A Regional Media Outlet in Bulgaria May Lose its Domain in a Struggle with a Municipal Mayor

The existence of the only online media outlet in the town of Novi Iskar (14 km north of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city) is under threat after Daniela Raycheva, the mayor of the capital district of the same name, has decided to challenge the media’s use of the domain name NOVIISKAR.BG. As an official, Raycheva has requested an arbitrary procedure with Register BG Ltd., the organization in charge of registering domain names with the extension .BG.
The Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria) was contacted by Valentin Todorov, the journalist who registered the website under this name seven years ago and has since been working toward popularizing it as a media outlet. Todorov acquired the domain in 2010 and has a declaration in which Valentin Kotov, the then-mayor of the district, explicitly states that he will not claim the name while it is active.
Todorov sent a copy of the declaration, signed by Mr. Kotov, to AEJ-Bulgaria. Mr. Kotov’s successor, who apparently has a different opinion, requested the opening of an arbitrary procedure in the end of June.
The procedure is expected to take a month. Then, a commission has to decide whether the administration of the district of Novi Iskar may acquire the domain despite the former mayor’s explicit statement that he would not use it. According to the general terms set out by Register BG Ltd., the names of municipalities and regions are reserved for domains registered by the respective administrations. However, according to Article 5.3.4 of these general terms, when the name is already in use, the parties willing to use it must either choose another name or wait until it becomes vacant again.
The case transcends the purely technological matters, entering areas such as the inviolability of private ownership and the right to access to information. There arises the question as to whether the public administration may, whenever it wishes, make claims in relation to something it has given away and which a citizen owns and has invested in for years. Equally important is the issue of access to information. Trust is a media outlet’s greatest capital and it is inseparably connected to its name. Taking over the name of a media outlet in which someone has invested different resources for years may well constitute a blow to freedom of expression.
Valentin Todorov suspects that there might be a connection between the district mayor’s actions and the fact that his website “often publishes stories that are clearly critical of the many problems in Novi Iskar, an underdeveloped district in terms of infrastructure and economy.”
AEJ-Bulgaria will be following the development of this case. It also plans to seek legal and expert support for the local media outlet in its struggle with the municipal administration.

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