Politicians in Bulgaria are reemerging as key “bodyguards” of the information circulating in the media. They stay both at the entrance and at the exit and control the interference in the media’s editorial policies. If in 2015 this role was performed by the media’s advertising departments and economic factors in various sectors, 2017 is witnessing the return of political and institutional censorship, equipped with a rich repertoire of instruments for influence.
These are some of the findings of the fourth thematic online survey on freedom of expression in Bulgaria conducted by the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria), whose motto this year is “Journalism without pressure 4.0”.
The full text of the report can be downloaded here: The Great Comeback of Political Pressure, 2017
The survey is nationwide but not representative. The findings are based on the responses of a record number of journalists (200), who completed the questionnaire in May-June 2017. The survey paints an overall picture of the media environment in Bulgaria, media independence, the working conditions for journalists and major challenges such as internal and external sources of pressure and self-censorship. The Alfa Research agency has processed the data, while Iliya Valkov, a journalist and university professor and a member of AEJ-Bulgaria, has prepared the analysis.
The survey shows that in 2017 Bulgarian journalists are again beginning to feel insecure and anxious about the lack of freedom. Over 42% of the respondents describe the state of freedom of expression in Bulgaria as “bad”, 27.8% – as “very bad”, 25.3% – as “satisfactory”, and only 4.5% – as “good”. The overall assessment of the level of freedom of expression in the country has taken a negative turn since the 2015 survey.
“The culture of pressure” is now part of Bulgarian journalists’ everyday life. The common feeling of external pressure or interference with one’s work has not changed over the past two years, with two of every three respondents saying they know about cases in which a colleague of theirs has come under pressure. A whole 92% believe that interference with journalists’ work is a common phenomenon.
Politicians and state and municipal institutions are employing a rich toolbox of threats, blackmail, slander, and harassment to influence editorial decisions. Over 23% of the journalists who participated in the survey worry that the various types of pressure lead to psychological and health problems. The respondents’ answers together produce a “classification of fear”, which begins with a threat or a dismissal, goes through “economic sanctions”, “use of the repressive apparatus” (tax inspections), fines and withdrawal of advertising, and ends with “thefts and intentional damages to my car”.
The concentration of the media environment in Sofia continues, as does the decline of regional media. Journalists often change their workplaces due to the instability of the media sector which, in turn, increases their tendency to resort to self-censorship.
*The survey is part of AEJ-Bulgaria’s project “Mediator 2: A Bridge Between Ethical Journalism and the Society”, supported by the America for Bulgaria Foundation.