Reporters Without Borders slams action by four Bulgarian banks against website
Reporters Without Borders said on October 24 2012 that it strongly condemns the proceedings that four banks have initiated through central Bulgarian National Bank against the news website Bivol.bg* after June 30 article about alleged bad practices by certain banks and the reluctance of the authorities to investigate them.
The article consisted of an analysis of a US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks about alleged “bad apples” in the Bulgarian banking system, but it corroborated the US ambassador’s comments with information from its own sources.
Bivol has been the official WikiLeaks partner for publishing US diplomatic cables about Bulgaria since March 2011.
“Bivol’s staff have our full support,” Reporters Without Borders said. “At a time when Europe is undergoing an unprecedented financial crisis, it is imperative for banks to behave transparently. Investigative coverage of suspected corrupt practices within the banking sector is more than ever before in the public interest, and at the international as well as national level.”
Four banks that were criticized in the Bivol article – First Investment Bank, Corporate Commercial Bank, Investbank and Central Cooperative Bank (TIM) – sent a “complaint” to the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) accusing the website of publishing articles with false information that damaged their reputation and credibility, thereby violating article 152a of the Credit Institutions Act, Reporters Without Borders said.
Under article 152a, anyone disseminating false information about a bank, or undermining its reputation or credibility, is punishable by a fine of 2000 to 5000 leva (about 1000 to 2500 euro), or 3000 to 10 000 leva (1500 to 5000 euro) for subsequent offences. If a media is used to commit the offence, the fine increases to 5000 to 10 000 leva or 8000 to 20 000 leva (4000 to 10 200 euro) for subsequent offences. Bivol is therefore facing a fine of up to 75 000 euro, Reporters Without Borders said.
“We are astonished by the procedure used in this case,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Credit Institutions Act concerns only the banking world and cannot be used against the media or to defy the constitution, which guarantees media freedom. Moreover, the BNB has no jurisdiction over media law and cannot be allowed to impose heavy fines on news outlets.
“It would be completely illegitimate for the BNB to try to rule on a media case as it cannot give the required guarantees of independence, impartiality and respect for defence rights. The right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of expression, which are protected by articles 6 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, are under direct threat.
“Proceedings such as those being used against Bivol are utterly inconceivable and unacceptable in a European Union member country and must be halted at once. If the banks want to seek reparation, the courts are available to them.”
Bivol received a letter by courier from the BNB on October 11 summoning its staff to a meeting to discuss the complaint filed by the four banks. Bivol did not object to the possibility of a meeting but logically asked for time to study the complaint and prepare its defence.
“As of this moment, Bivol has not yet received a copy of the banks’ complaint,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We can only urge these banks to abandon the proceedings they were envisaging and to display the utmost transparency.
“We remind them that Bivol offered to let them use their right of reply and that, prior to publication, they were contacted with the aim of letting them express their viewpoint – without success.”
(Photo: Jakub Krechowicz/sxc.hu)
* Bivol.bg has no relation to Alex Bivol of The Sofia Globe