Earlier this month the Commission ordered the Economedia publishing group to pay a record fine of 150,000 leva (approx. 80,000 euros). The group, which publishes the weekly Capital and the daily Dnevnik, also received an additional fine of 10,000 (5,000 euros) for refusing to disclose its sources.
The commission based its case on the law against market manipulation. A fine of 100,000 leva stemmed from complaints by the construction firms Vodstroy 98 and Industrial Construction Holding. Capital reported that the two firms, controlled by the entrepreneur and politician Delyan Peevski of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, had withdrawn their assets from the First Investment Bank (Fibank). Economedia must also pay a fine of 50,000 leva (approx. 25,000 euros) for publishing a story about the pharmaceutical company Sophorama.
It was the first time that the Financial Supervision Commission had imposed such high fines. The total of fines imposed for market manipulation for 2013 was less than the fine received by Economedia alone.
“The commission is clearly trying to silence these newspaper which, for several years, have been disclosing serious irregularities in the financial sector,” said Reporters Without Borders programme director Lucie Morillon.
Record fines aimed at censuring media
Other news organizations have also been hit by sanctions imposed by the Financial Supervision Commission and the Bulgarian National Bank.
In early January, the online newspaper zovnews.com was fined 100,000 leva by the commission for reporting that Fibank was under threat of bankruptcy. One journalist who was not identified was fined 50,000 leva.
Late last year, the Financial Supervision Commission also launched similar legal proceedings against two other news organizations – the websites mediapool.bg and bivol.bg.
“The Financial Supervision Commission attacks news organizations that mention the banking crisis … and the inability of institutions and politicians to respond to it resolutely and decisively,” said Alexander Kashumov, a lawyer and campaigner for freedom of expression who represents Economedia. “Instead of punishing those responsible for the instability, they target the messenger.”
Tried and tested modus operandi
The Financial Supervision Commission launched major proceedings against Capital and Economedia in summer 2014 and since then the editorial department of Capital has received dozens of letters containing allegations of infringements of the law. It was also ordered to disclose its sources.
“Instead of working to restore stability and confidence in the financial system, the commission has undertaken extreme action against the media,” said Galya Prokopieva, managing director of Economedia. “In doing so, it has revealed the extent of the institutional crisis among financial regulators.”
Yesterday, 200 people demonstrated in protest against the fines outside the Bulgarian Parliament in response to an appeal by the recently launched NGO Free Word
The right to a fair trial is protected under article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states: “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge … everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.” The commission’s actions are now threatening this right.
“The Financial Supervision Commission is incapable of guaranteeing impartiality, independence and the right to be heard,” said Lucie Morillon. “It is part of the banking world and should not in any circumstances prevail over the Bulgarian constitution, which is the guarantor of freedom of the press. Furthermore, the commission has no jurisdiction over the rights of the media and it is the responsibility of the Bulgarian government not to ensure the media are not censored by the imposition of such high fines.”
Bulgaria is ranked 100th of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, the lowest position of any European Union country.