Parties, coalitions and independent candidates that stood in Bulgaria’s May 26 2019 European Parliament elections spent a total of more than 3.28 million leva (about 1.67 million euro) on paid coverage in the media, according to research posted on the Open Parliament website.
The sum may be higher, given that announcements on the website of Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission show that some media were penalised for conveying paid coverage without posting the contracts online, as electoral law requires.
The biggest spender on campaigning in the media was the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), 681 896 leva. The BSP finished second in the elections, getting five out of Bulgaria’s 17 seats in the European Parliament.
The largest share of the BSP’s spending went to bTV (25 per cent), followed by Nova Televizia (21.3 per cent) and at some distance, BGNes (three per cent).
The second-biggest spender was Vesselin Mareshki’s populist Volya party, at 597 180 leva. Volya won no seats. With 3.62 per cent of the vote, Volya got the most votes of any competitor that fell below the threshold to win a seat.
Volya spent 33 per cent on bTV, 32.9 per cent on Nova and 7.6 per cent on Bulgarian National Television (BNT).
Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, which won the largest share of votes and six seats, spent 494 501 leva.
GERB spread its money among many media, 11.6 per cent on bTV, 10.1 per cent on Nova and 9.3 per cent on BNT, with a large number of other media accounting for smaller sums.
Krassimir Karakachanov’s ultra-nationalist VMRO party was the fourth-largest spender, at 417 132 leva, and won two seats.
Reformist coalition Democratic Bulgaria spent 193 570 leva on media coverage. It won one seat.
In sixth place in spending on media coverage was the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, at 156 570 leva. It won three seats. Second on the MRF ticket was Delyan Peevski, whose business interests include media ownership. Peevski opted to retain his membership of the National Assembly and not take up a seat in the European Parliament.
The MRF spent 25.7 per cent on BNT, 19.5 per cent on Kanal 3, 9.7 per cent on Focus, 9.7 per cent on 24 Chassa and 9.7 per cent on Trud. This was followed by 9.1 per cent on bTV and 8.4 per cent on Nova TV.
Just behind the MRF in spending on media coverage was the ticket of ultra-nationalist leader Valeri Simeonov, a founder of the Skat cable television channel. Simeonov’s ticket spent 147 660 leva, and won no seats.
Simeonov’s ticket spent 90 000 leva (61 per cent) on Skat, 11.1 per cent on Televizia Evropa and 6.1 per cent on BNT.
The report on the Open Parliament website, in a note on the GERB campaign, said: “Here we cannot take into account the value and the media effect of the Prime Minister’s tours being ‘live’ on the social media Facebook”.
The biggest earner was bTV, 712 106 leva excluding value-added tax (VAT), followed by Nova, 627 675 leva without VAT, and BNT, 289 139 leva without VAT. TV Evrokom was fourth, 217 179 leva, and Kanal 3 fifth, 150 569 leva.
Among print media, the biggest earner was Trud, 108 112 leva without VAT, followed by 24 Chassa, 97 144 leva.
The report noted that the Electoral Code required that media accepting money for coverage of competitors in the election should post online the contracts within three days of the contracts being signed, and keep them online until the CEC announced the election results. However, some media had taken the contracts offline before the CEC announced the results, the report said. Media which had done this included Skat and BGnes, according to the report.
Thirteen media did not publish contracts – Alfa TV, TV+, Duma, Monitor, Telegraf, Borba, Cherno More, Starozagorski Novini, Utro, ArdaNews, Novini.bg, Blitz.bg, TopNovini.bg, the report said.
“However, as we have shown in previous reports, some of them had obvious political advertising in spite of the absence of published contracts,” the report said.
The practice of some media to “correct” or delete the amounts of some contracts was also observed, according to the report.