Bulgaria’s European Parliament elections: Notebook, May 15

A Supreme Administrative Court ruling against billboards by Alfa Ataka TV – overruling a previous decision by the Central Election Commission (CEC) – as well as the CEC penalising Volen Siderov, Nikolai Barekov and TV7 for breaking the rules, and a leaked e-mail involving a local media house all overshadowed whatever campaign messages Bulgaria’s political parties might be pushing in the May 25 2014 European Parliament elections.

Relations between politicians and the media were very much in focus on the eve of the 10th day before the elections. Some entries in The Sofia Globe’s election campaign notebook:

* Details emerged of spending by political parties and coalitions on election advertising.

The biggest spenders, according to a study by the Institute for Public Environment Development based on advertising tariffs and details of contracts, was the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which has signed advertising contracts for 613 368 leva (about 313 740 euro).

The BSP is followed close behind in the adspend stakes by Bulgaria Without Censorship, the party formed around former television talk show host Nikolai Barekov, at 603 626 leva. The Reformist Bloc, an alliance of five centre-right parties, signed up to spend 197 767 leva, far-right ultra-nationalists Ataka at 163 017 leva, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – key partner in the ruling axis – 147 759 leva and centre-right opposition party GERB 43 120 leva.

The institute added, however, that it was important to note that these sums did not include Google banner advertising on media websites.

The information was incomplete because only 13 of the electronic, print and online media included in the monitoring fulfilled their disclosure obligations under the Electoral Act. The law requires these media to disclose their advertising tariffs from election campaign material 40 days before election day and data on contracts between the media and participants in the election must be published within three days after a contract is signed and kept public until the election results are announced.

The report said that television stations were best in distinguishing paid and unpaid content, while Bulgarian websites and newspapers were mixing stories and advertorials without distinguishing which was which.

* There was a minor flurry when a website close to the ruling axis published an e-mail from Ivo Prokopiev, owner of local Bulgarian-language websites Kapital and Dnevnik, to his editors and senior executives discussing coverage up to election day of the government campaign against foreign-owned electricity distribution companies.

The e-mail contained suggestions for angles and parties to approach for comment, and BSP leader Sergei Stanishev was quick with an attack on Prokopiev who, in turn, said that the only scandal in the whole affair was the illegal publication of e-mail correspondence. Prokopiev’s publishing house, Sofia-based Economedia, then made public the rest of the e-mail correspondence.

* The anti-government Protest Network, not a contestant in the election, won its appeal in the Supreme Administrative Court against a CEC ruling that had rejected a complaint by the Protest Network that Alfa Ataka TV billboards had violated electoral law in displaying the ballot number of the Ataka party.

The billboards had failed to display the mandatory notice that buying and selling of votes is a crime.

The CEC had said that a photograph supplied with the Protest Network complaint was “insufficient evidence” and said it was unclear whether the ballot number was actually there or had been added digitally. The Supreme Administrative Court overruled its rejection of the case and sent the matter back to the CEC. The court’s decision is not subject to appeal.

* The Central Election Commission issued citations against Ataka leader Volen Siderov, BWC leader Nikolai Barekov and TV7 for unacceptable advertising and for breaking the rules on election campaign advertising.

The penalties for the respective offences, to be decided by regional authorities, range potentially from 200 to 2000 leva (about 100 to 1000 euro).

Siderov was penalised for an election video – which the CEC already has ordered banned from being broadcast or posted on the internet – contrasting “Orthodox values” with “Euro-Atlantic values”, the latter, in the message of the video, including paedophilia and incest.

Barekov was penalised for statements in newspaper interviews which, complainant Ataka MP Denitsa Gadzheva said, contained insulting and outright lies that prejudiced the reputation of Siderov.

TV7 was penalised on the basis of a complaint by the Council for Electronic Media, that the television station had broken the rules on advertising with regard to promoting Barekov’s BWC. Barekov is a former director of TV7.

* ABC leader Georgi Purvanov called BWC’s Barekov a “common liar” after Barekov, in an interview with bTV, alleged that ABC was offering voters 50 to 100 leva to vote for Purvanov’s party.

* Iliana Yotova, an MEP for the Bulgarian Socialist Party and a candidate in the May 25 vote, said in mass-circulation Trud, in an article published on May 15, that Bulgarians do not want elections. “They believe that failed politicians want to return to power and ride the gravy train unconcerned with how people live,” Yotova said.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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