The Ethical Journalism Network, together with their partners the Evens Foundation and Fritt Ord Foundation, have produced the following report which looks at the challenges that the media are facing in Bulgaria. This report is part of a series of reports that will be published over the coming months on the media situations in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. It includes a set of clear recommendations for the media and policy communities to take forward.
Building Trust in Journalism – Bulgaria
This policy report provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities that the media are facing in Bulgaria. Based on a number of interviews that took place with key Bulgarian media stakeholders, it finds that the situation of Bulgarian media is worsening with
freedom of press and professional journalistic practice under severe threat. These findings are in line with its RSF Press Freedom Ranking of 111th place in 2020, the lowest ranking of any European country*. Control of the media continues to be retained by pro-government allies and oligarchs who have created an environment where sensational and tabloid journalism is thriving at the expense of quality outlets. Independent media and journalism that holds power to account is in danger of being eliminated as independent financial investment and trust in the media are at all-time lows. The few ethical pockets that remain are subject to intimidation and harassment from their counterparts in the tabloid private press which are owned by oligarch structures aligned to the government. While narratives are not yet overtly nationalistic, hate speech and discrimination against certain minority groups and NGOs prevail in some of the private media and there is little recrimination from the public or government. Disinformation and a lack of verification of facts are also rife. These circumstances are creating an environment where the reputation of journalism continues to suffer and worsen.
The Bulgarian media landscape is divided based on attitudes towards the main objectives and principles of journalism. There are those who produce quality ethical content and then those who see the media as a tool for propaganda.
The media in Bulgaria is subject to financial constraints and as a result some of the media has been captured by those with political and financial connections with the government and those in power.
Independence in the television market has almost been destroyed with both public and private television channels subject to political influence, mainly by actors who are close to the government and whose concern for the public interest is considered to be questionable.
The majority of the print market, newspapers and distribution, is governed by the media empire of Delyan Peevski, a Bulgarian politician and oligarch who owns a number of newspapers and websites and indirectly controls many others. These publications are known for their pro-government tabloid-style journalism and lack of impartial factual reporting and are used as a tool to promote negative campaigns against those who uphold democratic values.
Freedom of press is under attack as critical voices continue to be silenced through financial and security threats. Job security is extremely low and self-censorship is often practised as a means of avoiding harassment and intimidation. Smear campaigns against media platforms and individual journalists are commonplace.
Ethical journalism principles such as accuracy, accountability and impartiality are under threat in some parts of the media sphere. Fact-checking is often missed out of the editorial and publication process in many Bulgarian newsrooms.
The mainstream media in Bulgaria are still treating minorities – ethnic, religious, and gender – problematically and hate speech against certain groups is allowed to be published with little evidence of any regulation or protocol in this field.
Trust in the media, like trust in the state, is at an all-time low in Bulgaria and there are few initiatives to educate the public on issues such as media ownership, financing or literacy. Disinformation and a lack of accuracy are further perpetuating this lack of trust. This policy report provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities that the media are facing in Bulgaria.
* Reporters Sans Frontieres (2020). Press Freedom Index Bulgaria, [online] Available at: https://rsf.org/en/bulgaria (Accessed 12 June
The Evens Foundation aims to contribute to rethinking and building a European reality committed to the values of diversity, freedom, responsibility and solidarity. We identify and support innovative ideas and achievements through our prizes and calls, initiate experimental projects bridging the gap between research and practice, and facilitate knowledge exchange through our lectures, seminars, debates and publications.
The Fritt Ord Foundation is a private non-profit foundation that is intended to protect and promote freedom of expression, public debate, art and culture. We work internationally, concentrating on projects directly related to freedom of expression and free journalism.