Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission (CEC) faces fresh legal challenges against its amended ruling on the granting of “media packages” – state subsidies for election advertising – that expanded the scope beyond “national media”, but once again excluded news websites.
The CEC amended its rule over the weekend, in line with the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) ruling that struck down the electoral body’s decision that limited “media packages” to national radio and television stations and newspapers with national circulation.
As of October 10, at least three new complaints were lodged at the SAC against the amended rule – by Maria Cappone’s United People’s Party, which also appealed the original CEC ruling, by the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria, and a joint complaint by the publishers of Offnews.bg and Actualno.com news websites, Offnews reported.
Speaking to Bulgarian National Radio on October 11, Cappone said that the Electoral Code clearly identified websites as media service providers, without imposing any restrictions that would exclude online media, other than social media websites. The party’s appeal claims that CEC failed to comply in full with the SAC ruling.
The Union of Publishers said in a statement that it objected to CEC breaching the court ruling: “We believe that with its persistent exclusion of online media as intermediaries in the explanatory campaign, CEC is grossly breaching the rules of the Electoral Code, which outline the framework for the national referendum campaign.”
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.
According to a report by Bulgarian National Radio, the CEC had not included websites in its decision because the SAC had not ruled on the matter.
(Photo: Griszka Niewiadomski/sxc.hu)