Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission (CEC) has amended its rules on the granting of “media packages” – state subsidies for election advertising – to include regional as well as “national media”, but has continued to exclude advertising on news websites.
The CEC announced its decision on its website after an October 8 meeting, held the day after the Supreme Administrative Court upheld an appeal by Maria Cappone’s United People’s Party against an earlier CEC decision that limited “media packages” to national radio and television stations and newspapers with national circulation.
Under Bulgarian law, initiative committees participating in referendums and national elections are entitled to budgets of 40 000 leva for advertising. Payment for the contracts concluded with media are made directly by the CEC. The subsidies are granted to entities participating in the election if they do not already receive state subsidies as, for example, parties represented in Parliament do.
The system allegedly has been subject to abuse by initiative committees concluding advertising contracts with media closely allied to them.
In its initial decision, the CEC excluded websites from the 2016 system for media packages. At the Supreme Administrative Court hearing, a representative of the CEC told the court that online news websites were “not media” because they were not subject to regulation in the way that television and radio broadcasters were.
On October 8, the CEC, citing the Supreme Administrative Court decision, amended the wording for the terms and conditions for granting and spending of media packages.
The new decision now defines “media service providers” as including “print media – newspapers, magazines and other periodicals” and “public and commercial broadcasters – licensed or registered public or commercial providers of audiovisual media services or radio services”.
In effect, the CEC deleted the references to “national coverage” and “national in scope” when referring to print media and radio and television stations.
The decision by the CEC is subject to appeal in the Supreme Administrative Court within three days of its October 8 announcement.
According to a report by Bulgarian National Radio, the CEC had not included websites in its decision because the Supreme Administrative Court had not ruled on the matter.
BNR quoted a CEC spokesperson as saying that the commission would ask the Council for Electronic Media, Bulgaria’s broadcast media regulator, for a list of registered and licensed public and commercial media service providers, to control the spending on advertising.
Media packages could not be used for social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, according to the CEC spokesperson: “They are anyway not media service providers”.
(Photo: Brano Hudak/sxc.hu)