Introduction: On This Report and Its Context

12 март 2012, Автор: Orlin Spassov
Публикувана в 2011 Media Monitoring Report

The 2011 annual report of Foundation Media Democracy (FMD) was produced by a team from the Media Monitoring Lab (MML). Operating within the Foundation since its inception in 2007, the MML has presented its consolidated annual reports in different forms. Thus, for example, at the end of 2009 the FMD held its annual conference where the statements of the participants as well as the most important parts of the discussions were filmed and edited into what became the first officially released video anthology in Bulgaria (Media and Power, 2010; in Bulgarian). At the beginning of 2011, the findings of the 2010 report were presented at the FMD’s annual conference and then published in an extended version in the book Media and Politics. The book was subsequently translated into English. The English version enabled the FMD to reach a wider international audience. In this way, the Foundation is trying to make up for certain deficiencies and to respond to the serious demand for analyses and data about the Bulgarian media landscape among foreign experts, non-governmental organizations and universities.

After last October’s presidential and local government elections in Bulgaria, the FMD published a consolidated report of the MML, Media and Elections 2011 (in Bulgarian), trying out a new form of presentation: short, thematically focused reports by different authors, richly illustrated with visual data and united within a common thematic framework. The successful reception of this more communicative form of presenting the relevant information, where the guiding motive is not the homogeneity of the whole report but the emphasis on the individual points of view, encouraged us to take the same approach in the present annual report. It does not dissolve the voices of the analysts into a uniform expert discourse; it keeps the stylistic diversity of the authors while of course keeping to certain commonly shared methodological and structural standards. That is why the 2011 annual report looks more like a mini-book, a brief collection made up of a number of individual expertises.

The report appears in the context of growing criticism of the Bulgarian media environment coming both from authoritative international organizations and leading Bulgarian non-governmental organizations. In January 2012, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published their annual World Press Freedom Index 2011 in which Bulgaria is ranked 80th, falling nine places from its position in 2010. Bulgaria is ranked last of the EU countries and is on a par with Serbia, Chile and Paraguay. Among the Southeast European countries, Bulgaria ranks lower than Greece (70th), Croatia (68th), Bosnia and Herzegovina (58th), Moldova (53rd), Romania (47th) and Slovenia (36th). The report notes that in Bulgaria there is a lack of political will to address the issue of media freedom violations (Reporters Without Borders 2012). It points out the targeted attacks and death threats against journalists in Bulgaria as one of the key problems of the Bulgarian media environment (ibid.).

The experts of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) who observed the presidential and local government elections in Bulgaria in 2011, also pointed out a number of problems. One of them, for example, is the conclusion that ‘virtually all campaign coverage in the media had to be purchased which resulted in a near-absence of editorial coverage of the campaign’ (see Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 2011).

In 2011 former US ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew joined the critics of the state of Bulgarian media and their dependence on power. In an article published in November in the English-language weekly The Sofia Echo, Pardew notes:

Democracy took a step backward in the latest presidential and municipal election process in Bulgaria. The campaign leading up to those elections in this Nato and EU nation exposed an alarming decline in the freedom and independence of print and electronic media and political intimidation at levels not seen in decades in the country. (Pardew 2011)

Authoritative experts on Southeast European media also commented on the situation in the Bulgarian media sphere in 2011. Matthias Barner, for example, points out in an analysis for the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung that in Bulgaria, as in some other countries in the region, ‘alliances between politics, media and the business world’ are all too easily formed (Barner 2011: 69). According to Barner, ‘[D]irect interference by oligarchs, who not only represent their own business interests but are also closely linked to political parties, is fairly standard’ (ibid.).

Mark Meinardus, Office Bulgaria Director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, was also critical of the development of the Bulgarian media landscape. According to him, the Bulgarian media are mostly interested in and positive about Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, offering much less coverage of the activities and opinions of the opposition; instead, they most often ‘uncritically relay the standpoint of the government’ (Tsekova 2011).

In 2011, a number of local organizations such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria, to name but a few, also added their voices to those criticizing media developments in Bulgaria. It is precisely the large number and diversity of the critical voices coming from different sources that are the most serious indication of the existence of a continuing crisis in the Bulgarian public sphere. In 2011 foreign and Bulgarian commentators continued the long series of criticisms as to the blurring of the boundaries between media and power that were voiced in 2010 (Spassov 2011), and became even more critical.

Against this background, many key problems (in addition to those noted above) remained unsolved in 2011, too: the unclear ownership and financing of a number of media outlets, the unregulated status of political advertising, the ineffective media self-regulation, the absence of trade union protection for journalists, the trend towards oligopolization of the market, and so on. In 2011 there were also true wars between different rival media groups. Huge editorial and financial resources were invested in smear campaigns against the rivals. This has unavoidably led to a Balkanization of the Bulgarian media landscape, with all its negative consequences for the public which has less and less access to quality and independent media content. That is why the analyses and criticism of the media environment are not an end in themselves. They are motivated by a desire to improve it.

Just as in the last few years, the 2011 monitoring survey of Bulgarian media was kindly supported by the Media Program South East Europe of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. This support allows us to commission the production of a Media Index which is the only one in Bulgaria to offer a picture of the attitudes of mainstream media towards the leading Bulgarian politicians and institutions. The Media Index is produced in partnership with the Bulgarian research and consulting agency Market Links, with which we have been working since the creation of the FMD. I would like to especially thank the teams from those two institutions for their excellent work together.

Orlin Spassov
Executive Director
Foundation Media Democracy

References

Barner, Matthias (2011). Free, but not Independent. The Role of the Media in Southeast Europe. KAS International Reports 11/2011.

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (2011). Bulgaria’s October elections characterized by respect for rights and freedoms, but allegations of vote-buying underscore need for reform. OSCE: Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Pardew, James (2011). Democracy in Bulgaria. The Sofia Echo.

Reporters Without Borders (2012). World Press Freedom Index 2011-2012. Paris: Reporters Without Borders.

Spassov, Orlin (2011). Media and Politics: The Decline of the Fourth Estate? In: Lozanov, G. and O. Spassov (eds.) Media and Politics. Sofia: Foundation Media Democracy, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

Tsekova, Marina (2011). Heftiger Eingriff in die Medienfreiheit. [Interview with Mark Meinardus]. DW-World.

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