IHT strikes Bulgaria again

The International Herald Tribune (IHT) has published yet another article on Bulgaria. It sounds like they have some kind of a war against my country.
Headline Voices against corruption labor in Bulgaria despite dangers.

It starts quite intriguing with a couple of paragraphs describing the death of a forensic examiner, and then follow the questions: “Could the death of the coroner be murder? Or was it suicide provoked by the pressures of challenging the system?”.

By the end of the article it becomes clear that this is a suicide, and there are no proofs it was provoked by “the pressures of challenging the system”, but as we all know, what is important, is what makes the headlines, not the small font at the end.

The newspaper concludes that “Exposing corruption is not a battle for the fainthearted in Bulgaria” – a statement that my readers should ignore, as I don’t consider myself some kind of a hero, regardless of the number of signals against corrupt government officials, which I have personally delivered at the chief prosecutor’s office, and of which that same IHT wrote few years ago. Most recently I also wrote about continuous corruption at the Ministry of State Administration, and after a letter to the chief prosecutor, there’s an ongoing investigation right now on that matter. But the International Herald Tribune is not willing to write about it, and one can only speculate why – I’ve heard that it is because the case includes a US company, or because it does not link politicians to the Bulgarian mafia, but rather to an international one, which acts disguised under the false pretext that there’s illegal software in my country, and gets the protection of the US Trade Representative (I wrote to that office, too).

I found also more factual mistakes in the article. See this:

But the site’s [frognews.bg] Web traffic has leaped from 40,000 hits to more than 250,000″. According to Alexa.com, that’s not the case. To eliminate speculations – the newspaper does not say what are these 40,000 hits – unique visitors? per week? per day? per month? But one can compare this data to the one about a site, where there’s a counter (on frognews there isn’t) – portal.bg. Portal.bg has much more visitors than frognews, and yet they are only around 120,000 per month, far away from the claimed 250,000, as stated by the IHT.

Now, one can argue that this is not a big deal, but for me that shows the quintessence of the problems foreign journalists face in Bulgaria: they trust their sources. But Bulgarian sources in general are not reliable, and even in such simple cases, they tend to curve the facts. Why they do it, I am not sure.

More from the IHT:

“The fight against corruption has become a political show,” said Stefan Popov, executive director of RiskMonitor, founded in 2006 and financed by the Open Society Institute in New York and Sofia. “If everybody is against corruption, it means that nobody is against corruption. Then you can use fighting corruption for your own political purposes.”

What Stefan has said makes no sense. Or, wait. May be he didn’t say it?
I called him just a few minutes ago on the phone, and asked if he was quoted correctly.
He was not.
From this quote, it looks as if someone – a politician, a police officer, a mayor, anyone – would rather say “I am not against corruption”? Here’s what I wrote, which now I am deleting. I still leave it on purpose – to see what wrong conclusions can one make, if based on wrong information: I have written longer essays in Bulgarian, describing the problems with the corruption in Bulgaria, and it is a pity that an executive director of an OSI funded non-profit doesn’t have a common sense on corruption and can make such a statement.

More of the newspaper:

When Hammerstein returned in October, he experienced petty corruption firsthand. A taxi driver from the airport charged him five times the normal fare to reach the city. Hammerstein protested directly to Bulgaria’s transportation minister, but got no comfort.

This is actually something that happens in every city (have you tried Moscow or New York with private cabs?) not corruption. The fact is, that when one arrives at the airport, there are always people who ask you, “Taxi? Taxi”, and if you take one of these, it will cost you much more than if you just walk outside to the right, where there are tens of cabs waiting for passengers, and they charge a normal fee. I myself have been a victim of a cab driver in Sofia proper, when I didn’t look at the price on the car door window. Instead of 0.50 leva it was 10.50 leva per kilometer (20 times more!).

The article comes to an end with this:

Radanov left no note, but Hristov said he was sure the coroner planned his clues, including the strange choice of the playground. His body, for instance, should have shown signs of a struggle if he had been dragged below the climbing bars to his death by someone else, Hristov said. But there were no marks, proving to the staff that it was a suicide.

So, it was a suicide, but the article begins with – remember? – “Could the death of the coroner be murder? Or was it suicide provoked by the pressures of challenging the system?”

Let me finish as I should have started, if I were a journalist, “Could the articles in the IHT, aimed at corruption, actually have a different goal? Or are they provoked by certain sources, who provide only partial information, good enough for their own goals?”

Conclusions: the article in the IHT is not representing Bulgaria fairly. It is based on some quotes which are taken out of context, and on data, which was not checked. It will be used for internal political fights. An example of that is that Boiko Borisov, the mayor of Sofia, now says, something like, “IHT and New York Times say that in Bulgaria the mafia has its own state”. Actually that’s a quote from another opposition member, Atanas Atanasov, as quoted in the IHT/NYT, but it is in fact a very old saying, which has been used for other countries, quite often.
So the article makes a full circle – it starts in Bulgaria and is being used in Bulgaria. The European or the American reader would not be able to understand that it does not cover all relevant sides. In contrast, the one article I quote above, again from the IHT/NYT, from 2003, gives all points of views, and leaves it to the reader to reach the conclusions.

As a final recommendation: read the Financial Times, they at least try to publish articles, which are balanced, and backed up with enough data. See here, here or here (the last one describes similar issues, but in a more neutral way).

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2 Responses to IHT strikes Bulgaria again

  1. Hello Veni,

    > By the end of the article it becomes clear that this is a suicide

    The headline and the questions that appear after the first paragraph together have done all the harm intended. IHT knows that out of a hundred who read the healines hardly ten or twenty follow the story right through to the conclusion, reading every word.

    Akin to writing a blog post with the headline “Was Doreen Carvajal recritted by the Anti-Bulgaria propaganda lobby?” to raise uncomfortable questions, and then in fine print conclude by saying, No, it is not likely.

  2. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Bulgaria: Inadequate Media Coverage

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