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Bulgarian National Radio Chief Sacked In Free Speech Row


Svetoslav Kostov suspended a live talk show for five hours in September.
Svetoslav Kostov suspended a live talk show for five hours in September.

Bulgaria's broadcast regulator has sacked the chief of Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) for taking the channel off the air for several hours last month in a row with a presenter known for covering the country’s corruption-prone judicial system.

The five members of the Council for Electronic Media on October 17 voted to oust Svetoslav Kostov as BNR general director, saying that briefly suspending a live talk show for five hours represented a “grave violation” of Bulgarians' right to information.

Anton Mitov, the director of the state-run broadcaster's archive department, was appointed as BNR interim head.

The September 13 shutdown occurred after BNR the previous day decided to suspend journalist Silvia Velikova from her job, claiming she had violated her contract by urging listeners while on air to join a protest over the appointment of Bulgaria's next chief prosecutor.

The move to suspend Velikova, who has denied the accusation, led to protests by journalists outside the BNR building and to the shutdown of the broadcasts for what it called technical maintenance of transmitters.

Velikova has since been reinstated.

Bulgaria ranks 111th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

Meeting with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev in Sofia on October 17, RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said there was a “media civil war” in the country, according to the Paris-based media freedom watchdog.

Among other things, Deloire cited the harassment of journalists in Bulgaria using “arbitrary administrative and judicial procedures” and “political manipulation of the media,” a statement said.

RSF also raised concern over the appointment of the country’s next prosecutor-general, saying that the judge proposed by the government, Ivan Geshev, had recently "made extremely scathing comments about media outlets that are not to his liking, raising fears about possible reprisals.”

“Without regard to procedure, without evidence, and in violation of his duty to be impartial and principled, Geshev has expressed himself in terms that suggest that Bulgarian democracy is in great danger,” the statement added.

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