AEJ-Bulgaria condemns overt political pressure over public service broadcaster

The Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria) opposes the direct and overt political pressure exercised by Volen Siderov, a member of parliament and leader of political party ATAKA, which is part of the governing coalition, on air at the Bulgarian National Television (BNT).
As a guest on the talk show “More from the day” on BNT 1, Siderov made unacceptable assessments related to the work of BNT journalist Goran Blagoev. Along with making qualifications, Siderov asked whether Blagoev continues to be the host of the show “Faith and society”, wrapping it all up with a rhetorical “Seriously?”. Disguised as a question, this action represents an obvious call for the removal of the journalist. Particularly worrying is the fact that all this happened not only overtly – an indication of Siderov’s arrogance and sense of impunity – but also on a show whose host, Emil Koshlukov, also serves as BNT 1’s programme director. In other words, a politician attempts to push a director at the public service broadcaster to take measures against one of his subordinate journalists.
Unfortunately, Koshlukov did not respond adequately to Siderov’s remarks. On the one hand, Koshlukov could have asked the party leader not to talk about a person who is not present at the studio. On the other hand, the programme director and talk show host could have taken a much firmer stance in support of his colleagues in the light of the attempt to put them under political pressure.
Given the long-lasting relationship between Siderov, a former journalist and current politician, and Koshlukov, a former politician and current journalist, it is unclear on what basis they talked to each other, switching from formal to informal expressions, and vice versa. The case becomes even more complicated when one takes into account that Koshlukov has previously worked at ATAKA’s party TV station.
Besides the bitter taste it leaves, this case highlights the potential for a conflict of interests when a person simultaneously serves as BNT 1’s programme director and hosts a show at the same broadcaster. It also shows, once again, how vulnerable to political pressure Bulgarian journalists are, confirming the findings of surveys AEJ-Bulgaria has conducted in the past.
Siderov’s actions remind us of the behavior of his coalition partner Valeri Simeonov on Nova Television in October 2017. Despite the outrage he triggered, Simeonov remains deputy prime minister for economic and demographic policy in the GERB-led coalition government headed by Boyko Borisov.
AEJ-Bulgaria calls on all Bulgarian journalists to respond firmly to politicians trying to put political pressure over media representatives. Such politicians should under no circumstances enjoy media comfort. We recall that Siderov has in the past been convicted of hooligan actions and therefore should not be allowed to behave in such a way at TV studios.

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