EUROPE – BULGARIA – PAID “NEWS”
In Bulgaria, according to Freedom House (FH) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), while the media environment remains pluralistic, editors and journalists routinely shape their reporting to suit the political and economic interests of owners or major advertisers. A large portion of the coverage of May 2013 parliamentary elections allegedly consisted of paid partisan content, which was often not labelled as such. An editor-in-chief quoted in the KAS analysis provides an example: “During the election campaign, we covered the tacit party publications under a specially-created column because the parties did not want it to be understood that they are paid ones”.
This report highlights tacit advertising as a common practice in Bulgaria. It affects exclusively print media and websites because it is prohibited by law for electronic media with the Article 85 of the Radio and Television Act. Even if the two ethical codes in the country provide that advertisement and paid publications should be differentiated from journalistic content, there have been many breaches of this principle in practice, according to the report. Certain advertisement tariff lists of national dailies show that they allow PR publications in consideration of higher payment.
Commercial advertisers also have a strong influence on the editorial output of Bulgarian media, according to the KAS report. Companies allegedly ask for materials that present them in a positive light as a condition of buying advertising. The analysis also highlights that sometimes they even ask outlets to play down or ignore customer complaints or run critical coverage of their competitors. In addition, many times there is no clear differentiation between the sponsored and editorial content, the report found.