Bulgaria ranked worst in EU, Balkans for media freedom

Bulgaria ranked worst in EU, Balkans for media freedom
By bne IntelliNews April 25, 2018

Bulgaria ranks lowest in EU in terms of media freedom, the 2018 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has shown. The country is lower in the index than all the countries in the western Balkans, some of which are candidates for EU membership.

Bulgaria holds the 111th place in the ranking compared to the 44th place held by neighboring EU member state Romania. Bulgaria has slipped 2 places in the ranking compared to 2017 and is placed in the current ranking between Bolivia (110th) and Central African Republic (112nd). The index evaluates the level of press freedom in 180 countries each year. 

Corruption and collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs is widespread in Bulgaria, the report noted.

“The most notorious embodiment of this aberrant state of affairs is Deylan Peevski, a former head of Bulgaria’s main intelligence agency and owner of the New Bulgarian Media Group. His group has six newspapers and controls nearly 80% of print media distribution,” RFS said.

Moreover, the report noted that the Bulgarian government’s allocation of EU funding to certain media outlets is made without transparency, in effect bribing them to go easy on the government in their reporting.

In the SEE region, Slovenia ranks best, holding the 32nd position, followed by Romania which climbed two places on the year to the 44th. The report notes that lawsuits against journalists and media outlets in Slovenia are frequent as pressure from NGOs to defend journalists had no effect.

 In Romania, the media has been increasingly transformed into political propaganda tools and intelligence agency infiltration of staff have become the new normal, the report noted.

“The media environment has also been affected by the activities of far-right groups linked to the Orthodox Church—itself partly state-funded—that are openly opposed to press freedom. A bill proposed by Liviu Dragnea, president of the chamber of deputies and leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party, would penalize denigration of Romania abroad and reintroduce defamation into the criminal code. It has fuelled concern about political censorship of the media,” according to the report.

Media is also used according to business and political interests in Moldova. Journalistic independence and media ownership transparency are major challenges in the country, the report noted expressing concern over the broadcasting regulatory authority’s lack of independence and excesses in the “fight against propaganda.” 

In the SEE region, Bosnia and Herzegovina ranked 62nd, followed by Croatia (69th), Albania (75th), Serbia (76th), Kosovo (78th), Montenegro (103rd) and Macedonia (109th).