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/

Have a look at the first #softcensorCHAT

Did you miss the #softcensorCHAT co-hosted by WAN-IFRA and CIMA on 9 December 2015 to foster a conversation about the implications of soft censorship wordwide?

Have a look at the Storify story compiled by Valerie Sinden: https://storify.com/valeriesinden/softcensorchat

You can also read the whole conversation by using the associated hashtag #softcensorCHAT

And do not forget to follow the Twitter account @SoftCensorship to get all updates related to the topic.

“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

 

The New Age of Censorship and Intimidation

by Don Podesta @podestad

 

Sounds, well … intimidating doesn’t it?

This was the title of a panel I moderated during the WAN-IFRA’s World News media Congress 2015 in Washington DC this week. The panel grew out of an ongoing joint project by CIMA and WAN-IFRA to research and track the spread of “soft censorship,” a topic I’ve been writing about since coming to CIMA nearly seven years ago.

In the paper I wrote about for CIMA in 2009, we defined soft –or indirect – censorship as the practice of influencing news coverage by applying financial pressure on media companies that are considered critical of a government or its policies and rewarding media outlets and individual journalists who are seen as friendly to the government. Examples of this practice abound in countries in every part of the world. It takes several forms:

  • The awarding or withdrawing of national and local government advertising. In some countries where commercial advertising markets are weak or nonexistent, closing off access to government advertising can threaten the independence—and even the survival—of newspapers and broadcasters.
  • Pressure by the government on commercial enterprises to advertise in certain media and not in others
  • Direct payments to journalists in exchange for writing articles conveying the government’s position on specific topics or promoting the agendas of politicians or companies.

But as became clear from the presentations of the panelists–journalists from around the world–these new forms of indirect censorship have expanded way beyond using advertising budgets and payments to journalists to put pressure on news media. These include questionable ownership structures, denial of access to infrastructure or necessary resources such as printing paper, and use of taxation or broadcast licensing to punish media.

All the panelists were wonderful speakers who told powerful stories. Here, abridged from the conference program and a planning document for the panel, is a just a glimpse of who these courageous journalists are:

Cathrin Kahlweit

Correspondent for Central Eastern Europe, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany:

Correspondents covering the Ukraine have been beset by trolls on social media (allegedly by Russians). The extent and detail are frightening, including the spread of  misinformation  and reputation-damaging false commentary, such as that the correspondents are pedophiles. This new form of intimidation has been felt particularly in German newsrooms.

Ekrem Dumanlı

Editor-in-Chief, Zaman Daily, Turkey

Dumanli was arrested and jailed by the Turkish government last year. He is not allowed to travel and he participated in the panel via a recorded video.

Zaffar Abbas

Editor, Dawn, Pakistan

Abbas and his team know what it is to be targeted. The reporters are constantly at risk from bombs and attack. Vulnerable district correspondents in far-flung areas have all but been silenced, with their parent media organizations unable to protect them. Even in the metropolises, a range of threats have made the job of reporting and bringing the news to the public unacceptably dangerous. In several cases, reporting too closely on certain subjects deemed undesirable by non-state and state actors has become a virtual death sentence.

Ferial Haffajee

Editor-in-Chief, City Press, South Africa

Haffajee is the leading voice on censorship among newspaper editors in South Africa. The media lives under the constant threat of a government media tribunal to keep control of the press. The government uses advertising to reward “good” newspapers as do state led institutions. When she said in a speech that individuals should rise up against censorship, the government called her publisher to complain.

Daniel Dessein

President, DYN news agency and Vice President ADEPA (Argentina´s Press Association), Argentina

Dessien spoke about issues in across Latin America, including physical intimidation, kidnappings, and commercially driven soft censorship through the carrot of advertising and payments to journalists and the stick of tax and business legislation.

 

Don Podesta, manager and editor, Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA)