Written by Mariya Boncheva

Back to Country Selection


  • Area: 110.993 square kilometres
  • Population: 7.1 Mio (2016)
  • Capital: Sofia
  • State form: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
  • Official language: Bulgarian
  • Religion: Christian Orthodox (59 per cent)

  • Flag of Bulgaria

    The one-decade membership of Bulgaria in the EU, has proven disappointing in the development of the country´s own media system. Initially placed as 35th in the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders just prior to entering the union in 2007, the country dropped to the 106th position in 2017. The period was marked by an increase of market concentration and the establishment of local oligarchic groups as owners of a significant share of the press, online, printing and distribution sectors. Yet, the market is dominated by the two private national television groups, both owned by big foreign investors. The less popular public broadcasters are officially public, but in reality remain state-funded and, as such, an object of potential political influence. The constitution of 1991 guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression, including media freedom. Yet, the overall weak enforcement of the legislative regulations and the high level of pressure from politics, owners and advertisers restrict journalist´s autonomy and result in self-censorship. Moreover, the close ties between media owners and politicians and the state in its adopted role as the major advertiser for the media sector, provide further limitations for editorial independence in the country and a further reason for Bulgaria´s assignment under the title of Clientelism in the typology.
    Communication policy and regulations
    As the communist regime collapsed in 1989 the Bulgarian media system emerged anew. The freshly formulated constitution, adopted in 1991, put an end to an era of 45 years centralized news and information control (Basille, 2009: 1). Ever since the change to market economy there is no definition of the media mission in the country´s legislative framework any more. The new constitution granted the freedom of expression (Article 39) and the right to seek, receive and disseminate information, also „from state bodies and agencies on any matter of legitimate interest, which is not a state or official secret and does not affect the rights of others“(Article 41). Article 40 declares press and mass media information for free and prohibits censorship, although it fails to provide an explicit definition on the term (Constitution of Bulgaria). A clear definition of censorship is determined by the Radio and Television Act (RAT) as „interference by persons outside the editorial board“(Kantchev et al., 2013: 167). Additionally, Bulgaria has ratified the major international treaties regarding freedom the expression – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1970 and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 1992 (Spassov et al., 2016: 4).
    Although the general legislative frame does in fact meet the democratic standards, international media reports agree upon the presence of insufficient implementation and overall weakness of the rule of law (IREX, 2016: 35; IREX, 2017: 5; KAS, 2017; Spassov et al., 2016: 4). For example, despite the fact that the Public Information Act was further fortified in 2015, there are still cases, when information is being denied to media and particularly to investigative journalists (IREX, 2016: 40; IREX, 2017: 6; Freedom House, 2016: 3; Spassov et al., 2016: 4).
    Another relevant example concerns the enforcement of the amendments from 2010 to the Mandatory Deposition of Print and Other Works Act. The new provision of Article 7a obliges publishers of print periodicals to disclose information about the actual owner in the first issue for every calendar year and to furthermore declare any changes of ownership to the Ministry of Culture, in the print issue, as well as on the media´s website. However, the legal requirements continue to bel broadly ignored (CSD, 2015: 3-4). Even though sanctions for not fulfilling the transparency obligations are foreseen by law, until 2016 there are no records of imposed penalties (ibid.; Spassov et al., 2016: 5). Likewise, the law enforced in 2014, designed to reveal the actual owners behind offshore companies, has not been sufficiently enforced so far and the problem with the lack of ownership transparency within the media sector remains to this day (CSD, 2015: 4-5; Freedom House, 2016: 3). Furthermore, Bulgaria´s print sector continues to be under-regulated, as the constitutional law has ruled in favour of regulation of the broadcasting sector, but against regulation of the press (CSD, 2015: 1). The lack of a specific print act allows ample freedom to publishers, both in regards to editing and content, as well as in respect to not being obliged to transparently declare the real circulation number, as there is still no official body, appointed to collect information on them (Kantchev et al., 2013: 165, 168).
    The Radio and Television Act regulates both public and private broadcasting media, declaring their independence from economic and political interferences, prohibiting censorship and stating ownership as an important factor by licence allocation (CSD, 2015: 2). However, there are cases of insufficient enforcement in that field as well. An emblematic example is the case of the national TV7, where both the awarding and the withdrawal of its license were lacking transparency and were defined by experts as an act favouring specific political interests (IREX, 2017: 5; Smilova, 2014: 181-185). Along with the implementation deficiencies, according to local experts, the law was amended over 40 times since its adoption in 1998, mostly in the very last minute, serving short-term business and political interests (IREX, 2017: 5).
    The regulatory body, responsible for the broadcasting media, including licensing, is the Council of Electronic Media (CEM). The council is officially independent, yet the Parliament both allocates its budget and elects three out of its five members (Spassov et al., 2016: 4-5; 16). According to Freedom House CEM “is subject to pressure from the government, politicians and large corporate interests, and is notably ineffective at addressing problems such as hate speech” (2016: 2). While TV and radio are precisely regulated and press is under-regulated, online media are not subject to regulation at all, because “according to the Bulgarian law, content generated online is not considered to be a media” (CSD, 2015: 10). There is, as well, no regulation of media ownership that protects the overall sector from horizontal concentration. (SEEMO, 2016: 5).
    Another tendency from the last few years is the enforcement of laws from the financial regulatory sector in ways that restrict the media. In 2015, the Financial Supervision Commission (FSC) has imposed fines up to BGN 150 000 BGN (around EUR 80 000) on print media like the national daily newspaper Capital, the investigative website Bivol, the regional newspaper Zov News, accusing them of market manipulation and refusing to disclose their informants (Freedom House, 2016: 2; Spassov et al., 2016: 4). However, in March 2016 the court revoked the fines (U.S. State Department, 2016; mediapool.bg, 2016). Although these cases were in fact settled in advantage to media freedom and journalists´ autonomy, the overall climate of fear of the law and the regulatory bodies remains, as they are being systematically used against critical and investigating media (IREX, 2017: 5; KAS, 2017; SEEMO, 2016: 17).
    Literature and media experts name numerous causes, responsible for allowing the general tendency towards a weak enforcement of the law frame in favour of democratically functioning media landscape and, at the same time, an intensified enforcement against editorial independency. The overall environment of corruption both in the political and the media sector, the collision between media and politics, the state turning into a major advertiser for the media branch are just some of the recurrently discussed arguments (Freedom House, 2016; IREX, 2016; IREX, 2017; RSF, 2017; KAS, 2014; KAS, 2017; SEEMO, 2016; Spassov et. al., 2016).
    Last, but not least, the journalistic guild itself contributes to the status quo. The existing self-regulatory mechanisms are insufficient to oppose the political and economic pressure and to defend editorial independence (CSD, 2015: 1). A Code of Ethics of the Bulgarian Media according to European standards, and two ethics commissions have been acknowledged by a number of associations and media (Spassov et al., 2016: 8). However, in many cases the ethical norms remain solely theoretical (KAS, 2014: 79). The outlets around the media tycoon and MP Delyan Peevski left the Bulgarian Publishers´ Association and established an alternative Bulgarian Media Union (BMU) with its own code of ethics and ethics commission. The member media of BMU are often accused in disregarding journalistic standards by manipulating the public opinion and favouring political and economic interests (CSD, 2015: 9).
    The overall legal environment in Bulgaria is placed at a score of 12 out of a total of 30 in the rankings of Freedom House for 2016. The press freedom status is defined as „partly free“ due to the political involvement of major media owners and advertisers, and because of harassment and assaulting of journalists from politicians and other powerful interests (2016: 1). In 2017, Bulgaria remains the worst ranked EU country in the World Press Freedom Index by RWB. Although the country climbed up four positions in the same index, compared to 2016, it is still on the 109th position and within the red coloured section, defining the media freedom as “bad”. According to RWB the reason for this ranking is “an environment dominated by corruption and collision between media, politicians and oligarchs, including Delyan Peevski” (RSF, 2017). However, media ownership by media moguls who have no interest in sustaining qualitative journalism, but rather in promoting their own political agenda, is recognized as a typical trait not only for Bulgaria, but for most of the other South Eastern European countries (Spahr & Zlateva, 2015; Zlateva, 2017). Moreover, not only in Bulgaria, but in Greece and in Romania as well, media pluralism is defined as at high risk, “accompanied by heavy state interference in the media, or close economic ties between the political sector and private media owners”. Likewise, concentration of media ownership, as well as of press distribution are also noted in Bulgaria´s southern and northern neighbouring states (Bard & Bayer, 2016: 8; 53). On the whole, the media systems on the entire Balkans are defined as “patchier” as in the rest of the Central and East European countries such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia (Ruduša, 2010: 5).
    Media offers
    Media outlets and key media
    The economic crisis from 2009-2013 had a substantial impact on media systems in Central and Eastern Europe, and Bulgaria made no exception (Ruduša, 2010: 3-4). Advertising revenues were cut by half and numerous outlets had to close. The print sector was worst affected due to the simultaneous expansion of the internet. But let the numbers speak – according to the National Statistical Institute, a total of 262 newspapers (44 of them daily newspapers) were issued in 2017, 176 less than in 2008 (NSI, 2017b; NSI, 2008a). The registered radio operators are 84, or 30 less than in 2008 (NSI, 2017c; NSI, 2008b). On the contrary, the television service providers have even increased in number – from 112 in 2009 to 121 in 2017 (NSI, 2017d; NSI, 2009), which could be explained with the fact that television is the most consumed media in the country. Although statistical data speaks for a pluralistic media landscape, in fact media conglomerates, cross-ownership and high horizontal concentration dominate the market (Smilova, 2014: 176).
    Overall, four groups of media could be distinguished on the Bulgarian media market – the public broadcasters, the large foreign-owned broadcast networks, the independent commercial media and the so called „truncheons“, media sustained by external business sources related to their owners (IREX, 2017: 10). Similar to media systems from the Cartelism type, such as France or Italy, a major part of the media are owned by companies, which do more than just media.
    The public broadcasting media, Bulgarian National Television (BNT) and Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) were both state owned during the communist regime. After the transition in 1989-1990 they were declared public and independent, yet, they still receive their financing primarily from the state budget (Spassov et al., 2016: 7). Both interviewed experts and literature share the opinion that public media offers the most balanced and diverse, also according to the political agenda. The financing mechanism, however, allows for potential political pressure over the editorial independence (IREX, 2017: 6; FES, 2014: 12-13; Freedom House, 2017: 3). The first private national television, bTV, emerged in June 2000, followed by Nova TV in 2003. Very soon they turned into the most influential media on the market, leaving the public broadcaster behind (IREX, 2017: 9; Kashumov, 2016: 98). In 2015, their mutual market share is estimated to be 80%, while the mutual audience share is assessed at 60% (ibid.: 92). Both TV companies are profitable and operate one main and several cable channels with niche programming, as well as radio stations and websites (IREX, 2017: 10). Both are, as well, owned by influential foreign investors. bTV belongs to the Central European Media Enterprises (CME), owner of various broadcasting media across Central and Eastern Europe (KAS, 2014: 72; novinite.com, 2010). Nova TV instead, is owned by the Swedish media group MTG. The two leading broadcasters are considered as not politically affiliated (Kashumov, 2016: 92). Furthermore, there are two party television channels, Alfa and SKAT, however, neither one of them is particularly influential (MPM, 2016: 6; Kashumov, 2016: 92). Recently, two new niche television channels have emerged, targeting previously unserved audience groups – the Bulgarian International Television BiT and Bloomberg Bulgaria, aiming at a predominantly business audience (IREX, 2016: 46).
    While the television sector is dominated by public and large international providers, the print market, on the other hand, has been commercial since the beginning of the democracy in 1990, and no big international companies have operated in it since 2010. A specific feature of the press sector is the dominion of the so called “hybrid-tabloids”, a term introduced by local researchers to define the mixture of quality and popular press (CSD, 2016: 4; Kantchev et al., 2013: 165).
    Quickly following the change from communism to market economy, the print sector experienced a vast boom. As the interviewed expert Siana Sevova, a political journalists with 20 years of experience, states, freedom of expression was perceived as one of the most precious achievements of democracy. People were standing in long queues to hold the first free press in their hands.
    The initial period of drastic, but unstable expansion in the early 1990s, was followed by a period of stabilization, but also by the first signs of market concentration after the German WAZ (Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung) bought the two leading daily newspapers Trud (Labour) and 24 Chasa (24 Hours), the biggest print house, and established control over 60% of the advertising market in the late 1990s (CSD, 2016: 4; Kantchev et al., 2013: 174; Smilova: 2014: 183). The dawn of the new century brought about the first fall in print circulations and advertising revenues due to the appearance of a private national television. The trend intensified further with the economic crisis and the expansion of the internet (CSD, 2016: 1-2). A study of Open Society Institute Media Freedom in 18 Central and Eastern Europe countries, among others Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia, identified a drop in media revenues between 30 and 60% right after the first year of the crisis. This has resulted in an overall deterioration of the working conditions in the media sector, as well as in decreased reporting quality in the studied countries (Ruduša, 2010: 3; 13). As a consequence in Bulgaria, the only international big player WAZ left the unstable print market in 2010, opening space for local oligarchic groups to consolidate their positions in the media sector (ibid.: 1, 6; KAS, 2014: 72).
    Such an oligarchic group began to emerge already in 2007, when Irena Krasteva, the National Lottery´s former owner, and her son Delyan Peevski, a MP, bought the dailies Monitor, Telegraph and Politika and established the New Bulgarian Media Group (NBMG) (KAS, 2014: 72). The group extended further, purchasing the tabloid with the highest circulation Weekend, two more dailies, at least four regional newspapers, various magazines, websites, the biggest printing house on the Balkan Rodina and around 80% of the print distribution in the country (CSD, 2016: 8-9; IREX, 2017: 8-9; RSF, 2016: 54-55). NBMG was among the top four print media groups whose joint market share was over 80% for daily newspaper, 70% for weekly newspaper and 80% for magazines for 2015 (Kashumov, 2016: 92). Furthermore, in the same year Peevski declared ownership of stake in the big advertisers Bulgartabac and Technomarket, and of the television channel Kanal 3 (Freedom House, 2016: 3). Part of the financial resources for the purchasing the media outlets derived from loans provided by Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB), which held main parts of the funds of state-owned enterprises and which then bankrupted in 2014 (bivol.bg, 2014; Kantchev et al., 2013: 172; SEEMO, 2016: 19). The funds for the acquisitions after KTB´s bankruptcy remain unclear (IREX, 2016: 33). NBMG´s outlets are known for pro-governmental reporting, regardless of the ruling party, attacks on any who oppose those in power and on public speakers, as well as for “political engineering” (CSD, 2016: 9-11; Kashumov, 2016: 92). The media group is as well assessed as politically affiliated, as Peevski is a MP of the Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS), the third-biggest party in the country. Moreover, there are cases of sanctioning outlets for disclosing the connections between NBMG, KTB and the state, such as the owner of Capital Weekly, part of the media group Economedia, who was fined by the Commission for Protection of Competition (ibid.).
    Furthermore, NBMG´s media outlets are in constant war with the Economedia group, whose outlets are known for their critical to the government editorial policy (Smilova, 2014: 184). To Economedia´s family belong Capital Daily, the only newspaper in the country classified as quality press, Capital light, as well as several websites and magazines (economedia.bg; Kantchev et al., 2013: 165). According to the interviewed experts Gurmeva, a former journalist and current PR agent, and Sevova, Economedia´s outlets, despite the fact that are among the most qualitative and pluralistic outlets on the market, still defend the particular interests of their owner Ivo Prokopiev, a well-positioned Bulgarian businessman. Furthermore, the former leaders on the print market Trud and 24 Chasa have lost both their high circulations and their reputation, as stated by Gurmeva.
    While the print market continues to diminish, the online sector is expanding rapidly. Two of the most influential online outlets are owned by the two above-mentioned media conglomerates – Blitz belongs to NBMG, and Dnevnik – to Economedia (Kashumov, 2016: 89). The other leaders among online media, OFFnews and Mediapool, are independent and rely on a mixed financing model, including advertising, sponsorship and subscriptions (IREX, 2017: 10). Yet, according to the statistical data, provided by alexa.com, the most visited online media and the 12th most visited website in all of Bulgaria, is Bradva (meaning axe) (alexa.com, 2017). According to project Mediino Oko (Media Eye), Bradva is one of the 235, or 50% of all 435 online media on the market, which have not yet published any information in regards to their ownership (Gadjokov, 2017). Such “anonymous online platforms cross-promote one another to multiply fake news and Kremlin propaganda”, and give as well voice to hate speech and paid “trolls” (U.S. State Department, 2016; IREX, 2017: 8). The independent website Bivol (meaning bull) is also worth mentioning as one of the few investigative media in the country.
    The last media sector to be discussed is also the least important in terms of the influence it exerts on public opinion. Only 2, 7% of the Bulgarians name radio as their preferred source of political information (CSD, 2016: 2; KAS, 2015: 6). The market is dominated by musical radio stations. Except for the national public radio BNR, there are few other news-orientated and poly-thematic ones, like radio Focus (IREX, 2016: 47). As a whole, the radio sector is unstable and „even established big chains, like the radio stations of the bTV media group, do not pay copyright fees and are looking for new investors“ (IREX, 2017: 11).
    Regional radio stations, but also regional media as a whole, find it hard to survive and their numbers are decreasing constantly, or they wander over to the internet in order to survive (IREX, 2016: 47). There are few journalistic organizations, like the Union of Bulgarian Journalists (UBJ) and the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), however, they are not particularly influential. A broad majority of active journalists remain to this day not unionized (IREX, 2016: 51; Spassov et al., 2016: 4).

    Media ownership and resources
    The concentration of ownership, and, moreover, the non-transparency of actual media ownership are named as two of the main reasons for the low positioning of Bulgaria in international rankings (KAS, 2014: 69; RSF, 2017; SEEMO, 2016: 9). Due to voids in regulation, media ownership through offshore companies, or ownership through intermediaries, is becoming increasingly popular (IREX, 2017: 10-12; Smilova, 2014: 183; Spassov et al., 2016: 5). This presents the leading barrier to identifying the actual owners and the channels of interests, that these enjoy, as well as the actual intentions behind particular media policies. The real concentration of the market, both horizontal and vertical, also remains unclear (Kantchev et al., 2013: 169; Smilova, 2014: 176). Or as Gurmeva formulated it: “It is hard to say that most of the media belong to one and the same person, because officially they belong to companies, owned by different people.”
    Furthermore, the obscurity of real ownership is a crucial issue when it comes to allocating public funds from government and authorities, as funds became a main source for financing the media sector since the financial crisis (Kantchev et al., 2013: 166). In addition, media concentration and opaque ownership lead to further monopolization of the already insufficient advertising market (IREX, 2017: 10-12). Cross-ownership in the media sector, cross-sector ownership, as well as close relationship between media owners and politics are common characteristics not only for Bulgaria, but rather for most of the countries, whose media systems are assigned to the Cartelism and Clientelism types.

    Access to media and media usage
    Traditionally, Bulgarian media scores well within the Media Sustainability Index in indicators concerning the citizens´ access to domestic and international media, technical equipment for news gathering and telecommunication infrastructure. There is free television and radio all across the country. Paid television is wide spread and affordable (IREX, 2016: 33; IREX, 2017: 8). Public television covers 96, 2% of the population, public radio – 99%. (FES, 2014: 34; Spassov et al., 2016: 5). The access to media for regional communities, however, is problematic. Firstly, because regional outlets continuously decrease in numbers. Secondly, national press is becoming increasingly unavailable or unaffordable in the rural areas. The internet access is also limited, because providers cannot make profit from extending their infrastructure into remote areas (FES, 2014: 34; Spassov et al., 2016: 7-8).
    As a whole, the media usage in Bulgaria is explicitly dominated by television with TV consumption being the highest among the 28 EU member states (CSD, 2016: 1). In contrary, the newspaper audience is the second smallest in Europe with only Greece staying behind. In the year 2014, only 11% of the Bulgarian population used newspapers daily, while in the period between 2001-2013, 50% to 55% of the population did so (ibid.: 2). Both the Center for Study of Democracy and the interviewed experts attribute this drastic change to the significant drop in the public´s trust in the press (ibid.).
    Unlike print, online and social media usage are constantly on the increase, with social media being of the same importance as professional online media (Spahr, 2017: 2). Online media is also the second most trusted source of political information after television. Print and radio stay further behind (KAS, 2015: 6). In 2016, 63, 5% of Bulgarian households had access to the internet (NSI, 2017d) and the majority of the population is active on the internet every day (Spahr, 2017: 2). The particularly high usage of Facebook is specific for the country. In 2008, there were 60 000 thousands users, while in 2011 the numbers had already risen to 2 million (CSD, 2016: 14). Last but not least, the overall level of media literacy in the country is considered as insufficient and at high risk (Spassov et al., 2016: 8)
    Journalists' autonomy
    Journalists´ education and working conditions
    The access to the journalistic profession is unrestricted, moreover no specific educational requirements exist. Yet, the majority of journalists are in possession of a university degree, either in journalism, or in a particular philology (AEJ, 2017: 18; Slavcheva-Petkova, 2017: 1). Numerous public and private universities offer education in journalism. However, the interviewed experts define the education quality as low, outdated and lacking in practical relevance. According to Christopher Karadjov, a former journalist and editor in Bulgaria, recently an associated professor of journalism at the California State University, the overall level of journalists is low and violations of basic journalistic standards are the rule and not the exception. Likewise, media no longer offers qualification programs, since the economic crisis has drastically changed the market conditions. Recently, there have been sporadic trainings offered by professional associations, but the journalists´ interest is rather limited (IREX, 2016: 52; IREX, 2017: 12-13).
    Gurmeva and Sevova refer the insufficient professionalization, on one hand, to the fact that many experienced journalists are leaving the profession due to plummeting wages. On the other hand, lately employers often prefer unexperienced reporters or trainees, first, because they present a lesser cost, and, second, because they are more willing to follow a particular media line.
    Overall, the destabilization of the market has a negative impact on the working conditions in the media, leading to high work insecurities. Because of the lowered revenues there are less full-time positions, more contracts for services, less protection for journalists against pressure coming from politicians, state officials, business persons or employers, and little if any social benefits (Kashumov, 2016: 94; Spassov et al., 2016: 4). Moreover, as Gurmeva stated, the remunerations for released editorial contributions were completely cut off in the whole print and online sector, except for 24 Chasa, where they are still paid, but reduced drastically.
    Additionally, time pressure increased as a result of personnel layoffs. According to both Gurmeva and Sevova, journalists in the print sector have a six days working week, unfixed working hours and barely time for any personal live. Sevova describes the situation in the online sector as even worse: “You are expected to write as much and as fast as possible. It resembles working on the belt.” There is no time left for research, investigation or gathering alternative viewpoints. Most articles are based on official press releases or news agencies. Overall, the increased economic and working pressure present major obstacles to quality reporting (IREX, 2017: 7, 12). Furthermore, there is a strong editorial pressure that journalists have come to accept, since the reduced labour market does not offer many job alternatives (CSD, 2016: 12).
    As in all other aspects, regional media outlets stay behind also in regards to working conditions. As a result, the majority of qualified journalists leave for the capital Sofia, where most media are located and payment is higher (IREX, 2017: 10). A positive aspect regarding the working conditions is the level of technical facilities and equipment (IREX, 2017: 13). However, similarly this factor concerns mainly capital-based media. Regional journalists often have to work with their own technical equipment (AEJ, 2017: 69-70).

    Journalists´ role and self-perception
    According to a survey conducted for the study Worlds of Journalism, Bulgarian journalists perceive themselves as detached observers who report things as they are, educate the audience and provide an analysis of current affairs. Promoting cultural diversity and tolerance and supporting national development are named as further important tasks. On the contrary, supporting the government and conveying a positive image of political leadership is an important part of the profession for only a small minority of the interviewed (Slavcheva-Petkova, 2017: 2).
    However, this self-image contrasts drastically with society´s perception. Similar to Mexico, people view journalists as corrupt and servants to those in power and often regard journalists “as little more than the mouth-pieces of their employer´s business interests” (Basille, 2009: 3). Karadjov summarized the overall viewpoint of experts and literature: “In the 1990s journalists were respected as the voice of the changes and an important part of democracy. Nowadays they have lost their reputation. It is sad, but not undeserved.” According to a 2015 representative survey carried out by Konrad Adenauer Foundation, only 12, 4% of the Bulgarians trust in the independence of the media (KAS, 2015: 3). In addition, even in the social media people are looking for information of greater independence (KAS, 2014: 68). People blame journalists for not fulfilling their role as a social corrective and for the overall problematic conditions in the country. Yet, “they do not consider the fact that journalists are themselves subject of pressure and exploitation, working too much for too little” – Sevova stated.

    Limitations of journalists’ autonomy and interference in freedom of expression
    As explained above, in Bulgaria freedom of expression and editorial independence are granted de jure. However, de facto the media landscape is dominated by unwritten rules of economic, political and administrative pressure, self-censorship, and paid editorial content. Interviewed experts, researchers and reports are unanimous that the interference with journalists´ autonomy from various interest groups, but also from owners and editors is much greater than it should be (CSD, 2015: 10-11; CSD, 2016: 13-14; KAS, 2014: 67-68; SEEMO, 2016: 9-10). Media owners, being mostly well positioned businesspeople in other branches, are subject to political influence and/or use the media to promote their business interests. As a result, they often interfere with editorial content (CSD, 2015: 4; FES, 2014: 14; Kashumov, 2016: 93; SEEMO, 2016: 9). In a representative survey among media owners, 7 out of 13 owners have admitted that they have stopped journalistic materials from being published, and 4 out of 15 have stated that there are issues that are not allowed in their media (KAS, 2014: 76). According to the interviewed experts, the topics in the media are very limited due to the strong owner´s influence on the editorial lines and due to the concentration of ownership. The interference sometimes reaches extremes as in a recent case, reported by an interviewed expert, where two journalists from an online media managed to persuade with facts and numbers their editor to publish a primly denied investigation they had conducted. Right after the publication both of them were fired. Furthermore, Gurmeva describes a national print outlet, where a major part of the editorial content consists of “ready texts, written by nobody-knows-who”, “handled on USB sticks”, and published, without double-checking the information. However, all three experts claim that independent media, providing quality reporting continues to exist, yet those outlets do not represent a significant enough number to sustain media pluralism.
    Beside the owners, big advertisers are another source of pressure and limitation for journalists´ autonomy. Although advertisers were influencing media policies as early as in the 1990s, as Karadjov stated, the pressure grew significantly since the financial crisis diminished media revenues. The few left big advertisers, mostly banks and telecommunication companies, often require positive coverage or even critical reporting about their competitors in exchange for funding (KAS, 2014: 81). However, there are also cases, when media use pressure on companies by continuously reporting negative facts about them. Usually the attacks do not stop until the company begins to fund the outlet (IREX, 2016: 49).
    A further change since the financial crisis´ destabilization of the media market, is the transformation of the state into a major advertiser, and, as such, into a substantial obstacle for editorial independence – a characteristic common for other counties of the Clientelism type as well, such as Venezuela for example.
    Central and local authorities, as well as ministries are obliged under the law to spend certain amount of their budgets, including EU funds, for communication services (KAS, 2014: 81). Outlets compromise some of their editorial independence and offer favourable coverage in exchange for financing (SEEMO, 2016: 14). There are cases when funding is being stopped as a result of critical reporting. Such acts are regarded as a “form of media censorship” (Kashumov, 2016: 93). Moreover, the state funds are allocated in an opaque and unjust way, which represents yet another tool for interfering with editorial content (Spassov et al., 2016: 6). The largest share of state advertising is allocated to the televisions, which “suggests that they are the most susceptible among the media to political influence” (Kashumov, 2016: 93). Regional media receive smaller share of the funds, but they are the most dependent on it, with various outlets being almost completely financed by local authorities (FES, 2014: 13, 70). On the whole, more and more media turn out to be dependent on state funds and those who do not participate lack in financial resources. The result is a “political monopoly on the market” (Kashumov, 2016: 93). The allocation of funds by the government in exchange for positive reporting is a popular practice not only in Bulgaria, but in most of the South Eastern European countries as well (Spahr & Zlateva, 2015; Zlateva, 2017).
    Furthermore, it is noted that the publishing of paid content as an editorial, reaches its peak during election campaigns (KAS, 2014: 82-83). As political parties receive subsidy from the state, media coverage is actually financed with public funds (Kantchev et al., 2013: 172).
    Funding is, however, not the only political tool for pressure over media, with different sectors being affected to a different grade. Politicians openly admit their close links to media and are even not afraid to demonstrate dominance in public (ibid.). For instance, a politician spoke out to the anchor on the national public television that he is “forgetting who it is that feeds you” (IREX, 2017: 6). Recently in October 2017 there was a similar case in the morning program of Nova TV. A MP of the ruling party GERB threatened the TV host for using too strong words, “alleging that this may cost him his job” (BTA, 2017). Sevova explains another tendency, also broadly discussed in literature, when politicians, MPs, or even the Prime Minister call or send text messages to owners, editors-in-chief or reporters, expressing their discontent with the editorial content (KAS, 2014: 77; SEEMO, 2016: 18; Spassov et al., 2016: 7). “Afterwards they refuse to disclose any information, sometimes up to couple of months” – adds Sevova, indicating a further pressure mechanism, or namely the monopoly of information. “Hostile” media are often punished with silence, while friendly ones enjoy increased attention or exclusive interviews (KAS, 2014: 77-79; SEEMO, 2016: 18). Administrative pressure is also used as a means to prevent unwanted reporting. There are various cases when critical or investigative media and journalists are inspected by tax authorities or labour inspectors (Freedom House, 2016: 3; IREX, 2016: 37-38). As a whole, the Media Pluralism Monitor 2016 indicates “high level of political control in the print media sector, medium level in the television sector, and relatively weak over the radio” (Spassov et al., 2016: 6). As elsewhere, direct harassment, threatening or bringing legal charges against journalists are tactics employed in putting halt onto critical or investigative journalists. The reported cases are rather sporadic, yet, represent a further obstacle before the freedom of expression in Bulgaria (Freedom House, 206: 2-3; IREX, 2017: 5; Kantchev et al., 2013: 170; SEEMO, 2016: 20; Spassov et al.,2016: 3). As claimed by Sevova, the idea of being threatened or sued gives journalists additional motivation for the practice of self-censorship. Especially, seen that neither employers, nor professional associations grant any protection any more.
    Self-censorship is considered a main consequence of the whole of economic, administrative and political pressure, discussed above (IREX, 2017: 7; SEEMO, 2016: 21). It is commonly named as a major problem for media pluralism, worse than censorship itself and becoming the norm rather than the exception. Or as Sevova puts it: “In my department, politics, we became like Pavlov’s dogs – self-censorship turned into a reflex.” The reasons according to her – mainly economical dependency. According to the South East Europe Media Organisation: “Journalists who still have jobs accept self-censorship – writing according to the wishes of a supervisor or not writing at all about certain topics” (SEEMO, 206: 18). “Forbidden” topics defer according to the media line, yet, both Gurmeva and Sevova agree upon the fact that the important questions are not being asked and that there is no pluralism of viewpoints within the outlets. All interviewed experts stated that the situation deteriorated compared to five or ten years ago and that, except for a few outlets, no media tolerate research, analysis or investigations any more. The focus is on articles based on press-conferences, informing who said what. There is no media, which serves as a corrective or as a benchmark at all, and the basic journalistic standards are regularly violated, concluded all three experts. Gurmeva pointed out, that, however, the responsibility for the present status quo of the Bulgarian media sector is to be shared – between those in power, who dominate over editorial content, and the journalists themselves, who have given up standing up to the professional standards. As a conclusion, Karadjov brought some light into the dire picture, reminding that “media systems oppose very similar problems worldwide” and that change comes sometimes unexpectedly, like it already came once in 1989-1990.
    This country report is based on both expert interviews and literature review.

    Interviewed experts
    (online interviews via skype, conducted 22-28 October 2017)
    • Silvia Gurmeva, former journalist and photographer with 20 years of experience, recent PR expert at the National Ministry of Justice, Bulgaria
    • Christopher Karadjov, former journalist and editor for Bulgarian national print media, recent associated professor at the Journalism Department of the California State University, Long Beach, USA
    • Siana Sevova, former political reporter in national print and online media for over 20 years, recent free-lance journalist

    • References
      • AEJ. (2015). New Forms of Pressure: Rumors and Slаnder Against Journalists. Retrieved from http://www.aej-bulgaria.org/eng/p.php?post=2412&c=286 on 28.11.2017
      • alexa.com (2017). The Sites in Bulgaria. Retrived from http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/BG on 04.12.2017
      • Bard, P., & Bayer, J. (Eds.). (2016). A comparative analysis of Media Freedom and Pluralism in the EU Member States. Brussels.
      • bivol.bg. (2014). Confirmed and Proven: Banker Tsvetan Vasilev Financed Bulgarian Media Empire. Retrieved from https://bivol.bg/en/confirmed-and-proven-banker-tsvetan-vasilev-financed-bulgarian-media-empire.html on 01.12.207
      • Blagov, K., Frahm, T., & Kirova, T. (2014). Owners, Politicians and Advertisers: Influence on the Media: owners, politicians and advertisers. Sofia: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. Retrieved from http://www.kas.de/medien-europa/en/publications/39402 on 01.12.2017
      • BTA. (2017). Deputy PM Simeonov, GERB MP Todorov Threaten TV Journalist during Live Broadcast - Nova TV. Retrieved from http://www.bta.bg/en/c/DF/id/1666176 on 28.11.207 on 27.11.2017
      • Burgess, J. (2010). Evaluating the evaluators: Media freedom indexes and what they measure. Washington, DC: Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy.
      • Constitution of Bulgaria. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.bg/en/const on 04.12.2017
      • CSD. (2015). Media Ownership in Bulgaria: state of play and challenge: Policy Brief No. 49, March 2015. Retrieved from http://www.csd.bg/artShow.php?id=17518 on 27.11.2017
      • CSD. (2016). Media (in)Dependence in Bulgaria: Risks and Trends: Policy Brief No. 60, May 2016.
      • economedia.bg. Outlets. Retrieved from http://www.economedia.bg/izdania.php on 27.11.2017
      • FES. (2014). Balkan Media Barometer: Bulgaria 2014. Sofia: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
      • Fileva, P., Stoikov, L., & Neikova, M. (2010). Journalistic Professions: Status and Dinamics in Bulgaria 2010: SU "Sv. Kliment Ohridski". Retrieved from http://www.newmedia21.eu/content/2012/06/Mariya-Popova-ZHurnalisticheskata-teoriya.pdf on 25.11.2017
      • Freedom House (2016). Bulgaria. Retrieved from http://www.freedomhouse.org/print/48298 on 04.12.2017
      • Gadjokov, K. (2017). Project Mediino Oko. Retrieved from http://www.mediascan.gadjokov.com on 03.12.2017
      • Głowacki, M. & Szynol, A. (2011). Comparing media systems in Central and Eastern Europe. Central European Journal of Communication, 4, 2(7)
      • Hristozova, A. (2009). Eine komparative Analyse des Systems Fernsehen in der Republik Bulgarien und in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1. Auflage). Hamburg: Diplom.de.
      • Ibroscheva, E., & Raicheva-Stover, M. (2017). East Meets West. Retrieved from http://ojs.viewjournal.eu/index.php/view/article/view/JETHC119/265 on 01.12.2017
      • IREX. (2016). Media Sustainability Index 2016: The Development of Sustainable Independent Media in Europe and Eurasia. Retrieved from http://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/pdf/media-sustainability-index-europe-eurasia-2016-full.pdf.pdf on 27.11.2017
      • IREX. (2017). Media Sustainability Index: Bulgaria. Retrieved from https://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/pdf/media-sustainability-index-europe-eurasia-2017-bulgaria.pdf on 27.11.2017
      • Kantchev, G., & Ognyanova, N. (2013). Bulgaria: Press Subsidies in the Shadows. In P. Murschetz (Ed.), Media business and innovation. State aid for newspapers. Theories, cases, actions (pp. 163–177). Berlin: Springer.
      • KAS. (2014). Influence on the Media: Owners, Politicians and Advertisers. Retrieved from http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_39402-1522-2-30.pdf?141117155526 on 27.11.2017
      • KAS. (2015). Trust in Bulgarian Media Independence and Quality. Retrieved from http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_18328-1442-2-30.pdf?160209093618 on 27.11.2017
      • KAS. (2017). Media Freedom in Bulgaria. Retrieved from http://www.kas.de/wf/en/71.13573/ on 28.11.2017
      • Kashumov, A. (2016). Media Pluralism in Bulgaria. In P. Bard & J. Bayer (Eds.), A comparative analysis of Media Freedom and Pluralism in the EU Member States (pp. 88–98). Brussels. Retrieved from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/supporting-analyses on 27.11.2017
      • Manliherova, M., Zlateva, M., & Petrova, T. (2009). The Bulgarian Journalism Education Landscape. In G. Terzis (Ed.), European journalism education (pp. 357–368). Bristol: Intellect.
      • mediapool.bg. (2016). The Court revoked the record fine imposed by FSC on Economedia. Retrieved from http://www.mediapool.bg/sadat-otmeni-rekordnata-globa-nalozhena-ot-kfn-na-ikonomedia-news246668.html on 28.11.2017
      • Murschetz, P. (Ed.). (2013). State aid for newspapers: Theories, cases, actions. Media business and innovation. Berlin: Springer.
      • novinite.com. (2010). Bulgaria bTV Former Owner News Corp in Middle East Move. Retrieved from http://www.novinite.com/articles/113485/Bulgaria+bTV+Former+Owner+News+Corp+in+Middle+East+Move on 03.12.2017
      • NSI (2008a). Issued Newspapers by Periodicity. Retrieved from http://www.infostat.nsi.bg/infostat/pages/reports/results.jsf?x_2=1469 on 04.12.2017
      • NSI (2008b). TV Operators by Districts. Retrieved from http://www.infostat.nsi.bg/infostat/pages/reports/results.jsf?x_2=965 on 04.12.2017
      • NSI (2009). Radio Operators by Districts. Retrieved from http://www.infostat.nsi.bg/infostat/pages/reports/results.jsf?x_2=976 on 04.12.2017
      • NSI (2017a). Population on Demographic Projections. Retrieved from http://www.nsi.bg/en/content/6701/population-and-demographic-projections on 04.12.2017
      • NSI (2017b). Issued Newspapers. Retrieved from http://www.nsi./en/content/4573/issued-newspapers on 04.12.2017
      • NSI (2017c). Radio Operators. Retrieved from http://www.nsi./en/content/4621/radio-operators on 04.12.2017
      • NSI (2017d). TV Operators Retrieved from http://www.nsi./en/content/4631/tv-operators on 04.12.2017
      • Olivier Basille. (2009). Bulgaria: Resignation or resistance, Bulgaria’s embattled press hesitates. Paris.
      • Pesheva, M. Radio and Television: 2001-2010: Faber. Retrieved from http://www.newmedia21.eu/content/2011/05/Radiosreda_2001_2010.pdf on 20.11.2017
      • Psychogiopoulou, E. (Ed.). (2014). Media policies revisited: The challenge for media freedom and independence. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
      • RSF. (2016). Media oligarchs Media Oligarchs go Shopping. Retrieved from https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/oligarchs_eng.pdf on 01.12.2017
      • RSF. (2017). Bribing the media. Retrieved from http://rsf.org/en/bulgaria on 03.12.2017
      • Ruduša, R. (2010). Footprint of Financial Crisis in the Media: Open Society Institute Media Program.
      • Schneider, L. (2014). Media Freedom Indices: What They Tell Us - And What They Don´t. Bonn: Deutsche Welle.
      • SEEMO. (2016). Curbing Media, Crippling Debate: Soft Censorship in Bulgaria. Retrieved from https://www.wan-ifra.org/sites/default/files/field_article_file/SC%20Bulgaria%20final%202016%20(2).pdf on 01.12.2017
      • Slavtcheva-Petkova, V. (2017). Journalists in Bulgaria: Country Report. Retrieved from https://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/36881/7/Country_report_Bulgaria.pdf on 29.11.2017
      • Smilova, R. (2014). The Media in Bulgaria: Business Enterprises or PR Divisions of Business Groups? In E. Psychogiopoulou (Ed.), Media policies revisited. The challenge for media freedom and independence (pp. 175–187). New York: Palgrave
      • Macmillan. DOI: 10.1057/9781137337849_13
      • Spahr, C. (2017). Every fourth Bulgarian sees Fake News daily: Representative Survey commissioned by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung: Disinformation is a Relevant Political Issue in the Balkan Country. Retrieved from http://www.kas.de/wf/en/33.49383/ on 03.12.217
      • Spahr, C & Zlateva, M. (2015). Croatia enhances its position, Moldova deteriorates. Retrieved from http://www.kas.de/medien-europa/en/publications/40451 on 04.12.2017
      • Spassov, O., Ognyanova, N., & Daskalova, N. (2016). Media Pluralism Monitor: Monitoring Risks for Media Pluralism in the EU and Beyond. Country Report: Bulgaria. Retrieved from http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/46789/Bulgaria_EN.pdf?sequence=1 on 03.12.2017
      • Stoyanov, S. (2017). Social Contribution of BNT. Retrieved from http://www.newmedia21.eu/izsledvaniq/obshtestveniyat-prinos-na-bnt-sravnitelno-izsledvane-prez-prizmata-na-programnite-shemi-na-bnt1-btv-nova-i-tv7-chast-vtora on 04.12.2017
      • Tabakova, V. Media Landscapes: Bulgaria. Retrieved from http://ejc.net/media_landscapes/bulgaria on 03.12.2017
      • Tabakova, V. (2008). The Bulgarian Media Landscape. In G. Terzis (Ed.), European media governance. National and regional dimensions (pp. 315–326). Bristol, UK, Chicago: Intellect.
      • Terzis, G. (Ed.). (2008). European media governance: National and regional dimensions. Bristol, UK, Chicago: Intellect.
      • Terzis, G. (Ed.). (2009). European journalism education. Bristol: Intellect. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/academiccompletetitles/home.action on 25.11.2017
      • U.S. State Department. (2016). Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016: Bulgaria.
      • Vesela Tabakova. Media Landscapes: Bulgaria. Retrieved from http://ejc.net/media_landscapes/bulgaria on 03.12.2017
      • Weaver, D. H. H., & Willnat, L. (Eds.). (2012). The Global Journalist in the 21st Century. Routledge communication series. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
      • Zlatev, O. (2009). Bulgaria Country Report. Open Society Institute Media Program. Retrieved from http://www.opensocietyfoundation.org/sites/default/files/bulgaria-20091201_0.pdf on 04.12.2017
      • Zlateva, M (2017). Media freedom ranking with slight improvements in individual Balkan countries. Retrieved from http://www.kas.de/medien-europa/en/publications/48705/ on 04.12.2017

    Related Links
    Recommended citation form
    Mariya Boncheva: Bulgaria. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2018. http://mappingmediafreedom.de/bulgaria (access date).
    Media in Bulgaria, Photo: Antoaneta Peltekova

    Contact the author:
    [contact-form-7 id="58" title="Contact form 1"]