The Council of Europe said that media freedom in Bulgaria has deteriorated over the past years as the concentration of media ownership and political influence over media outlets is intensifying.
The other threats to media freedom in Bulgaria are lack of media pluralism and transparency of media ownership and financing, political influence and interference with editorial independence, the Council of Europe said in a report published on March 31, reflecting the conclusions made during a visit by Dunja Mijatovic, Commissioner for Human Rights, to Bulgaria in November.
“The authorities are strongly urged to show political will to address the regulatory and implementation deficiencies which currently accommodate the excessive concentration of media ownership,” the Council of Europe said, adding that they should impose appropriate sanctions if needed.
The Council of Europe also urged the local authorities to adopt the mechanisms needed to protect the editorial independence of public service media organizations from political or economic influence, as well as to repeal criminal provisions against defamation offences and to deal with such incidents through strictly proportional civil law sanctions only.
The Council of Europe also recommended that the authorities take measures to promote better professional protection and working conditions of journalists.
So far, Bulgaria’s Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) has not taken any action against excessive media ownership concentration, the EU institution added.
“The Commissioner was also concerned about the reports on the continued practice of keeping the media under influence through the preferential allocation of EU funds to government-friendly media,” the Council of Europe also said, adding that several reports made available to Mijatovic highlight that a drop in advertising revenues has made local media more dependent on state funding and, as a consequence, more vulnerable.
The World Press Freedom Index ranks Bulgaria 111th out of 180 countries worldwide – a decline compared to its previous rankings.