After the government’s failure to make press freedom a priority, the recommendations are being targeted at all the political parties and at the Bulgarian public. Drafted with the help of Bulgarian media experts, they aim to turn press freedom into the subject of a national debate and an election issue ahead of the poll on 4 April.
These elections are crucial because they will determine the composition of Bulgaria’s next government and will decide who is to be prime minister, the most powerful person in the country’s political system.
“Press freedom has reached an impasse in Bulgaria and independent media are on the brink of disappearing,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s EU and Balkans desk. “These parliamentary elections provide an opportunity for action by domestic political forces and every voter who is concerned about the freedom and quality of the media.”
Proposals about journalists’ safety are included in these new recommendations. In 2020, RSF registered numerous cases of violence against reporters in connection with their work, while the authorities have struggled to respond to these abuses.
The instigator of an attack against Slavi Angelov, an investigative reporter for the 168 Chasa website, was not brought to justice. The chief public prosecutor’s office refused to investigate the beating that freelance journalist Dimiter Kenarov received from the police when arrested last September. Nikolay Staykov, a journalist working with the Anti-Corruption Fund, an NGO, was given the protection only after RSF’s intervention, while those behind the death threats against him and behind an attack on his home have still not been identified.
Bulgaria’s media professionals are often subjected to judicial and economic harassment, while media critical of the government are denied state advertising and access to information. The independence of public broadcasters suffers from political interference while, in a conflict of interests, some privately-owned media are used to inflict reprisals without regard to journalistic ethics.
RSF’s recommendations address these different issues and are intended to be combined with the proposal - submitted to the Bulgarian government a year ago, but left without a response - to create an independent and pluralistic national commission for improving press freedom in Bulgaria.
Bulgaria is ranked 111th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, the lowest position of any EU country.