Statutory broadcast regulator the Council for Electronic Media (CEM) voted unanimously on October 17 to dismiss Svetoslav Kostov as director-general of Bulgarian National Radio.
All five members of CEM said that through the unprecedented five-hour suspension of broadcasting of BNR’s popular Horizont morning programme on September 13, Kostov had violated Bulgarians’ constitutional right to information, and the law requiring public broadcasters to remain on air as a matter of national security.
Proceeding of CEM to fire Kostov lasted just 19 minutes, including a vote to appoint BNR’s head of archives Anton Mitov as acting director-general. There is a three-month deadline for nominations and the appointment of a new director-general of the public radio broadcaster.
The dismissal of Kostov came just more than three months since CEM voted on June 28 to appoint him as head of BNR.
National controversy erupted over the suspension of broadcasting of Horizont. BNR management said that the suspension was because of technical maintenance, a claim that an investigation led by prosecutors and involving several state bodies found to be untrue.
The general view is that the episode was the result of an attempt to oust from the airwaves veteran journalist Sylvia Velikova, allegedly because of her open opposition to Ivan Geshev, the sole nominee, becoming Bulgaria’s next Prosecutor-General.
Velikova was reinstated following the intervention of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov.
At a meeting on September 19, CEM referred to prosecutors the numerous allegations of political and other external illicit influence in the work of BNR.
On September 27, CEM gave Kostov a week to submit his resignation. Kostov, who has threatened court action against his critics, refused to step down. CEM also fined BNR 27 000 leva (about 13 800 euro) over the September 13 suspension of broadcasting.
At a meeting on October 9, CEM initiated the formal procedure to oust Kostov as director-general of BNR.
At a late afternoon news conference after CEM’s October 17 decision, Kostov said that he would take the council’s decision to court. CEM either thought itself above the law or was trying to sabotage BNR, he said.