Bulgarian society has been deprived of the opportunity to be informed about the referendum


The Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria) is concerned that the Bulgarian society has been deprived of the opportunity to be objectively informed in order to take its decision on the upcoming national referendum on the development of nuclear energy.  The problems lays in the fact that financial barriers have been applied on the participants in the information campaign in the media. Therefore, AEJ-Bulgaria insists that any paid content in the media regarding the referendum has to be clearly labelled as ”paid advertisement”.
Unfortunately, like during electoral campaigns, the information about the referendum is mostly subsidized, including content in the public media. Yet, the majority of the audience is kept unaware of that fact, as the published and broadcast materials are not being marked as paid ones.
On 19th December 2012 the Council of Ministers of the Republic Bulgaria adopted a decree on a new list of prices concerning the broadcasting by the Bulgarian National Television (BNT) and the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) during the campaign for the national referendum which will leave the Bulgarian citizens to decide on the question “Should nuclear energybe developed in Republic of Bulgaria by building a new nuclear power plant? “. According to the approved tariffs the price per minute for participation in a public debate on BNT costs 180 leva, while a minute in BNR is 70 leva. Chronicles, including the cost of their preparation, cost respectively 920 and 300 levs per minute. Broadcasting the introductory and closing videos is worth a 1400 leva per minute on BNT and 380 lev per minute to 15:00 pm at BNR, program Horizont. Video clips on BNT from Monday to Friday between 06:00 and 22:00 cost around 825 and 2255 leva per minute. However, the Government’s official document does not require for the information, which in its nature is subsidized, to be marked as such. Therefore, AEJ-Bulgaria is afraid that the consumers of the media content could be misled.
Furthermore, the price of 180 leva per minute for participation in a debate places a financial barrier for the pluralism of opinions and implies the possibility of limiting this pluralism by economic mechanisms. In consequence, the debate turns into a collision of lobbies rather than a competition of different points of view for the development of the country.
For that reason AEJ-Bulgaria appeals for all debates, reports and messages concerning the referendum and for which the participants pay, to be marked in the appropriate manner as “subsidized messages”. In a long-term perspective, the practice of putting limitations to the pluralism of opinions by applying financial barriers has to be eradicated completely, as it violates the basic democratic principles of freedom of speech and freedom of choice.

AEJ-Bulgaria would like to join the initiative of the Program for access to information, which, on 7th January 2013 sent an official request for information to the Parliament and the Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism. The organization demands that all the official documents, which can help the citizens determine their opinion on the future of nuclear energy has to be published online as well as in paper version. According to Ar.45 of the Law on Safe Use of Nuclear Energy, before deciding on the construction of a nuclear power plant, the Minister is obliged to prepare assessments of on the nuclear safety, on the social and economic effect of the project as well as the nuclear energy and nuclear waste management. If the Parliament declares to the citizens the right to decide on the construction of a new power plant, then the citizens have to be provided with the three assessments (if completed). According to the Aaarhus Convention, which has been ratified by Bulgaria, the citizens have the right to access to information as well as the right to participation in the decision-making process in regards to questions on the environment. We demanded to be provided on the documentation on the three evaluations in electronic format. The deadline for receiving an answer according to Art. 28 of the Law on Access to Information is “as soon as possible, but not later than 21 January 2013. Considering the fact that the referendum will be held on 27th January, we expect to receive the answer as soon as possible.*
*The text in italic has been copied from the blog of Program for Access to Information.