RSF asks President Radev to defuse Bulgaria’s press freedom “crisis”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) secretary-general Christophe Deloire met with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev in Sofia today to discuss how to improve respect for press freedom in his country, which is ranked 111th in the World Press Freedom Index. Bulgaria is embroiled in an extremely serious “media civil war” situation that could be exacerbated by the new prosecutor-general’s appointment, Deloire warned.
Urging Radev to use all of his powers to guarantee press freedom in Bulgaria, Deloire deplored the harassment of Bulgaria’s journalists (using arbitrary administrative and judicial procedures), political manipulation of the media (exploiting unequal political and economic power relations) and the deliberate creation of a climate bordering on “media civil war.”
“We must do something to improve professional practices, and to obtain more transparency and a stable legal framework for the media,” President Radev said during the meeting.
Radev has himself expressed concern in the past. In November 2018, he said: “Professional media standards have collapsed and, as a result, so too has the public’s trust in the news and information it receives. Pluralism has been stifled by propaganda. Free speech is being punished.”
Last month, after a public radio journalist’s suspension and an outcry when the radio station was taken off the air for several hours to cover up an internal dispute, Radev said: “The suspension of national radio broadcasting has again shown the importance of knowing who governs the public media and how they are governed (...) Free speech is fundamental in a democracy. Bulgaria is clearly in a crisis.”
With a World Press Freedom Index ranking that is the European Union’s lowest, Bulgaria does not need the added concern that the appointment of the next prosecutor-general is causing. The judge proposed by the government, Ivan Geshev, has recent made extremely scathing comments about media outlets that are not to his liking, raising fears about possible reprisals. Without regard to procedure, without evidence and in violation of his duty to be impartial and principled, Geshev has expressed himself in terms that suggest that Bulgarian democracy is in great danger.
During today’s meeting, in which Pauline Adès-Mevel, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk also participated, RSF asked Radev to deliver a solemn address to the nation and parliament to remind them of the principles of justice and the fact that judges and civil servants, especially those who represent society’s interests, are obliged to scrupulously respect the fundamental right to freedom of opinion and expression.
RSF also asked President Radev to ensure that Bulgaria’s legislation respects the country’s international obligations, starting with article 11 of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Finally, Deloire referred to Bulgaria’s signature of the International Partnership on Information and Democracy, a partnership that is the result of an RSF initiative. This inter-governmental document was the subject of a presentation and signing session at an Alliance for Multilateralism event on 26 September, during the UN General Assembly in New York. Bulgarian foreign minister Ekaterina Zaharieva, who attended the event, signed the document without RSF being informed in advance.
“We will make sure that, with regard to all of its media, Bulgaria adheres to both the letter and the spirit of this document, which above all concerns the online information and communication space,” Deloire said.
During today’s meeting, RSF also explained the Journalism Trust Initiative, a self-regulatory project launched by RSF that is designed to encourage the media to comply with the highest journalistic standards in the digital era.
Bulgaria is ranked 111th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.