The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute, condemns the use of hate speech in Bulgarian media, and ‘online lynching’, to target Mirolyuba Benatova, an award-winning investigative journalist and star reporter for the private TV channel bTV.
Benatova was one of the first Bulgarian reporters to arrive in the village of Katunitsa on 23 September 2011 to cover ethnic clashes between ethnic Bulgarians and Roma as a result of the alleged deliberate killing of a Bulgarian youngster by a Roma man. When clashes erupted and Roma houses started burning, Benatova reported that the protesters were not only locals, but also football fans from nearby towns. According to her critics, she used derogatory words to describe those around her.
The journalist has since come under a barrage of verbal fire and a victim of hate speech in Bulgarian media; Facebook users have bombarded her with offensive ethnic and political insults.
Although her employer has stood by her, Facebook administrators reportedly banned – with surprising speed – her personal account upon the request of a Facebook group named “Mirolyuba Benatova – enemy of the Bulgarian People”.
Alarmed by the insults, threats and anti-Semitic comments, Benatova sent a note to the online publication Novinite.com: “They demanded that I apologise for calling those they see as representatives of civil society ‘football club fans who behaved outrageously’.” The boys, who took pictures with Nazi gestures in front of the fire, demanded that I say they were righteously angered citizens.”
“Although SEEMO defends press freedom, we strongly condemn hate speech,” said SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic. “I urge Bulgarian media and the online community to refrain from ethnic and religious insults. There are proper channels through which to address any complaints regarding journalists‘ reporting. I hope that Facebook administrators reconsider their decision. Press freedom is not the freedom to disseminate ethnic hatred and intolerance.”