/Free the media

Free the media

Bulgaria’s media freedom keeps getting worse. European funds are
particularly directed to the government-controlled media, increasing the
lack of transparency.

Getting to know what is actually happening in Bulgaria is not easy work. The country is
constantly dealing with the absence of freedom of speech within the media, as well
as transparency. In addition, European funds, controlled by the government, are
only directed to government controlled media.

“Free media helps citizens to make decisions on how to live their lives, choose, and
elect what and who they want. So, less free media deprives citizens of that.” says
André Van der Vlugt.

Bulgaria is the European Union member state with the least amount of media freedom; It
occupies the 111th position in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. The Bulgarian
media situation has been deteriorating over the years, up to the point where it has
become unsustainable.

In 2006 Bulgaria was still among the first 50 countries with highest amount of media transparency, but within eleven years its position has fallen dramatically.

“For journalists’ media restrictions mean danger, threats, intimidation, and
harassment off and online. Also, legal attacks, financial scheming against them etc. Less
or no jobs, self censorship, paid or coerced stories and a low (self) esteem” says
André Van der Vlugt, press officer of Free Press Unlimited.

As stated in The Media Freedom White Paper “with this position, Bulgaria heads
the group of countries that are said to be in a ‘bad state’.” The fact that the country
is immersed in a spiral of corruption, collusion between media and politicians
makes transparency hard to achieve.

Bulgarian university student Martin Nikolov, 22, started noticing something was
wrong as he was growing up. Little by little he became aware of what was
happening in the country.

“We have a big amount of TV channels, newspapers, etc. and technically we do have
media freedom but, de facto, it’s not so free. Ju`er stands are owned by the same person, who
by the way, happens to be involved in politics as well.” Nikolov says.

Dylan Peevski, or ‘The Iceberg of Corruption’ as the German newspaper Der Spiegel
nicknamed him, owns six newspapers and controls 80% of the distribution media
market through his company “New Bulgarian Media Group”.

“This is how they take away media freedom,” explains Nikolov, “because newspapers are dependent
on distribution and if he doesn’t want to distribute them they do not reach a big
audience.”

Facing the problem
Freedom of expression and pluralism of the media are basic human rights.

The Union of Publishers in Bulgaria (UPB) states that the EU and the
European Commission should take into account the media freedom of the country
in order to receive European funds.

“I have heard there are numerous reports from the EU but I don’t know if there is
any help.” says Nikolov.

The future of journalism and media in Bulgaria is still unclear. While Dylan Peevski
is still linked to the government and controls most of the country’s media network,
journalists can do little to stop him. According to UPB, a change requires media companies to apply for          funding directly to Brussels in order to avoid the mediation of the local government.

Bulgaria’s situation has put the spotlight on Europe, many EU countries are
struggling with a lack of transparency and freedom therefore, everything that
comes with it.

“What we see is a rising threat to free media in Europe in general.”
says Vlugt.