Bulgaria | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Bulgaria

Bulgaria

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

33

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

12

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

11

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. Defamation is punishable by high fines, and in previous years many suits were filed in response to published reports detailing the corruption of high-level officials. Although the courts usually declined to impose fines, the threat of legal action has led to some self-censorship. No libel lawsuits were reported in 2007. The law on freedom of information is considered fairly strong, but in some cases state institutions reportedly resist information requests from journalists despite court rulings in their favor. Press freedom and freedom of information advocates expressed concern in May 2007 after the parliament granted initial approval to proposed reforms that would restrict access to information and increase fees and time limits for information requests. In April, an independent commission tasked with opening the Communist-era archives of the state security service began its work, vetting candidates for European Parliament elections the following month. Prior to the 2006 legislation that created the new panel, the files had been at the disposal of the interior minister, which led to selective leaks on politicians and other public figures, including journalists. In September 2007, the commission identified dozens of public figures who had collaborated with the Communist-era security services, including the president and 19 current members of parliament. The files would eventually be open to the public, subject to certain national security restrictions.

Media outlets express a diverse range of public and political views, in most cases without government interference. However, the country’s reporters continue to face pressure and intimidation aimed at protecting economic, political, and criminal interests. The perpetrators often operate with impunity, leading to some self-censorship among journalists. In February 2007, two men entered the offices of the weekly Politika and threatened to throw acid at writer Maria Nikolayeva if she continued reporting on possible corruption linked to real estate developments in Strandzha national park. The paper published her follow-up story, but an unidentified buyer purchased all the copies from the distributor in Burgas, the administrative center of the region that includes Strandzha. Nikolayeva’s coauthor in the series was beaten by a group of men in Burgas later in the year. In another February incident, Ataka party leader Volen Siderov and a mob of supporters entered the offices of the daily 24 Chasa and the 168 Chasa weekly to complain about an article alleging that the ultranationalist Ataka had received funding from an ethnic Turkish party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. The men physically threatened and verbally abused journalists at the papers, and a pro-Ataka television station aired their names and addresses, leading to more threats. The party staged a protest against “media lies and manipulation” in early March. In May, five police officers used batons to beat photojournalist Emil Ivanov as he attempted to comply with their order to delete photographs he had just taken of unusually tight security surrounding a witness outside a courthouse in Sofia. The assault was recorded by fellow journalists, but the officers were not punished.

Top private and public media outlets are generally free of political affiliations. The popular state-owned Bulgarian National Television and Bulgarian National Radio are often critical of the government, and large foreign media firms play a major role in the private print and television markets. Germany’s Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ), for example, owns the two leading dailies, Trud and 24 Chasa. However, smaller regional stations and publications struggle financially, providing low salaries to reporters and weak scrutiny of local officials. Many traditional media outlets have established a presence on the internet, which is unrestricted by the government and used by about 30 percent of the population.