Bulgarian reporter’s defamation conviction sets dangerous precedent
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a Bulgarian journalist’s criminal defamation
conviction for criticizing the former head of Bulgaria’s Financial Supervision Commission
(FSC). It sets a dangerous precedent for investigative journalism in a country that already
has the European Union’s worst press freedom ranking, RSF said.
Rossen Bossev, a reporter for the Bulgarian business weekly Capital Weekly, was fined 500 euros by a Sofia court on 21 May on a charge of defaming former FSC chairman Stoyan Mavrodiev in a TV interview in January 2015.
In the interview, Bossev said Mavrodiev had “facilitated money laundering of a sum acquired through drug trafficking” and had “used the FSC to put financial pressure” on Capital Weekly and Dnevnik, a daily owned by the same publisher.
While not disputing the facts of the first statement, the court nonetheless ruled that it was defamatory on the grounds that Mavrodiev was not convicted in the money-laundering case to which Bossev referred. And the court ruled that the second statement was defamatory because the heavy fines imposed on Capital Weekly and Dnevnik were signed by Mavrodiev’s deputy, not Mavrodiev himself.
“Although the size of Rossen Bossev’s fine, 500 euros, was symbolic, we regard this decision as an impediment to investigative journalism, one likely to set a precedent,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk. “Furthermore, as the judge in this case was Petya Krancheva, who had been criticized several times in the past by Bossev in his Capital Weekly articles, we question this decision’s impartiality.”
Despite Bossev’s request, Krancheva refused to recuse herself in the case, claiming that she had never read his articles criticizing her.
In a joint statement several days after Bossev’s conviction, his colleagues said it was designed to ”suppress critical journalism.” This is not the first defamation case against a Capital Weekly journalists, but none of the others has been brought before a criminal court.
“We believe that journalism serves a necessary and integral corrective function in democracy” in the event of threats to “the best interests of citizens and business,” the statement said.
As no appeal is possible against the court’s verdict, Bossev and his lawyer have announced that they intend to refer the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Bulgaria is ranked 111th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, the lowest position in the EU