gains make this just the latest hearsay saga – the words of the police officers against those of the family.
    At least Bulgarians now know they must open doors inside their houses very cautiously at nighttime, otherwise they might get hit on the face.”

I think that, given the strong reaction against an independent journalist from the National Radio, by the ruling parties, the Bulgarian journalists already know they must not criticize the police, or for that matter, anyone from the ministers.

The question is what would the international human rights organizations do? The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee already reacted, but the voice of the European institutions is more important in Bulgaria, sigh.

As for the siege – this is not news. Every government in the last 20 years has come to power at the promise of keeping the media free and independent, and every government has stepped down not being able to fulfill its promise.

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One Response to Nothing new in Bulgaria: independent media is under siege

  1. Pingback: Global Voices in English » Bulgaria: Government’s Pressure on the Media

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