Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has again ranked Bulgaria as lowest among European Union countries in its annual media freedom index, placing it as 111th out of 180 countries surveyed.
Threats against reporters have increased in recent months, “to the extent that journalism is now dangerous in Bulgaria,” Reporters Without Borders said in its report for 2018.
Among Bulgaria’s neighbouring countries, fellow EU members Romania ranked 47th and Greece 65th. Non-EU members Serbia ranked 90th, North Macedonia 95th and Turkey 157th.
The next-lowest EU country was Hungary, in 87th place.
Bulgaria’s index of 35.11 matched it with Ethiopia and put it one place about Mali.
“One might have expected an improvement in press freedom in 2018 because Bulgaria held the European Council’s rotating presidency during the first half of the year but instead the opposite occurred,” the report said.
Reporters Without Borders cited the murder of Viktoria Marinova, saying that there had been “a blatant attempt by the authorities to cover up the circumstances by botching the investigation”. Currently, a man is facing trial for the rape and murder of Marinova, with prosecutors saying that the crimes were not linked to her occupation.
“Corruption and collusion between media, politicians and oligarchs is widespread in Bulgaria. The most notorious embodiment of this aberrant state of affairs is Delyan Peevski, who ostensibly owns two newspapers (Telegraph and Monitor) but also owns a TV channel (Kanal 3), news websites and a big chunk of print media distribution.
“The government continues to allocate EU funding to media outlets with a complete lack of transparency, with the effect of bribing recipients to go easy on the government in their reporting, or to refrain from covering certain problematic stories altogether,” Reporters Without Borders said.
At the same time judicial harassment of independent media had increased, the report said.
The RSF Index, which evaluates the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories every year, shows that an intense climate of fear has been triggered — one that is prejudicial to a safe reporting environment, it said.
“The hostility towards journalists expressed by political leaders in many countries has incited increasingly serious and frequent acts of violence that have fuelled an unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists.”
Norway is ranked first in the 2019 Index for the third year running while Finland (up two places) has taken second place from the Netherlands (down one at fourth), where two reporters who cover organised crime have had to live under permanent police protection. An increase in cyber-harassment caused Sweden (third) to lose one place, RSF said.
Only 24 per cent of the 180 countries and territories are classified as “good” or “fairly good”, as opposed to 26 per cent last year.
“As a result of an increasingly hostile climate that goes beyond Donald Trump’s comments, the United States (48th) has fallen three places in this year’s Index and the media climate is now classified as ‘problematic,” RSF said..
“Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection,” it said.