The Criminal Code amendments in favor of the bank sector equal severe violation of the freedom of expression

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АЕЖ-България

Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ – Bulgaria) firmly objects the admittance by the Commission on legal issues of the National Assembly of the proposal for amendment of the Criminal Code submitted by the MP Jordan Tsonev.
Driven by the idea for better protection of the bank system, this proposal is outrageous and is in fact a full censorship on all information concerning banks:
“Who distributes misleading or false information or other information for a bank or a financial institution that might lead to incitement of confusion or fear in the population shall be punished by deprivation of liberty from two to five years”.
Among misleading and false information that is prosecuted by the law currently the above mentioned proposal implements a wide range expression – “or other information”. Practically the meaning here is that concerning the banks one can either speak well or shall not speak at all. Journalists are deprived of their ground function – to investigate and report the flaws in the public life area. Furthermore, the incrimination of the dissemination of “other information” regarding the financial institutions puts on risk of prosecution commentators and experts from the bank sector and in fact all citizens who dare to express their opinion or to seek answer in regards to the stability of their personal or the public finances.
On top of the fact that they are in breach with art.39, 40, 41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria such unclear legal provisions are constituting a severe violation of the European convention on human rights (art.10, par.1) and the Charter of the fundamental rights in the EU (art.11, par.1). Both of those acts have been ratified by Bulgaria thus implementing certain rights and obligations for the country. It is highly anticipated that the approval of such scandalous provisions in the Criminal Code would bring new issues for Bulgaria in connection to the Mechanism for coordination and examination as well as respective judicial procedures in front of the European court for human rights and the Court of the European Union.
The possible approval of this text by the Parliament would only deepen the burdensome situation of the media environment in Bulgaria implementing official, legally regulated, censorship. Due to the poor media environment that also results from decision of the political class and the lack of trust in the media in general friendly ground for the dissemination of rumors that shattered the stability of the bank system was created.
Instead of standing for the improvement of public environment and the restoration of the trust in the political and financial institutions, the MPs from the Commission on legal issues are firmly backing this repressive measure, which effectiveness against the bad practices is doubtful, but would beyond question deliver a huge blow to the investigative journalism (which nevertheless is not sufficient) and the access of the society to objective information.
Having in mind the situation of “Bank panic” and the role of the media in it, the AEJ-Bulgaria calls on people not to fall for the media manipulations:
Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria) calls on Bulgarian society not to trust dubious media sources.
Fellow citizens, choose carefully the print, electronic and online editions you acquire information from. One should always be critical and never share information with questionable authenticity although it might look attractive and important at first instance.
Non-compliance with some of the basic rules of rudimentary media literacy may put you, your next of kin and the whole country in somebody else’s scenario. We would advice you is to always pay attention to the media circulating the information, questioning yourself:
–    Does this media have a deviation for sensational unconfirmed information?
–    Is it an established media or newly created one?
–    Is the relevant material signed by the author?
–    Are there any other sources that are confirming the information (Attention should be paid here as in practice many websites are copying from each other which does not create a different source but rather multiplies the same information)?
–    What kind of sources are quoted in the text, can they be regarded as reliable? (Referring to anonymous sources is a legitimate practice that should always be considered carefully. Behind expression like “according to acquainted people” normally is hidden the opinion of the author himself.)?
–    What information do you have about the ownership of the media and the political and economical interest that lay beneath it?
In order to avoid being manipulated do not trust media using expressions like “Scandal!”, “Shock!”, “Explosion!” etc. Their one and only goal is to stimulate emotionally the audience and not to inform.
The events from the past days have undoubtedly shown us that poor media environment casts suffering on the society as a whole. The lack of effective self-regulation brings us to immense deformation and ruins the authority of journalism in general. The absence of information on media that are respecting ethical and quality journalism standards creates a place where readers are disposed to trust everyone or else – to stigmatize journalism and media in its entirety. Probably the moment for professional debate on how to separate truth from the chaff or how to make media that follow certain standards separate themselves from those that do not comply with rudimentary rules has come.