The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joined their affiliate, the Union of Bulgarian Journalists (UBJ), to express support to the journalists of the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) who are facing widespread pressure from their management, the organisations said in a joint statement.
BNR has been caught up in controversy after an unprecedented incident in which the popular Horizont morning programme remained off for five hours on September 13.
Management attributed this to necessary technical maintenance but the incident has been widely linked to an attempt to dismiss veteran journalist Sylvia Velikova from the airwaves, allegedly because of her open opposition to the nomination of Ivan Geshev as sole candidate to be Bulgaria’s next Prosecutor-General.
On September 27, Bulgaria’s statutory broadcast regulator the Council for Electronic Media (CEM) called for Svetoslav Kostov to step down as director-general of BNR, just three months after having appointed him to the post. Kostov has refused.
The EFJ-IFJ statement said that at a hearing after the September 13 suspension of broadcasting of Horizont, the editorial board of the radio channel had exposed the pressure exerted by Kostov “through restrictions on journalists, imposition of censorship and interference on the editorial independence”.
The statement said that at the same hearing, Ivaylo Savov – director of Horizont Channel – testified about the pressures he suffered by outside forces on the removal of Velikova.
In an earlier statement, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), EFJ and South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) called authorities to protect the independence of public service media in Bulgaria in light of journalists’ protests in Sofia, held on September 26.
“As the EBU’s recent report on Democracy and Public Service Media clearly demonstrates, strong, independent public service media is vital for the functioning of healthy democracies,” the statement said.
As stipulated in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are fundamental rights and depriving citizens of access to these resources seriously undermines democratic principles.
“Journalists must be able to exercise their professional duties free from fear of persecution and political pressure.
“We call for a swift resolution of the current crisis and ask that BNR and its staff are given the institutional and editorial freedom to fulfil their important duty to society,” the statement said.
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