German Ambassador in Sofia protests against censorship in a local newspaper

209

In a letter to the managing editors of the ‘Monitor’ daily, Petya Baharova and Todor Varchev, published on the embassy website, the German Ambassador in Sofia, Matthias Hoepfner, expressed surprise and concern because of the cuts made in an interview of his published in the newspaper on October, reports BTA.According to the Ambassador, what was cut out was his ‘unequivocal criticism of the problematic structures in the Bulgarian media landscape.’
Hoepfner says he was left with the impression that some of the thoughts he had shared were puposefully removed to avoid a critical clash with the subject of media freedom in Bulgaria. According to him, the interview gives readers a warped idea of  his actual opinion of the political situation in the country.
The parts which were removed include one in which he says that the concentration of ownership of media companies into the hands  of several persons only is very problematic. He also expressed concern about the transparency of media ownership,
autocensorship of journalists, covert advertisement and paid articles.
We are publishing an English translation of the letter, available in Bulgarian on the official website of the German Embassy:

Dear Mrs Baharova, dear Mr Varchev,

The interview I gave for your newspaper on 23.10.2012, raised some astonishment in me as well as great concern. I am under the impression that some of the thoughts I shared have been purposefully cut short, to avoid critical debate on the issue of media freedom in Bulgaria. In this manner, the interview presents the readers with a distorted view of my current evaluation of the political situation in the country.

Last Thursday, your correspondent Mrs Todorova asked me the question in which areas is Bulgaria developing positively and where more efforts are needed. When in my answer I talked about the problematic structures of the Bulgarian media landscape, Mrs Todorova asked me a follow up question. How was that visible. I replied that the concentration of ownership of media companies in the hands of several people is very problematic. There should be transparency in relations to the ownership. The economic interests behind a media should be clearly known. Many journalists would censor themselves to please the interests of the owners. A big problem is the hidden advertising and the paid articles. The hidden advertising is one of the points which are explicitly forbidden in German media law.

I understand that because of spacial limitations some of the questions from the interview had to be cut shot. The version, which was published at the end, was not in the form agreed upon and represents a distortion in the meaning which I cannot accept.

Mrs Todorova informed us in advance, that some of the questions about culture and education could not be published, due to lack of space. With this we agreed. In the version which was coordinated with us before print, the above mentioned issues, which we consider important, were still present. In the printed interview there is no mention of the follow up question by Mrs Todorova, and the criticism of the media landscape has been reduced to half a sentence in the question about the positive and negative political developments in Bulgaria. This uncoordinated omission raises the suspicion that the editor purposefully removed the issue from the interview.

As a citizen of the European union and a member of a community of values, which categorically stands for and commits to the freedom of media, I cannot tolerate any attempts for suppressing criticism. Here I share a thought by George Orwell “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.“In the light of what happened, I believe you will understand that I shall not give any more interviews for your newspaper.

Regards,

Mathias Hopfner