The government should not turn a blind eye to the EU’s findings about the media environment in Bulgaria

The European Commission (EC) has placed a special focus on the the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report concerning the state of the media environment in Bulgaria.
“International observers noted a significant deterioration of the media environment in Bulgaria in recent years, with the Bulgarian media sector characterized by opaque ownership and poor implementation of journalistic standards. This situation affects the quality of public debate and therefore risks limiting public access to information due to a limited number of independent sources, “says the report, in which the EC notes that” the media environment is of particular importance for the independence of the judiciary power against the deliberate attack against judges in some media with non-transparent interests, and the difficulties in finding effective legal remedies.”
In this context, the EC also recalls the obvious: “By and large, the ability of the media and civil society to hold leaders accountable for their actions in a pluralistic, pressure-free environment constitutes an important basis for the implementation of the reforms covered by CVM and as a whole is the basis for better governance. ”
These EC findings were downplayed both by the Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and the Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva who used the criticism of the EU to attack the media once again.
Boyko Borisov recalled his old statement that there freedom of press does indeed exist because “political cartoons have been made in Bulgaria every day for years,” and then asked “if an oligarch has created a media to protect what he has stolen, what stops us from getting him? ”
In turn, Minister Zaharieva placed the blame on the media itself for its poor condition: “The criticism in the report is not about the government, but about the self-censorship and on the part of the media.”
On Thursday, in an interview with the BBC, the prime minister also tried to sway the conversation towards the media. This is a serious distortion of reality, given that it is not the media, but the authorities in the country who are addressed in the report.
The government should not turn a blind eye neither to the media environment not to the EC’s findings mainly because it is the responsibility of the executive branch to ensure proper media environment.
There are multiple bad examples that we can enumerate:
• The non-transparent allocation of public funds from the European programs in the period between 2009-2013, suspiciously used to ensure peace and quiet among the constituents;
• The hidden funding of government-sponsored media from the Corporate Commercial Bank in that same period;
• Spending funds to popularize the Bulgarian presidency on sites spreading fake news in 2015;
• Legitimisation of the same sites by representatives of the executive, who give preferential interviews for them;
• The inability of the Commission for Protection of Competition to prepare an objective and in-depth analysis of the print, distribution and newspaper market;
• Appointments to the Bulgarian National Television of leading cadres with obvious political dependencies.
• Targeted attacks by the executive branch and the state prosecution against publishers whose editions are critical of the government coupled with overt protectionism of people close to the ruling party.
• The fact that Deputy Prime Minister Valeriy Simeonov retained his post even after unwarranted attacks on journalists in the autumn of 2017
AEJ-Bulgaria would take part in the international debate on this topic, if the Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, as he himself has stated, is willing to organize it.

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