The Bulgarian media continued their slow slide away from the levels of sustainability reached in the years before the country’s European Union accession, a new report by international think-tank IREX says.
“The decline is happening across the board and touches all aspects of the media scene, but is most visible in the areas of editorial and financial independence, professional journalism standards, and the balance of entertainment and information programming.”
In absolute terms, the 2013 media sustainability index by IREX marks a record low since the first MSI study in Bulgaria in 2001, and the trend seems likely to continue.
While the digital transition has picked up some speed, and online and public outlets have grown and improved, this progress is marginal compared to the escalating political pressure, corporate control, and disrespect for professional standards in the mainstream media, where the majority of Bulgarian citizens still get most of their information, the report said.
The government of Bulgaria’s suppression of the freedom of speech and the media sector’s lack of transparency in ownership have attracted international attention, prompting warnings that the EU might impose official media freedom monitoring in this member state, according to the report.
A brief media war between the two largest Bulgarian media groups culminated in legal prosecution against the owners of one of the groups and a sudden ceasefire, exposing questions about transparency of ownership on both sides, the report said.
Furthermore, the ongoing financial crisis has led the media to depend more than ever on government subsidies and advertising, risking the loss of their independence in the process.
Through the turmoil of the past year, the media sector remained a central battleground for the country’s political debates, the report said.
Protesters condemning Bulgaria’s environmental policies in 2012 also turned against the leading national television stations for what the protesters deemed biased, pro-government coverage. Citizen activists and NGOs have warned of public institutions increasing pressure on people seeking access to information.
Increasingly, citizens tap new media to access information and organize civic action, helped by an increasing number of independent news providers online. Social media tools played an important role in the protests over corruption and high utility prices, and those protests helped defeat Prime Minister Boiko Borisov’s government in February 2013, the report said.
(Photo: Brano Hudak/sxc.hu)