Bulgarian-language daily Presa and its sibling magazine Tema are ceasing publication as of July 31, reportedly because of a severe cash shortfall.
Staff of Presa, which has been published since early 2012, and Tema, which has existed since 2003, were told that revenue amounted to only a third of costs. Together, the two publications have about 130 editorial employees.
Bulgarian National Television said that Presa editor-in-chief Tosho Toshev had told staff that he was preparing a new project but would not give details.
Two weeks ago, one of Bulgaria’s largest road construction companies, Integrated Road Systems, was listed as the new owner of the shares of United Free Media, publisher of Presa and Tema.
Regarding the closures, there was no official announcement from Integrated Road Systems, nor from the new executive director of the new owner, Tomislav Mihalchev from the Kyustendil region village of Skrinyano.
According to a report by Mediapool, United Free Media got money from now-bankrupt Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB), not directly but through a company called BG Corporation, on the basis of five loan agreements between November 2011 and February 2012. After the collapse of CCB, BG Corporation lodged court action for the bankruptcy of the publisher, claiming an unpaid debt of 2.5 million leva.
It was not clear who exactly was behind Integrated Road Systems, the report said, claiming that in the division of companies that had been financed by loans from CC B, Integrated Road Systems remained in the “sphere of influence” Tsvetan Vassilev, the majority shareholder in CCB, who is currently in Serbia fighting attempts to extradite him to Bulgaria to face serious criminal charges. Vassilev denies wrongdoing.
Presa was launched with Toshev as editor after the former 24 Chassa editor-in-chief parted ways in late 2011 with the then-owners of the media company publishing 24 Chassa and Trud, Lyubomir Pavlov and Ognyan Donev. Toshev registered the United Bulgarian Media company with Valeri Zaprianov, founder of Tema.
On July 29, Toshev was quoted by 24 Chassa as saying, when asked about the closure of Presa and Tema, “I will not comment, neither today nor tomorrow”.
There were conflicting reports about whether Presa’s website would continue or not. As of July 30, the site had only a notice saying that it was “in the process of system maintenance and is temporarily unavailable”.
In the battle lines in Bulgarian in politics and society around the time of the now-departed ruling axis of 2013 and 2014, the editorial line of the publications was generally against Boiko Borissov and his GERB party and against the anti-government protesters.
Another Bulgarian-language media that had been big-budget at the time, TV7, in recent months had to come to terms with debt collectors claiming obligations to CCB. Unfavourable in its coverage of the 2013/14 anti-government protests, TV7 had been seen as close to Vassilev and Delyan Peevski, the controversial figure customarily referred to as a “media mogul” though he always denied being one. The media ownership by Peevski’s mother, Irina Krasteva, was announced in 2014 as having been sold to an Irish company.
(Photo: Brano Hudak/sxc.hu)