Bulgarian public radio cancels broadcast of interview with Russian ambassador

The programme board of public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) voted on December 16 to cancel the broadcast of a pre-recorded interview with Russian ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova, a few hours before the broadcast was scheduled.

The day before the planned broadcast, the Ukrainian embassy in Sofia slammed BNR’s intention to air the interview, saying that a Bulgarian national media providing an opportunity for the appearance and propaganda of an official of an aggressor state was a gross violation of professional and moral standards in journalism.

The Ukrainian embassy said that it had received an invitation to appear on the show, Petar Volgin’s Politically Incorrect, and said that it had refused to appear on a show which it described as long-discredited, supporting Russia’s narratives and hybrid war.

“Participation of a representative of an aggressor state in a national media broadcast is not a discussion or an exchange of opinions, but undisguised support for the Kremlin regime,” the embassy said.

The embassy said that it would not take up the offer by BNR leadership of the right of reply “because in this case it is not about ‘another point of view’ or ‘alternative opinion’”. Russia had been carrying out brutal armed aggression against Ukraine since 2014, had begun a full-scale invasion in February 2022, and was a terrorist state that, in addition to full-scale armed aggression against Ukraine, was waging a hybrid war against the EU and Nato, it said.

The same day as the Ukrainan embassy’s statement, Movement for Rights and Freedoms parliamentary leader Delyan Peevski issued a statement saying that it was unacceptable for BNR to become an accomplice to Russia’s hybrid war.

At noon on Saturday, around the time that the interview had been scheduled to broadcast, there was a protest outside BNR headquarters in Sofia against Volgin, long the subject of calls for his dismissal and the cancellation of his programme by those who, like the embassy of Ukraine, say that it is a conduit for Russian propaganda. Past months also have seen pro-Volgin counter-protests, citing freedom of speech grounds.

In a post on Facebook on December 16, Volgin said: “Delyan Peevski objected to the participation of Ambassador Eleonora Mitrofanova on the National Radio. The program board of BNR banned the broadcast of the interview with her. Executives said there was no connection between the two. What do you think?”

Instead of the broadcast of the Mitrofanova interview, BNR director-general Milen Mitev was interviewed on Volgin’s show, with Mitev saying that “BNR is one of the media where freedom is a great value that we protect. There is freedom of speech in BNR and the show Politically Incorrect is one of the clearest proofs of this.”

Mitev said that the decision by the programme was based on findings of non-compliance with editorial standards.

The programme council decided that not only could the interview not be broadcast on Volgin’s programme, it could not be broadcast anywhere, not was Volgin permitted to provide the recording to anyone.

Mitev said that he receives several letters a day in which he is accused of Russian propaganda on the radio or “that we are Ukrainian national radio”, which, he said, “means that we are doing our job.”

The Russian embassy, which condemned the cancellation of the broadcast, said that Mitrofanova had spoken about the dismantling of the Soviet Army Monument in Sofia, the war in Ukraine, the possible sale of Lukoil, Russian-Bulgarian relations “and the situation in modern Russia”. It alleged that the cancellation decision had been made under external pressure.

Equally predictable condemnation of the cancellation decision came from pro-Kremlin minority party Vuzrazhdane, which said that it objected to “political censorship and double standards in the Bulgarian public media”.

Bulgaria’s current informal ruling majority repeatedly has voted in favour of measures in support of Ukraine, while soon after Putin’s Russia began its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin listed Bulgaria as among countries it considers hostile. Pro-Western Defence Minister Todor Tagarev is among those who have called for effective countermeasures against Russian hybrid propaganda’s influence in Bulgaria. Bulgaria recently reached an agreement with the United States to act against Russian disinformation.

Nato and EU member state Bulgaria has expelled several Russian “diplomats” for espionage, while Mitrofanova herself, who has a habit of repeatedly insulting Bulgaria’s government, Bulgaria and Bulgarians, has been the subject of repeated calls for her expulsion, though to no avail.

(Archive photo: Pixabay)

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