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/

‘Soft’ Censorship Exerts Strong Grip on Media in Macedonia

A new report released today by WAN-IFRA, the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), details how the practice of soft censorship is undermining the media industry across Macedonia.

Macedonia Soft Censorship cover

“Bad Practices, Bad Faith: Soft Censorship in Macedonia” outlines how financial incentives and partisan influence are increasing in the country. The ubiquity of such practices diminishes the credibility and independence of media and is curtailing the essential role the press has in fostering democratic development by reducing the space for public discussion and debate..

Extensive interviews 
with media experts, editors and journalists 
in the country reveal that pluralism and independent editorial perspectives represented in Macedonia’s media have drastically decreased. The report outlines how this decline coincided with the rise to power of the current ruling party in 2006, and has accelerated with its efforts to dominate the country’s media space through new laws and increasingly partisan use of state resources to support ‘friendly’ media outlets.

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.”

The financial realities of Macedonia’s small media market force many media outlets to depend
 on state funding to remain financially viable. Government-friendly media are bolstered by various means, particularly with the allocation of official funds, advertising, campaigns, and subsidised projects. This generates an environment in which partisan political and business interests set the media agenda and can directly shape reporting.

“As demonstrated through our previous investigations, research in Macedonia shows that harsher, more overt methods of media control are shifting towards subtler yet still very powerful tools associated with soft censorship practices,” said Andrew Heslop, WAN-IFRA Press Freedom director. “Independent media outlets struggle for survival through increasingly restricted advertising revenues, a daunting prospect for hopes of a sustainable future in a market the size of Macedonia.”

The report recommends action to reverse the erosion of media freedom in the country. All state funding for media outlets, including advertising, grants and other subsidies should be entirely transparent and allocated through fair processes supervised by independent bodies and institutions.

Equally, legal and institutional guarantees on freedom of expression compatible with EU standards must be fully implemented in law and respected in practice.

Soft Censorship Eroding Media Freedom in Montenegro

Montenegro cover

‘Soft’ censorship is quickening an already serious decline in media independence in Montenegro. This is the conclusion of a new report published today by WAN-IFRA, the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), and the Montenegrin Centre for Civic Education (CCE).

“Eroding Freedoms: Media and Soft Censorship in Montenegro” [http://www.wan-ifra.org/node/144107/] outlines a selective approach to public funding that is misused to reward positive coverage of the work of authorities and otherwise withheld to punish media outlets that question official policies or practices. Media coverage is therefore polarised and encourages poor-quality journalism that is of little service to public discussion. As a result, media credibility has been severely diminished in the country.

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.”

“Once again the research in Montenegro shows that soft censorship is one of the least talked about, but most effective ways of influencing media content,” said WAN-IFRA Press Freedom director, Andrew Heslop, “The influence of mismanaged public funds in a small media market filled with many outlets is simply huge.”

Tragic examples of ‘hard censorship’, such as the unresolved May 2004 murder of Dan daily editor-in-chief, Duško Jovanović, and other reported attacks on journalists and media property show a violent recent past for the Montenegrin press. Latterly, however, soft censorship has drastically increased and now has far-reaching negative effects throughout country’s media. Indirect, often financial pressures intended to weaken the capacity and even threaten the viability of targeted media outlets that criticize the government have become commonplace.

Through extensive research and numerous interviews with editors and media experts, research conducted by the Centre for Civic Education in Montenegro catalogues the forms and maps the extent of soft censorship in the country’s state and public institutions. While public spending across media remains unregulated, political actors exercise control or significant pressure on both media content and viability by distributing these funds.

The report’s recommendations urge action to reverse the erosion of media freedom in Montenegro and improve prospects for the development of free, independent and pluralistic media. A lack of accurate, impartial reporting on the activities of government, political parties and other institutions has significantly slowed the democratisation of Montenegrin society and its governance structures.

Full implementation of laws and regulations that prevent state interference in media business operations and media outlets’ reporting, while ensuring fair opportunities for all media to obtain public funding and advertising is sorely needed – and required – in order to meet European Union standards, the report says.

“The entire process of democratisation and European integration of Montenegro is losing by limitations imposed on the free development of independent media whose survival is endangered by unfair competition and state interference,” said Daliborka Uljarević, Executive Director at the Centre for Civic Education in Montenegro.

In addition, transparency of ownership structures should be mandatory and possible conflicts of interest publicly aired. Strict adherence to the journalists’ code of conduct and appropriate mechanisms of accountability for violations overseen by a credible self-regulating body should be the norm, according to the research.

“If Montenegro’s spending of public funds for advertising remains unregulated and the practices opaque, it will be very difficult to solve the problem of soft censorship there,” said Don Podesta, Manager and Editor at CIMA.

The full report can be downloaded for free from http://www.wan-ifra.org/node/144107/

“No country safe from censorship power,” denounces the IAPA

The 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), which gathered more than 300 media executives and journalists in October 2015, has concluded that soft censorship practices are more widesspead than ever in the region.

The conclusions highlight the proliferation of laws, initiatives, and pressures from governments attempting to control the free flow of information both in the traditional media and on new media platforms; trestrictions on access to public information; the discriminatory placement of government advertising; and greater concentration of media outlets in the hands of those with ties to governments, as some of the problems that sounded most loudly by the publishers gathered.

No country in the Americas is safe from the wave of censorship that is spreading like a massive oil spill, according to the conclusions. This is true even in countries that have traditionally upheld press freedom, in some cases under the paradoxical pretext of promoting pluralism, of ensuring the “right to forget,” or of stopping “hate speech”, the publishers have added.

 

Read more: Conclusions of the 71th General Assembly of the IAPA (2-6 October 2015): http://www.sipiapa.org/en/no-country-safe-from-the-censorship-power-concludes-the-iapa/

Administrative pressures used against independent media in Belarus

Belarussian independent and opposition newspapers often face restrictions on access to the state-owned postal and kiosk distribution systems, state-owned printing facilities, and state advertising contracts or media subsidies, according to Freedom House. Such papers are forced to sell directly from their newsrooms and use volunteers to deliver copies, but authorities sometimes harass and arrest the private distributors.

Lohvinau, an independent publisher and bookstore, had its license revoked in 2013 and was repeatedly denied registration in 2014 on various technicalities. At year’s end it was facing the possibility of a large fine for selling books without a license.

State media are supported by tax exemptions and direct subsidies from the state budget, giving them another significant advantage over potential private-sector competitors. Media outlets reportedly self-censor to please major advertisers that wish to avoid association with any criticism of the president.

 

Source: Freedom of the Press Index 2015 – Belarus https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/belarus#.VZZODUv_9EQ