Broadcast regulator the Council for Electronic Media (CEM) is referring allegations of illicit pressure, including threats and censorship, against Bulgarian National Radio for investigation by prosecutors.
CEM also is ordering BNR fined for violating the Radio and Television Act by breaching its licence terms and suspending broadcasting of the Horizont programme for five hours on September 13. The size of the fines has not yet been announced.
This emerged at the close of a CEM meeting on September 19. The council is scheduled to meet again on September 27, when it is expected to discuss BNR director-general Svetoslav Kostov and questions about freedom of speech at Bulgaria’s public radio broadcaster.
These were among the latest developments that began with the removal from the Horizont programme of veteran journalist Sylvia Velikova on September 12.
Velikova’s removal caused an outcry. Accounts of events, by management of the station and by staff, differ. Reportedly, Horizont – among the top-rated morning broadcasts on Bulgarian radio – was suspended from the airwaves after Velikova’s colleagues refused to take her place, in solidarity with her.
Earlier media reports linked the moves against Velikova to her open opposition to Deputy Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev being named to be the next Prosecutor-General. Geshev is the sole nominee for the post.
Kostov, appointed director-general just three months ago, and others in top management claimed that the reason that Horizont was off the air on Friday morning was because of essential technical maintenance.
After a subsequent investigation involving the State Agency for National Security, CEM and the Communications Regulation Commission, Bulgaria’s Prosecutor’s Office announced that it had been established that it was not true that the station had been off the air because of technical maintenance.
Bulgarian law requires public broadcasters Bulgarian National Radio and Bulgarian National Television to be on the air constantly as a matter of national security. Several commentators have pointed out that never in its history has BNR had an unscheduled suspension of broadcasting, and certainly not for five hours.
The CEM meeting on September 19 heard calls for Svetoslav Kostov’s resignation, at a hearing of members of BNR’s editorial board.
A deputy director at the radio station, Daniela Kusovska, said that she had resigned: “We have no director, the situation is difficult…We can’t work with Svetoslav Kostov”. Kostov and the BNR board of governors should resign, she said.
Velikova told the CEM hearing that before the events of September 13, Kostov had asked her for a discussion in Sofia’s Borissova Gradina park, rather than on the premises of BNR.
According to Velikova, Kostov told her that four people had called him to demand her dismissal, and he had been told than unless he complied “his children would go hungry”.
Velikova, in contrast to earlier claims by BNR that she had not been taken off air but reassigned, showed an e-mail dismissing her from Horizont’s airwaves.
She said that after Prime Minister Boiko Borissov had intervened, which resulted in her reinstatement, Kostov had confronted her, saying: “Now everyone at the radio station knows that you are Boiko Borissov’s man”.
Bulgarian media reported the former director of Horizont, Ivailo Savov, as saying that he had come under pressure to dismiss Velikova. He had not given in but had resigned his post.
On September 12, Nikolai Krastev was appointed acting head of Horizont. On September 13, he resigned from that post, and said that his handling of the Velikova matter had resulted from “lack of experience”. Horizont spent the weekend with no one in charge of it, until on Monday another acting head was appointed.