Bulgaria: "It’s lies, garnished with small bits of truth"

By ECPMF staff

At the ECPMf's Expert Talk on Media Freedom in Bulgaria, Theodore Zachov, president of the union of Bulgarian publishers (UPB), presented a White Paper setting out the difficulties critical journalists face in his country. He has given the ECPMF an interview with further insights into the grim scenario that propelled the union's action.

Expert Talk Bulgaria ECPMF managing director Dr Lutz Kinkel opening the expert talk on media freedom in Bulgaria

ECPMF: What motivated the UPB to produce the document?

Theodore Zachov: The worsening of the media freedom situation started in Bulgaria about 10 years ago. For people who are not directly involved, it’s difficult to understand. It seems impossible, it seems unbelievable.

So we decided to write a short, comprehensive and detailed description which is the White Paper. It says nothing else but facts. It represents the events until the end of 2017, but now new developments are coming. So it will be amended, for sure.

What would you describe as your main concerns?

In Bulgaria  what happened is the step by step slow monopolisation of the media space, full unification of opinion. This means that those outlets, the whole thing is a propaganda machine which copy-pastes from the same position of attacks against all those who oppose it, busienss-wise, or who are just saying what’s going on. And this monopolisation of the space became possible because it was institutionally supported by the state, and that’s why it became so dangerous.

Do you mean the state subsidises these media?

Even if it would not be directly subsidised by the state, it's subsidised by the bank which went bankrupt and the money which went into this media group before they went bankrupt. If you count everything, it could easily reach a few hundred million euros. What also happens is that those who are expressing independent and critical opinions are just attacked by the state institutions. They are prosecuted, they are investigated, their taxes are checked hundreds of times, so their life is made difficult. On top of that, of course, they are abused in the media. Most of this is just lies – sometimes garnished with small bits of truth, to make the whole thing look more viable.

About the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria

The Union of Publishers in Bulgaria (UPB) is a long-standing union of the country’s press and media organisations. It is made up of nine outlets, whose publications include major independent newspapers, magazines and news websites. The union is known for its non-political ethics and dedication to traditional media that uphold media freedom. Its Media Freedom White Paper outlines how violations against media and press freedom have spiralled since 2006. In the paper, the UPB recommends increased transparency in the government’s allocation of EU funds for media outlets, economic and legal measures to improve pluralism and to reduce monopolisation in the print market, and greater support for traditional outlets to digitally transform their work.

At ECPMF, we're hoping we can make some changes in Bulgaria during its EU presidency term. What do you think the priorities should be?

Look, this situation has become possible because of the institutional support. The repression of those who want to express free opinions should be stopped in the first place. Because once you repress those people, they get afraid to tell the truth. Nobody wants trouble. Who wants trouble? It's human. We want to liberate the people to feel free to tell the truth. We need to end the institutional suppport of repression towards those who express critical opinions. Officially nobody is pressured because of what they say in the media. Nobody. Formally everybody gets investigated for some other things.

What could be done to support the independent journalists, the critical voices?

We need to spread the word. That's the first step. Once more and more people really understand, the ones who are not afraid of understanding and telling supporters who are not inside Bulgaria, when we see many European people seeing and telling, this would have some influence. This would have a political influence in Brussels, applying pressure for the situation to improve, I hope.