Bulgaria: commercial interests instrumentalise the media

In the Bulgarian vernacular media are known as "baseball bats" because of the way they try to push through the interests of their owners with smear campaigns. Yet only twenty years ago the media still enjoyed the trust of the population.

Environmental activists demonstrating in January 2018 against government plans to build groomed skiing trails in Bulgarian nature reserves.
Environmental activists demonstrating in January 2018 against government plans to build groomed skiing trails in Bulgarian nature reserves.
When legal proceedings were launched against businessman Ivo Prokopiev for tax evasion at the end of 2016, the media outlets in his publishing group began to report intensively on the work of the tax authorities, presenting the legal action as politically motivated. And ever since the daily Trud was bought by media entrepreneur Petjo Blaskov with financing from Bulgaria’s First Investment Bank, the paper has continually tried to discredit the environmental organisations that oppose the plans of the bank's supervisory board to turn Bulgarian nature reserves into ski slopes.

The majority of the media outlets in Bulgaria are now in the hands of a handful of entrepreneurs who exploit them for their own political ends. This is also the reason why Bulgaria occupies the last place among EU member states in the Reporters Without Borders ranking.

Yet in the highly politicised years after the end of the Cold War, the media was more pluralistic than ever before. The strong demand for independent journalism after decades of communist repression of media freedom (1944–1989) led to the founding of numerous new print media. But due to declining revenues from advertising most newspapers can barely support themselves financially and are dependent on donations.

Whereas the first independent dailies 24 Chasa and Trud are still regarded as the leading media organs, the communist successor newspaper Duma leads a shadow existence these days. The weekly Kapital and the daily Kapital Daily are regarded as quality newspapers targeting an educated readership with an interest in political and economic news.

As the Internet grew in importance a large number of web and news sites such as News.bg and Dnevnik.bg. sprang up in the early 2000s and now have a wide reach. By contrast, blogs go almost entirely unnoticed, as most bloggers have migrated to social media. Texts are now being posted on Facebook instead of self-run blogs.

Bulgaria's most important television stations are foreign-owned. The private channel bTV belongs to Central European Media Enterprises (CME), a group owned by US billionaire Ronald Lauder. Nova Televizija was part of the Swedish media enterprise Modern Times Group and was bought in 2018 by the PPF Group owned by Czech billionaire Petr Kellner.

The introduction of modern entertainment programming enabled the national private broadcasters to rapidly reduce the state television monopoly that had existed for many years. The public television channels BNT1, BNT2 and BNT HD continue to have a strong influence on public opinion, however. Bulgarian national radio and the private station Darik Radio are the only national broadcasters where the spoken word (rather than music) dominates.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 111 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018


More information about press freedom in Bulgaria is available »here (in English).
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