The controversy over the five-hour stoppage of broadcasting of Bulgarian National Radio’s Horizont programme is continuing, with Prime Minister Boiko Borissov claiming on September 16 that the incident was “sabotage against the government”.
Horizont was off the air on the morning of September 13, officially because of technical maintenance but mostly seen as a consequence of the removal of veteran journalist Sylvia Velikova from the programme.
The suspension of broadcasting is being investigated by several Bulgarian state institutions, including because the public broadcaster is meant to always remain on the air as a matter of law and national security.
Borissov hit back at head of state President Roumen Radev, who routinely criticises Borissov’s government, and who had said that the Bulgarian state was “governed by someone’s phone, not through the institutions”.
“If it’s his phone, I understand, maybe he knows, because it was sabotage … against the government, against the freedom of the media in the person of Sylvia Velikova, which I personally defended,” Borissov said.
Borissov also rejected claims of a lack of freedom of speech in Bulgaria. “I find it funny and amusing how every television station that broadcasts or radios pour out…insults to the government, and at the same time everyone who starts talking says, ‘There is no freedom of speech’,” he said.
On September 16, Radev demanded that the BNR leadership explains the real motives for the unprecedented five-hour stoppage of the station. He reiterated that freedom of expression in Bulgaria is in crisis.
“Freedom of expression is at the heart of democracy, it is of fundamental value, and obviously in Bulgaria it is in crisis,” Radev said.
He said that even during the Second World War, BNR had not stopped broadcasting.
“Obviously, the state is also governed by someone’s phone, not through institutions, as is normal European practice. And I think it’s about time to put an end to it. Yet, in my opinion, there is a ray of hope. And this is in the behaviour and reaction of the BNR journalists, who clearly showed solidarity and supported by their colleagues from other media, who gave an example of how to defend dignity, how to defend freedom of speech and professional standards,” Radev said.
BNR director-general Svetoslav Kostov told a meeting at the station that no one had stopped the Horizont programme. He said that there had been a report from the head of equipment directorate a few days before about problems.
He said that the board of governors had met on September 13, because that was the deadline for submitting the BNR draft budget.
“There will be no money, as in previous years, for repairs, for capital expenditures. We will ask the Ministry of Finance for a 25 perc ent increase in the salaries of BNR employees,” Kostov said.
The Council for Electronic Media, the body charged by statute with regulating the country’s broadcasters, called Kostov – who was appointed to head BNR about three months ago – to a hearing on the suspension of broadcasting.
Deputy Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev said on September 16 that the investigation into the incident at BNR was continuing and the results would be announced as soon as possible.
Following the outcry about the changes at Horizont, Velikova was reinstated. On Friday, Nikolai Krastev, who had been appointed as acting head of Horizont the day before, resigned, saying that his handling of the Velikova matter had been the result of a lack of management experience.