Bulgaria’s 2016 elections: Central Election Commission will decide on ‘media packages’ for news sites

Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission will allow the awarding of “media packages” for election advertising on some news websites, depending on the tariffs charged and whether the site has a “significant audience”.

This emerged on October 13 as the latest development in the controversial saga about “media packages”, the 40 000 leva given to initiative committees to buy media advertising ahead of Bulgaria’s November 2016 elections.

Central Election Commission decisions on media packages twice have been the subject of court challenges in recent days.

First, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld a challenge against the CEC decision to limit the awarding of election advertising contracts solely to “national” print and broadcast media.

The CEC responded on October 8 by amending its decision to allow the awarding of advertising contracts also to regional media, but its decision again only listed print and broadcast media — apparently excluding websites.

This decision was the subject of a further challenge, by Maria Cappone’s United People’s Party, the Union of Publishers of Bulgaria and some Bulgaria online media, which wanted the court to order the CEC to include online media in the system.

On October 13, it was announced that the Supreme Administrative Court had not upheld this second appeal.

With the picture unclear about whether participants in the elections concluding contracts with news sites would be permissible, the CEC told local media that it had been “deliberately obscure” on the issue so that it could make case-by-case decisions about election advertising contracts.

The CEC reiterated that there was “no way” that election advertising contracts would be allowed on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter or on personal blogs, “there are online media with a proven audience”.

The CEC denied that its decision about media packages amounted to a ban on advertising on online news websites – though earlier, at the time of the first case in the Supreme Administrative Court, a representative of the commission told the court that online news sites were “not media” because they were not subject to regulation in the way that the broadcast media in Bulgaria are.

Having had a “bad experience” in previous elections – when there were allegations that participants handed advertising contracts to obscure websites as a means of getting their hands on state money – the CEC said that it would be trying to prevent “uncontrolled schemes for distribution of money, as happened last year”.

The CEC said that websites would be assessed according to two criteria, whether the tariffs that they had announced corresponded to the average market prices for commercial advertising, and whether it could be considered that a news website had a “significant audience”.

(Photo: Brian Lary/sxc.hu)





Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.