Media freedom in one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the European Union is fragile and unstable. The few independent voices in Bulgaria work under constant pressure.
Television (BNT, bTV, Nova, etc.) and internet media are the main sources of information with print media progressively losing influence. The political affiliation of the members of the Council for Electronic Media negatively affects the editorial independence of the public media, while the independence of private media is threatened by their owners’ interests in regulated sectors. Radio Free Europe (RFE) reopened its bureau in Sofia in 2019.
Intimidation from politicians as well as administrative and judicial pressures against publishers and journalists are a common practice. After nearly 12 years of uninterrupted rule of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, during which media freedom was in decline and certain outlets were used for exercising political influence, Bulgaria went through a series of early elections in 2021.
By meeting the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights and its case law, the general legislative framework sets minimum standards for the protection of journalists. At the same time, corruption, insufficient independence and low efficiency of the justice system make the state often toothless vis-a-vis press freedom violations. Independent media and investigative journalists are regularly victims of abusive procedures, or SLAPPs.
The media are almost entirely dependent on income from advertising, in which the state plays an important role. Distribution of national and EU funds to the media by the government is completely non-transparent, which allows the trading of public funding for favorable coverage.
Investigative reporters covering organized crime and corruption are regularly threatened. In addition, media specializing in minority issues or funded by foundations from Western Europe and the United States are frequently confronted with hostility and hate campaigns.
Threats and physical assaults against journalists in Bulgaria are a persistent problem, but an even bigger issue is the unwillingness of the authorities to investigate or condemn them. Journalists working outside the capital city are even more exposed to such threats.