Bulgaria’s PM, broadcast regulator chief tangle over disinformation

Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov and the head of the country’s broadcast media regulator, Council for Electronic Media (CEM) chief Sonia Momchilova, have exchanged verbal fire after Denkov accused CEM of not doing its job in failing to penalise journalists who spread fake news.

On August 7, responding on Facebook to questions put by the public in an event marking two months of his government in office, Denkov said that CEM was not doing its job against the spread of disinformation.

He singled out Momchilova – an appointee to CEM from the quota of President Roumen Radev – as someone who did not react to journalists spreading disinformation.

“It is a fact that there are fabricated statements and interpretations that do not correspond to the truth. But for there to be a crime, it must be included in the Penal Code. We do not have such a thing in the legislation and it is not easy to do,” Denkov said.

“One of the values of democracy is to have freedom of speech – if we start banning easily, we will soon have to be careful what we say, similar to some previous times. It is important that the ethical bodies start working – CEM is clearly not doing its job,” he said.

“No journalists spreading false facts may not be sanctioned. These are basic standards, which it turns out have not come into effect in our country,” Denkov said.

He said that Momchilova was unsuitable to head CEM, given her statement earlier this year that there was a place in the media for lies too.

CEM responded with an August 8 statement, from which council member Prolet Velkova – who was appointed with the backing of pro-Western reformist coalition Democratic Bulgaria – distanced herself.

CEM described Denkov’s statements as “unacceptable” and said that what he said showed ignorance of the powers conferred by law on CEM and misunderstanding of professional journalistic standards.

“The representatives of the executive branch, as well as the legislature, would do well to comply with the findings and the recommendations in each of the European Commission’s reports on the rule of law, correcting their own behaviour regarding the independence of the media regulator and all media in the country, including radio programmes”.

Denkov responded in turn on August 8, saying that it was high time that CEM tried to see what it could do to deal with disinformation, hybrid attacks, unethical practices, rather than explaining what it could not do.

“What I’ve seen in the past two months is, that many of the problems we face are the result of the ‘eyes wide shut’ phenomenon,” he said.

Denkov is not the only one who irked by Momchilova’s statements in recent months.

As The Sofia Globe reported at the time, in June, the Ukrainian and US embassies reacted strongly to her comment that coverage of atrocities by the Russian military in Bucha during the 2022 occupation of the city were part of Ukrainian war “propaganda”.

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