Bulgarian Journalists Boycott the Ministry of Finance’s Absurd Requirements for Accreditation

Politics | July 11, 2023, Tuesday // 12:26|  views

Minister of Finance Asen Vassilev

Bulgarian journalists are boycotting the absurd demands placed on them by the Ministry of Finance headed by Asen Vassilev.

In an open letter to Minister Vassilev, with which the Association of European Journalists stands in solidarity with reporters and editors, it is stated:

"Dear Mr. Minister,

We, the Bulgarian journalists who signed this letter, refuse to accredit ourselves for access to the Ministry of Finance, after your decision the institution introduced disproportionate requirements that make it difficult and limit access to press conferences and briefings.

It is the duty of the institutions to ensure transparency and accountability for their activities. The right of citizens to seek and receive information is guaranteed by the Constitution and the Law on Access to Public Information introduces a ban on discrimination in the provision of information by the public sector and a ban on restricting free competition.

One of the ways to ensure the right to information about the activities of state institutions is through the access of journalists and media to the representatives of these institutions. Journalists must enjoy equal treatment and not be subject to discrimination. Institutions have the right to introduce rules of conduct and access to events with the participation of the media, but these rules must not create unnecessary obstacles, nor leave the impression that their real purpose is to limit access to certain media and their representatives, nor to freelance journalists.

The state has the right and duty to consider measures against disinformation, but these measures must take into account the balance of different rights, so as not to turn into hidden censorship. It is no accident that journalism is not a regulated profession and the state is not charged with the duty to determine who is a journalist and who is not. The media are free to organize their work as they choose and are not obliged to have certain journalists covering, for example, the Finance section. The requirement to prove that a journalist is covering this subject is discriminatory. In no way is it forbidden for anyone to work on a single topic and to request and gain access to representatives of an institution whenever and however they see fit. The requirement to provide a letter from an editor-in-chief is also discriminatory against freelance journalists.

The measures that the institutions can take should be aimed at those representatives of the media whose behavior violates the rules during the press conferences, but cannot be a response to the way the work of the institutions is covered. The state does not have the right to deny access to media events that are critical and the Ministry of Finance is not charged with the duty to fight through administrative restrictions against what it considers to be disinformation.

As we believe that the bureaucratic requirements introduced by the Ministry of Finance could set an unacceptable precedent that would worsen access to information, we declare that we will not submit applications for accreditation until the rules are revised. We also urge the Ministry of Finance to publish the order introducing these measures so that it can be challenged in court if it is not reversed in the meantime."

The letter was signed by journalists from several Bulgarian media organizations: Sega, Mediapool.bg, BNT, BTA, OFFNews, Bivol, Bird.bg, Telegraph, Glasove and other independent journalists.

"The Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria (AEJ-Bulgaria) stands in solidarity with the decision of the signatory journalists and recalls its position on the subject from June 22, 2023, in which it is noted that state institutions do not have the right to arbitrarily restrict journalists' access to open press conferences" - was said a message from AEJ today.

The absurd rules imposed on the media by the press center of the MoF means that the ministry will now allow only "accredited journalists" to its events. It imagines these to be reporters "who are engaged in the creation of news and overview commentary-analytical shows and columns with financial and economic themes and regularly provide news and information about the overall activity of the Ministry of Finance and secondary allocators of budget funds to the department".

The requirements in question are subjective and subject to divergent interpretations. It is interesting how the Ministry of Finance will assess the degree of engagement with the financial issues of each individual journalist and it is even more interesting what is meant by "regularly" to provide news and information about the activities of the Ministry of Finance - once a week, once a month and once yearly is still regular...

There is no practice for only accredited journalists to cover events of a state department in Bulgaria. Behind such a requirement looms an attempt at censorship - that reporters who ask uncomfortable questions do not have access to and cannot ask the Harvard minister any questions.

Informing the media about the new requirements, the press center of the Ministry of Finance requested that the necessary documents for accreditation be provided to the "Public Relations and Protocol" Directorate by July 15.

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Tags: finance, Vassilev, journalists, media


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