More than half (52%) of the journalists in Bulgaria admit that political pressure is continuously exercised upon their media. More than 30% say that they themselves were pressured by politicians. Owners, on the other hand, are not denying those worrisome facts. They admit that they use their media for influence rather than as business. Those are some of the results from the “Pressure on media: owners, politicians and advertisers” survey by “Reporter” Foundation with the support of the Sofia bureau and the Media Programme for South-East Europe of Foundation “Konrad Adenauer ” – Bulgaria. The project includes anonymous interviews with more than 100 journalists from national and regional media as well as 15 media owners conducted in a period of nine months in 2014.
„Many of the journalists in Bulgaria do not reckon themselves as independent. Their job is not sufficiently protected from external pressure“, said Orlin Spasov, Chairman of “Media Democracy” Foundation. When examining the results it is clear that one out of three journalists is on pressure by advertisers and one in every four witnessed her/ his publications being pulled out. Around half of the interviewed owners admit that there is sufficient pressure coming from the advertisers. Two of them confess that they have received threats from members of the executive and legislative authorities.
Christian Spar, head of the Media Programme for South-East Europe of Foundation “Konrad Adenauer”, emphasizes on the huge part that self-censorship takes in the Bulgarian media. Around 30% of journalists admit that if a material they made is to be published it has to follow the trend set by the media owner. According to him the reason for those tendencies is the difficult economical situation as well as the lack of consensus on the role of the media in a democratic society.
Some of the anonymous interviews are pointing to the fact that certain media deliberately missed to report on information widely disputed in social networks. As a result different media are losing public trust in exchange of their good relations with the authorities. A particularly disturbing fact is the large-scale corruption. “Different companies and PR agencies are often addressing journalists with small amounts of money, little things like fashionable clothes, mobile phones in order to make them present the public advertisements as independent information. Chief Editors are paid five, even six digit amounts of money for “good intentions” towards certain people or institutions. Owners got offered even bigger amounts of cash for the positive “general attitude” of the media towards a certain political power. The ultimate record is 5 million leva” says Krum Blagov, Chairman of “Reporter” Foundation.
The monopoly on information is another problem. It is a common trend for certain “unfriendly” media to be deprived of information and be forced to obtain such through the provisions of the Law on public access to information. “We were informed about a case where a minister publicly refused an interview to a journalist due to her media being “hostile to him”, said the organizers. Such practice has a reverse action as well – it gives a lead to reporters from “friendly” media.
Authors of the survey conclude by giving nine recommendations for improvement of the media environment. Most importantly they suggest that an equal access to information for journalists and transparency in cases of state funding should be introduced. Another recommendation is connected to amendments in the legislation which stipulates that media should explicably distinguish paid content from the unpaid. Seeking different ways for the demolition of media monopoly is another very important step.
Text of the report: KAS_BOOK
Author: Kosara Belnikova