Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging Bulgaria to take concrete action to support local media outlets that disseminate reliable news and information, saying the country “combines all of the problems for press freedom that exist in various parts of Europe.”
In a statement on September 27, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog cited “physical attacks and smear campaigns” against journalists, “impunity for crimes of violence” against them, judicial harassment, bias in public media, corruption, disinformation, lack of media pluralism, as well as “bias and opaqueness in the distribution of state aid to the media, to the detriment of independent media outlets.”
Bulgaria is ranked 112th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
As Bulgaria prepares to hold on November 14 its third parliamentary elections this year, along with a presidential vote, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk, Pavol Szalai, made a visit to Sofia last week “to press for a concerted effort to defend the right to news and information,” the group said.
While in Bulgaria’s capital, Szalai called on Culture Minister Velislav Minekov as well as other officials and leading national politicians to “implement measures to encourage reliable reporting and to support independent Bulgarian media outlets,” according to the statement.
Szalai asked Minekov, who is part of an interim government that was appointed pending the upcoming parliamentary polls, to “sanction media outlets that do not respect their legal obligations to declare income from public funding and certain donors in a dedicated central register.”
Szalai also called, among other things, for the creation of “a transparent and fair system for allocating state advertising.”
During a meeting with members of the Electronic Media Council (CEM), Szalai asked the public regulator to enforce the independence of Bulgaria’s public broadcast media, “especially public television, which distinguished itself by its support for the then government during the snap elections held in July.”
RSF also held talks with several leading political parties that are running in the upcoming elections, asking them to “make news reliability a key issue in their campaigns and, if elected, to consider implementing “measures to improve the physical safety of journalists and protect them against judicial harassment, including abusive lawsuits.”