Bulgaria - 2014 Media Report

The media situation in Bulgaria during 2014 included pressure on journalists, media concentration, a self-regulatory system that only works in theory, inefficient legal rules, lack of ownership and business transparency and strong self-censorship.

Leading media are:

24 chasa: http://www.24chasa.bg/
Trud: http://www.trud.bg/
Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.bg/
Capital: http://www.capital.bg/
Monitor: http://www.monitor.bg/
Sega: http://www.segabg.com/
Standart: http://www.standartnews.com/
Presa daily: http://presa.bg/

Banker: http://www.banker.bg/
Eva: http://www.eva.bg/
Grazia: http://www.graziaonline.bg/
Kultura: http://www.kultura.bg/
Tema: http://www.temanews.com/
A-specto: http://a-specto.bg/

Bulgarian National Radio: http://bnr.bg/
Darik Radio: http://darikradio.bg/
Radio Focus: http://www.focus-radio.net/
Radio 1: http://www.radio1.bg/
Radio Vitosha:
Radio 1 Rock: http://www.radio1rock.bg/

Bulgarian National Television: http://www.bnt.bg/
bTV: http://www.btv.bg/
Nova TV: http://novatv.bg/
TV7: http://tv7.bg/
Bulgaria on Air: http://www.bgonair.bg/
SKAT TV: http://www.skat.bg/

News agencies
BTA: http://www.bta.bg/bg/
Focus-news: http://www.focus-news.net/
Novinite.com: http://www.novinite.com/
BGNes: http://www.bgnes.com/

Online media
Dnevnik: http://www.dnevnik.bg/
Mediapool: http://www.mediapool.bg/
Vesti.bg: http://www.vesti.bg/
E-Vestnik: http://e-vestnik.bg/
Offnews.bg: http://offnews.bg/
Dir.bg: http://www.dir.bg/
Frognews: http://frognews.bg/
Webcafe: http://www.webcafe.bg/

As the German Konrad-Adenaur Foundation reported for the year 2014, Facebook established itself as a semi-official organ which Bulgarian politicians often used to promote their messages among voters. The network was a preferred information channel for many of the party head offices, and quite a few important political events were originally communicated on someone's Facebook wall before they reached the audience of the traditional mass media. Bulgarian Facebook users strengthened their political preferences without any major deviations from the already-established trends. The most appealing party in the social network continued to be Glas Naroden (“voice of the people”). Boyko Borisov retained his leadership position among politicians, the number of his supporters exceeding by multiple times the results of his rivals.

As novinite.com reported, Net advertising revenue in Bulgaria amounted to BGN 303 million in 2013, according to Krasimir Gergov, Chair of the Bulgarian Association of Communication Agencies (BACA). Speaking during an annual advertising forum, he noted that the advertising market had remained stable in 2013, registering a decrease by 0.62 per cent. It was expected to remain stable in 2014, with a possibility to reach two per cent growth. In 2013, there was an increase in net revenues from TV advertising by 2.5 per cent to BGN 185 million and the segment retained the largest share of the advertising market.

Outdoor advertising posted a 2.3 per cent growth in net revenues to BGN 38 million. Net revenues from press advertising amounted to BGN 40 million, down by five per cent from 2012.

Radio advertising registered a decrease by 3.3 per cent in net revenues to BGN 15 million. Internet advertising in Bulgaria has grown with some 11-15 per cent for 2011, according to data revealed by the Bulgarian Association of Communication Agencies (BACA). The growth of the market segment in 2011 was 15 per cent in gross value and 11.4 per cent in net value, said BACA in 2012. This development is set against a backdrop of a shrinking of the overall advertising market during 2011 with some six per cent in net value, announced BACA. In 2013 Havas Worldwide Digital Sofia announced the results of its "Bulgaria's digital advertising market" study, analysing a dozen research studies in order to explain the behaviour of the Bulgarian advertisers. According to it, although brands in Bulgaria have improved their web presence, they are still 'far away' from their customers' habits. Indeed, while Bulgarians are particularly active and reactive online, the top 20 advertisers in Bulgaria are spending on average only two per cent of their total advertising budget for digital campaigns, compared to a European average of 24 per cent.

Journalists are subject to many different types of pressure from different sources, like the political and economic establishment, media owners and other interest groups. As a result Bulgarian journalists are resorting to self-censorship on a regular basis.

One form of pressure applied regularly by political representatives is denying interviews to journalists from some media outlets. Journalists are also often subject to verbal attacks from political representatives. In October 2014, at an official commemoration service in front of the Bulgarian cathedral St. Nedelja, Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev verbally attacked a journalist because he was unhappy with an article that the journalist published.

According to some journalists and politicians, the state has been trying to exert influence on the Bulgarian National Radio through the Council for Electronic Media (SEM), which traditionally has one member appointed by the president. The journalist Peter Volgin and his program Dekonstructia have been continuously criticized by the Commission. In February 2014, Radoslav Jankulov, the general director of the Bulgarian National Radio had to appear in front of the Council and supply explanations about why Volgin´s program does not provide for a pluralism of opinions. This case has been strongly criticized since. The Council has been accused of applying political pressure on Volgin and the Bulgarian National Radio. SEM has temporarily stopped his show on the Bulgarian National Radio for being "one-sided". This all happened on the eve of the campaign for the early parliamentary elections.

According to a report published by the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, the data on the media coverage of political actors on national television channels and in dailies prepared by the Market Links agency illustrate the most important trends in the media-politics relations. Boyko Borisov continues to have the leading media presence in 201. His advantage is significant (3,908 references to 2,176 for the second in the ranking, Rosen Plevneliev). Borisov most frequently expresses attitudes to key issues on the country’s agenda as well. In 2014, he did not need a comeback in the media; he only came back to power.

Administrative pressure involves inspections by different controlling bodies such as tax authorities and labour expectations. This type of pressure has been applied in 2014 on a number of occasions by the Bulgarian Financial Supervision Commission. In December 2014, the commission ordered a Bulgarian website that specializes in investigating corruption called Bivol.bg to reveal its sources for stories about questionable bank loans or face a fine. The Bulgarian Financial Supervision Commission, which is responsible for ensuring banking stability and transparency asked Bivol.bg to provide not only its sources, but also the names and addresses of its reporters and supervising editors. According to the letter sent by the commission to the investigative website, its owners were not legally obliged to reveal their sources, but the letter nevertheless warned that the commission could impose a fine ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 EUR if it did not comply. These proceedings by the commission were strongly criticized by international media organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, appointing these letters as a clear attempt to exert pressure to the investigative website.

The weekly Capital received similar letters from the Financial Supervision Commission after publishing stories about the Bulgarian banking sector. In addition, in August the Sofia Regional Prosecution Office started an investigation against Alexey Lazarov, the managing editor of Capital and the editor Nikolay Stoyanov. The investigation was initiated in response to an article about the financial state of one of the big Bulgarian banks. The weekly was accused of committing crimes against the Republic and the public order. According to the prosecution, the article presented facts about the banking system in Bulgaria in a manipulative way, thus creating panic among the readers. The prosecutor’s office has a history of interrogating journalists at the weekly about their investigative work.

Bulgarian media are strongly dependent on advertisers, and in this respect are very often subject to pressure by them. A number of media lamented pressure from advertising clients, and reported numerous cases in which clients terminated their advertising contracts due to negative articles about the company or its products.

Journalists often experience pressure from media owners, who see their media outlets mainly as a tool for helping or protecting their other business interests.

Although journalists were safer in 2014 compared to previous years, a number of violent attacks were reported.

On 2 April 2014 the car of bTV investigative journalist Genka Shikerova was set on fire outside her home in Sofia. The incident marked the second time that Shikerova’s car was set aflame, the first having come in September 2013. Shikerova, the host of the morning show Tazi sutrin (This Morning), said that she had not received any threats in the weeks before the fire. The responsible persons for the 2014 attack have not been identified, and the police investigation into the first attack was closed at the end of 2013.

On 6 April 2014, sports journalist Javor Russev from the website bgsport.bg was attacked by fans of the Sofia Levski football team. The journalist was conversing with five football fans about the situation of the Levski football team. He was aggressively beaten. He managed to escape without major injuries.

On 18 June 2014 politician Kiril Rashkov (“Zar Kiro”), leader of the Roma community, attacked the journalists Radko Paunov from 24 tschassa and Vania Draganova from Pressa daily in front of his hotel in Plovdiv. The reporters had arrived at the hotel on the occasion of an ongoing violent scandal between Rashkov and one of his neighbours. As Rashkov saw the two journalists trying to take photos of the scandal, he attempted to take their camera and even to strangle one of the journalists. When the reporters went to the police department in order to file a complaint, they discovered that Rashkov had filed a complaint against them first. According to the attacked reporters, many people witnessed the assault, but no one intervened because local people fear the Roma leader.

On 5 September 2014, investigative journalist Rosen Tsvetkov from bTV and cameraman Ljuben Katsarov were beaten in the village of Vetovo while filming reportage about telephone scams. The reporters were attacked by relatives of the scammers, who at the time of the attack were under arrest. The attackers threw themselves with slaps and kicks on the reporter and his cameraman, and managed to rip the camera viewfinder. One of the attackers, a 27-year-old man from the Roma minority, was detained. Later the Ruse district court ruled that the perpetrator should be kept in permanent custody.

On 7 September 2014, in Pernik two journalists working for the TV7 television were severely beaten in front of a local disco. The reporters were attacked while working undercover on an investigation on drug trafficking in the town of Pernik. Five of the perpetrators were arrested after the attack. The Pernik district court filed charges on two of them for inflicting bodily injuries on hooligan motives.

Threats are not the only means to prevent reporters from performing their job. The fact that libel is still not decriminalized in Bulgaria allows for heavy fines against journalists and media outlets covering controversial topics.

Defamation is formally a criminal offence, but is not punishable with imprisonment under Article 146 (insult) and 147 (slander) of the Bulgarian Criminal Code. Defaming Bulgarian state symbols is a criminal offence punishable with up to two years in prison. The Criminal Code also allows for “public censure” as a punishment for defamation, and in some cases further sanctions such as an administrative fine or ban on practicing a profession may be imposed. Defamation is usually punishable with a fine from 1,000 to 3,000 BGN (500 to 1,500 EUR) and slander with a fine from 3,000 to 7,000 BGN (1,500 to 3,500 EUR). If insult or defamation are committed publicly or through printed matter, or directed against a public official, the fines increase. For insult the fine is, 3,000 to 10,000 BGN (1,500 to 5,000 EUR) and for slander, 5,000 to 15,000 BGN (2,500 EUR to 7,500 EUR). Civil defamation damages can be claimed under the general terms of the Bulgarian Law of Obligations and Contracts (LOC).

In general, courts tend to respect freedom of the press. Nevertheless, government officials and business people regularly file suits against journalists. In many cases, such court suits lead to self-censorship. Law suits are a particularly effective means to apply pressure, especially when the journalists concerned work for small media or are self-employed and cannot afford to pay expensive court cases, even if they know that they will win in the end.

Such was the case with the Bulgarian banker and real estate owner Petja Slavova, often referred to in the media as the richest woman in Bulgaria. In September 2014 she filed a court suit against e-vestnik, a critical online publication, and its owner and Editor-in-Chief Ivan Bakalov. She claimed that Bakalov should pay in total 100, 000 BGN (50, 000 EUR) compensation for non-pecuniary damage caused by a series of publications published on e-vestnik titled “The cleptocracy”. According to Bakalov, the businesswoman was well aware that the small online publication could not afford a long court process, and she was simply trying to pressure its editor-in-chief to delete the incriminating articles from his website. Bakalov stated on e-vestnik that he would not succumb to this kind of pressure, and that he was determined to prove in court that his investigations presented the truth. A major fund-raising campaign was organized in order to help Bakalov cover his court expenses, as e-vestnik.bg reported.

Not only businessmen have been trying to abuse the law in this way. In the summer of 2014, after a series of bank runs involving Bulgaria's fourth largest credit institution, the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) suggested an amendment to the criminal code criminalizing the spreading of false information on banks. In July, the parliament adopted the amendment on first reading. The text of the draft outlined sentences of two to five years in prison for circulating “false or misleading information” about banks that could “cause panic”. The amendment also foresaw a fine ranging between 5,000 and 10,000 BGN (2,500-5,000 EUR) to be imposed in such cases. The proposals have been strongly criticized by politicians, lawyers and a number of national and international NGOs. After the first reading of the amendment in parliament, members of the legal committee made considerable revisions. The revised amendment removes the danger of censorship by tightening up the language, which now refers to disseminating “false” banking information. Potential fines for those publishing such information were increased, but the possibility of prison has been eliminated.

The lack of media ownership transparency remains one of the main challenges for media freedom in Bulgaria. There are a number of media owned by off-shore companies. Even in the cases when the owners are known, it is still difficult to access information about their interests and finances. In recent years in Bulgaria, several media conglomerates were created that are in fierce competition with one another. The animosities between the media companies also mirror the political divisions in the country.

Bulgaria’s media landscape is dominated by less than a handful of large players, a situation that has repeatedly been a matter of concern at European and Bulgarian level. New Bulgarian Media Group (NBMG), the largest media organization in the country, was a subject of major concern. This was not only because of its predominant place in Bulgaria’s newspaper market, but also due to its close connection with the ruling axis. It is a public secret that Delyan Peevski, an MP of the predominantly ethnic Turkish party the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, controls the group. However, the company was officially owned by Peevski’s mother, Irena Krasteva. The suspicion that Peevski was controlling the media conglomerate behind the curtains did not cease when, in April 2014, NBMG was surprisingly sold to a little-known Irish company called Media Maker.

The deal seemed suspicious because the company was created two days before the announcement of the deal. It also caused eyebrow-raising because the deal was finished just a month before Bulgaria´s European Parliament elections, in which Peevski hoped to be elected as a MEP.

Only a few days after the surprising deal, mass-circulation daily Trud and its sister publication Yellow Trud also changed owners. The preliminary agreement on the change of hands was signed by Media Holding’s Venelina Gocheva and Petyo Bluskov. Trud and 24 Chassa came into the stewardship of Gocheva, who was until then a senior editorial staff member. The previous owners, the business people Lyubomir Pavlov and Ognyan Donev came under considerable pressure from external forces and were forced to sell the publications. According to local media reports, Bluskov had expressed positive attitude towards Peevski and previously had dealings with Krasteva, to whom he had sold publications he had founded.