This is the text of a letter to the editors of the International Herald Tribune, sent to them November 18, 2008:
Your newspaper named Bulgaria as a corrupt, or even the most corrupt country in the European Union. While I don’t mind if you have named certain individuals to be corrupt, I must react strongly on behalf of the Internet Society of Bulgaria, that such a generalization is not correct. This generalization is equal to naming countries different names because of some of their citizens, or rulers. We have seen that in the recent European history quite a lot.
In the three articles, dedicated to Bulgaria that you’ve published since Oct. 15, you’ve interviewed 21 members of the opposition, and only one governmental official deputy prime minister Plugchieva. You quote minister of interior Mikov, too, but it is not clear if he was interviewed. This shows that your articles were not as objective as they should have been.
Yes, there is corruption on different levels in Bulgaria – exactly the same way there is corruption in the EU. We all remember that a whole European Commission was fired because of corruption. And in many “old” members of the EU, there are quite huge corruption cases, where the money taken from the EU is probably more than the whole amount misused in Bulgaria. Let’s not talk about Siemens or the banks in Liechtenstein.
My country needs help, it does not need for someone to say that there is a problem, but to actually give solution – be that in the form of post-EU membership monitoring, or advice on how best to approach cases of corruption. Because what your newspaper is doing, is actually blaming a whole country, by using mainly non-objective and not precise quotes, and not giving an opportunity of the attacked to defend themselves. And in this case, sigh, the attacked is actually the whole Republic of Bulgaria. Sigh.
I have been following your articles about Bulgaria in the last month or so, and I had blogged about several of them at my blog. Until the Sunday’s opinion under the headline Corruption in Bulgaria and Romania, I had decided not to write you. I do not expect that you will publish my current email, as it shows how your newspaper is writing stories which do not take into consideration all parties involved.
Your newspaper named Bulgaria as a corrupt, or even the most corrupt country in the European Union. While I don’t mind if you have named certain individuals to be corrupt, I must react strongly on behalf of the Internet Society of Bulgaria, that such a generalization is not correct. This generalization is equal to naming countries different names because of some of their citizens. It is a new form of racism, which is neither correct in the 21st Century, nor is reflecting the values of the European Union.
The basic rule of objective journalism is that when there is an issue, it must be accessed with no prejudices, and all involved parties should be listened to, and their positions reflected in the article, while the conclusions should be left for your readers, who – I believe – are not stupid.
Let’s take a closer look at your three already notorious, at least in my country, articles.
The first one, Bulgarian corruption troubling the European Union, was published on Oct. 15.
Your article bluntly states in the beginning, “By almost any measure, Bulgaria is considered the most corrupt country in the 27-member European Union.” However, you don’t really give any proofs or evidence to support this statement.
Your newspaper has interviewed, in order of appearance the following people, all of them not related to the government: Atanas Atanasov, Ludmil Stoykov, unnamed investigators, Boiko Borissov, Mario Nikolov, an unnamed Western diplomat, a quote by Enterprise Surveys, unspecified Bulgarian news reports, Iva Pushkarova, Justin Holland, Stefan Popov, as representing alternative views to the government.
To these quotes of 11 (eleven) people, there is only one interview with an official that I am aware of being taken personally – with the newly appointed deputy prime minister Meglena Plugchieva is quoted with two lines. Minister of interior Mihail Mikov (wrongly spelled as Mihov) is also quoted with one line, but I have no information if he was indeed interviewed, or this is a quote he said somewhere, and was translated in English.
You may call this objective, but clear mathematics show that a) the newspaper never interviewed the people who actually combat the crime in Bulgaria – the chief prosecutor Boris Velchev, the head of the State Agency for National Security Petko Sertov, not even the Prime Minister Stanishev.
The latter comes in your newspaper in a way, which could be described as “funny’ if it wasn’t indeed so serious: “Stanishev, the prime minister, also did not respond to 10 attempts to seek a response over a six-day period. He said he would reply on Thursday.”
either he did not respond to your “10 attempts over a 6-day period”, or he did respond that he will reply on Thursday, which – by accident – is the day your newspaper decided to publish the story. Considering the fact that Mr. Stanishev indeed responded, and you published portions of the interview he gave you on the next day, October 16, obviously not including his opinion in the original publication makes the whole article even more non-objective.
But let’s take as an example the quoted report by the Enterprise Surveys. You say, “Seventy-five percent of Bulgarian businesses have security protection, far ahead of other countries in Eastern Europe, according to Enterprise Surveys, analysts for the World Bank.” Taking a look at the report itself, it shows that the article is using only one out of the many quite a different picture.
First of all, the indicator, “% of firms paying for security” is actually “Percentage of firms paying for security, for example equipment, personnel, or professional security services.” Having worked in Bulgaria as a CEO of a private company for 9 years, and as a President and Chairman of the Board of a non-profit for 13 years, I agree that all the companies I know use radio- or phone-security. Similar services exist in the US and the EU. Frankly, I’m surprised that the percentage is so low, considering the fact that the insurance culture in Bulgaria is not as good as in the Western European countries, which makes the radio-protection is the only other (cheap) alternative. People use it for their business, and for their homes. It provides monitoring not only for intruders, but also for fires, water floods, etc.
And, by the way, the quoted Enterprise Survey’s report does not provide data for any other of the EU members, not even Romania, nor the OECD countries, nor Russia, China, or Serbia… In other worlds, this is completely taken out of context data. However, the rest of the report gives some ideas, too. For example, % of Firms Expected to Pay Informal Payment to Public Officials (to Get Things Done) – in Bulgaria it is 16.1, in the OECD countries – 12.56. More interesting – % of Firms Expected to Give Gifts In Meetings With Tax Officials: Bulgaria – 6.15 %, OECD – 28.26 % (sic!), and last – % of Firms Expected to Give Gifts to Secure a Government Contract – Bulgaria 19.8 %, OECD – 15.62 %. Quite similar.
The second article, Bulgaria risks becoming EU cautionary tale, was published on October 27. It also quotes only members of the opposition in Bulgaria. The only difference in this article is, that it also talks about Romania.
The third article, Trading truth for broken bones in Bulgaria, published on November 12, also quotes the following people: Stanislav Hristov, Transparency International (TI), Ognian Stefanov, Alexander Ivanov, Stefan Popov, Iva Pushkarova, Tihomir Bezlov, Atanas Atanasov, David Hammerstein. 9 people. This time there is no opinion or quotes whatsoever of anyone from the government, the police, the prosecution office, or – for that matter – of the private sector which is not scared of fighting corruption. The organization I am head of is one such an entity. In December 2007 we sent a letter to the chief prosecutor with information about possible crime in buying software at much higher prices than normally from Microsoft. A police investigation was launched, and the prosecution office of the city of Sofia has filed a formal investigation, based on the results of the police work, which is now entering its second phase. Our letter to the chief prosecutor has caused the minister of state administration and administrative reform to respond on the ministry’s web site with an open letter to me, and with a number of interviews, trying to justify the fact that the government has decided to spend about Euro 900 per computer for Microsoft software (Windows and Office). I wouldn’t have mentioned this case, if your very newspaper has not written about previous such a case, in 2003. An article, which was much more balanced, professionally written, and taken into account statements from all involved parties. Also, I actually called two of the people you have quoted in the last piece. They both told me their quotes were taken out of context, or in other words, you’ve used only what you wanted, when you wanted it, how you wanted it. But that makes it even less objective.
Last, but not least. You say that the TI report (PDF 1+ Mb) dubs “Bulgaria the most corrupt country in the 27-nation EU”. Of course, there is some criticism from different parties about the correctness of the data by TI, but I am not going to argue about it now. Just, please, look at their report. You may actually see that Bulgaria is ranked 64, between Poland and Croatia – http://www.transparency-bg.org/researchprojects_files/project_65_1.pdf . Above Romania, Brazil, China, Serbia (82), Argentina (106), Ukraine (122), etc. But there’s more – Romania and Bulgaria have relatively strong assessments compared to other 2006 countries, which you don’t even mention.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that Bulgaria is in the beginning of a long road, where the fight against corruption is only one of the aspects of being on that road. Becoming members of the EU can not change years of lack of laws and enforcement of the laws. I have graduated the Law Faculty of the Sofia University, where among my teachers and colleagues are the current chief prosecutor, the prosecutor of the city of Sofia, members of the Parliament, of the Cabinet. I know some of them better, and I’ve helped some of them to draft the first laws – for example the chapter “Computer crimes” in the Penal Code. I am convinced that people like these can not be corrupt.
Yes, there is corruption on different levels in Bulgaria – exactly the same way there is corruption in EU proper. We all remember that not so long ago the whole European Commission had to be fired because of corruption. And in many “old” members of the EU, there are quite huge corruption cases, where the money taken from the EU is probably more than the whole amount misused in Bulgaria. Let’s not talk about Siemens or the banks in Liechtenstein.
My country needs help, it does not need for someone to say that there is a problem, but to actually give solution – be that in the form of post-EU membership monitoring, or advice on how best to approach cases of corruption. Because what your newspaper is doing, is actually blaming a whole country, by using mainly non-objective quotes, and not giving an opportunity of the attacked to defend themselves. And in this case, sigh, the attacked is the whole Republic of Bulgaria.
President and Chairman of the Board of Directors,
Internet Society – Bulgaria,
31 Tsar Ivan Shishman Str., Sofia 1000, Bulgaria