Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. However, the government's manipulation of media and the judiciary's lack of independence are cause for concern. Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by high fines. The number of defamation suits against journalists increased slightly in 2005; most of these were filed in response to published reports detailing corruption of high-level officials. Although most did not result in fines, the threat of legal action led some to practice self-censorship. In 2005, the Parliament adopted a strategy for developing broadcast radio and television, which aims to increase media pluralism and transform Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) and Bulgarian National Television (BNT) into public operators. The strategy also envisions strengthening the government-appointed media watchdog, the Council for Electronic Media (CEM). Because the strategy was not adopted until September, the CEM was unable to disseminate new licenses in 2005, although it was still able to regulate programming. The CEM is frequently criticized for its lack of independence in appointing the directors of both BNT and BNR. In February, the Supreme Administrative Court confirmed the 2004 CEM dismissal of the BNT director.
Media outlets express a diverse range of public and political views, in most cases without government interference. Although BNT, BNR, and the country's state-owned news bureau, the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency, were often very critical of the government's actions, inefficient legislation leaves the state-owned media vulnerable to government influence. Local media organizations reported that politicized intimidation from local authorities and organized crime and dismissals from media managers were the biggest obstacles to press freedom. In September, unidentified persons set on fire the Vratsa office of the highest-circulating national daily, Trud. The attack followed a threat against a local correspondent whose article revealed that a local businessman had links to organized crime.
There are a large number of private media outlets as well as publications disseminated by political parties and interest groups. However, BNT and BNR have yet to be fully transformed into public service broadcasters, and as such, they continue to depend on state funds as the transformation process lengthens. Owing to unreformed finances, both are also often vulnerable to corporate interests. Finding and maintaining sources of financing continue to be major problems for most of the independent Bulgarian media, which are forced to rely heavily on advertising subsidies. Internet access is not restricted by government.