Bulgaria: More Transparency Required to Combat ‘Soft’ Censorship

The discretionary allocation of funds to media in exchange for favourable reporting on government is a major problem in Bulgaria, according to a new report published today by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).

Curbing Media, Crippling Debate: Soft Censorship in Bulgaria” outlines how the independence and pluralism of Bulgaria’s media has steadily eroded over the past decade. Authorities are employing tools of ‘soft’ censorship to dominate the media and narrow access 
to information. A lack of alternative revenue streams has led elements within the media to shift editorial policy and pay little heed to professional standards.

The new report is available to freely download from http://www.wan-ifra.org/node/151719/

Extensive interviews 
with media experts, editors and journalists 
in the country reveal that state funding for media is a principal tool of ‘soft’ censorship in Bulgaria.

Official ‘soft’ censorship, or indirect censorship, is defined as “an array of official actions intended to influence media output, short of legal or extra-legal bans, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on media outlets or media practitioners.”

Despite the Bulgarian government starting to provide more data on official funds to media from 2015 onwards, the allocation of government advertising and subsidies in Bulgaria continues to lack transparency. The fragmented character of the available data on circulation and audience figures makes the assessment of the fairness of official spending on media extremely difficult.

Evidence collected over recent years suggests that much of the Bulgarian government’s public awareness campaign spending originates from European Union funds. Such funding is intended to raise awareness of EU laws and standards—which themselves protect free media and clearly forbid discrimination in the allocation of state monies to media. The report highlights that this has simply not been the case in Bulgaria.

Equally, the opacity of media ownership in Bulgaria obscures relations between beneficiaries of state advertising and the state bodies responsible for distributing the funds. 
The report recommends that the Bulgarian public should be given access to data to make informed choices about their media consumption, including data concerning ownership structures.

The report’s recommendations also urge action to reverse the erosion of media freedom in the country. “All state funding for media outlets, including advertising and subsidies, should be entirely transparent and allocated through fair processes supervised by independent bodies and institutions,” the report says.

 

The full report can be freely downloaded from http://www.wan-ifra.org/node/151719/

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