The Council for Electronic Media (CEM) has expressed concern about the behaviour of Ataka leader and Sofia mayoral candidate Volen Siderov on a Bulgarian National Television talk show, in which Siderov disrupted the broadcast by vastly exceeding his speaking time and insulting other participants and the host.
The Bulgarian National Television Referendum broadcast on the night of October 1 had been intended as a debate among heads of campaign staffs regarding the country’s autumn 2019 local elections.
Siderov’s verbal aggression led to repeated clashes between him, other participants and host Dobrina Cheshmedzhieva, who made frequent attempts to get the ultra-nationalist leader to keep to the rules. Eventually, Siderov’s microphone was switched off after he went well past his allotted speaking time, and about two-thirds into the show, broadcasting of it was suspended for some minutes.
CEM said on October 2 that it was concerned about the breach of the agreement on coverage of the mayoral and municipal election campaign that had been signed by BNT, political parties, coalitions and initiative committees and endorsed by the Central Election Commission.
It said that Siderov had allowed himself to “violently violate the rules for conducting a political debate in the BNT studio”.
In the election campaign, the role of public broadcaster BNT is essential for the objective, equal and fair representation of the participants, on the one hand, and for the awareness of the voters, on the other, CEM said.
“Journalists on Bulgarian National Television have the experience and skills to cover political campaigns, as well as the professional confidence to respond appropriately, in defence of the public interest.
“The Radio and Television Act and the BNT Election Code set out numerous commitments related to the performance of its public functions, which created high expectations in the audience. Citizens’ expectations for responsible behaviour on the part of the participants in the election campaign are no less,” CEM said.
In a statement on October 2, the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria expressed its solidarity with the team of the Referendum program and the journalists from the Bulgarian National Television regarding the “indecent and unacceptable behaviour” of Siderov on the Referendum programme.
While congratulating the host Dobrina Cheshmedzhieva for her dignity in the difficult situation and the Council for Electronic Media for its swift response, “we strongly state that no one has the right to demonstrate such disrespect for the public media and their entire audience,” the association said.
“To put it bluntly, Volen Siderov abuses the rights that Bulgarian law gives him. We are in an election campaign, BNT is obliged to invite a representative of his party, meaning that there is no way to limit his presence, and since he enjoys parliamentary immunity, he cannot be held liable for conduct that resembles hooliganism.”
And while Siderov skillfully takes advantage of the achievements of democracy to sabotage it, responsibility must be sought from those who use it or have used it to achieve their political and professional goals, the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria said.