Is There any Hope for Freedom of Speech in Bulgaria?

Opinions | May 4, 2015, Monday // 11:41|  views

Photo by BGNES

Public broadcasters in Bulgaria (BNT and BNR) are still "islands of pluralism" within the public environment, Georgi Lozanov, who heads the country's highest-ranking media watchdog, has opined.

In an opinion piece published by DW marking the World Press Freedom Day (celebrated internationally on May 3), he says the negative assessment of Bulgaria that is more increasingly made by global organizations monitoring journalism is actually a "self-assessment", since their methodology includes journalists working in the respective country.

Lozanov, who chairs the Council for Electronic Media (CEM), points to the "unbelievable" fact that Bulgaria's ranking started to sink 10 places a year (on average) after joining the EU in 2007.

In his words, this was due to four reasons. "Firstly [it was] because the media decided that freedom of speech was guaranteed "from the outside" and "removed the problem from their own agenda, and thence from the society's [agenda]. They lost the critical interest in themselves."

The second reason is that non-profits also took the same step, in his words.

Thirdly, he recalls that under Communism "generations of Bulgarians had been used to living without freedom in their public space and to attaining it in private communication... When [the regime] collapsed, this paradoxically turned into a boosted interest in the "private person" behind public stories, with an inclination to their "yellow" side. After the initial political euphoria most of market-led journalism subjugated itself to the "tabloid form", it preferred circulation and rating to authority. And [it seems that] EU entry legalized the situation," he also explains.

The fourth reason Lozanov mentions is the withdrawal of foreign investors and their replacement with "local capitals" from the shadow economy, turning media outlets into "corporate accessories... against the backdrop of a dwindling advertising market."

On the other hand, Lozanov argues that the latest developments such as the 2013 street protests have cast a glimmer of hope for a change.

"The first prerequisite for having something is being able to feel its absence... For a year or to the absence [of media freedom] has been raising public awareness and critical reactions," Lozanov concludes.

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Tags: Bulgaria, society, media, press freedom, sinking, CEM, Georgi Lozanov, Lozanov, street protests, public broadcasters


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