A culture of pressure and self-censorship dictates the Bulgarian media landscape

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The results of the latest AEJ Bulgaria survey of the freedom of speech provide further justification on the motives for the ongoing anti-oligarch protests in Sofia.

The journalists in Bulgaria are regular victims or witnesses of pressure in the media they work for. The applied pressure comes both from the inside, practiced by editors and owners,  and from the outside, through the direct influence of advertisers and political and economic players. This has led to the creation of a well- developed “culture of pressure” in the Bulgarian media landscape, including well integrated and institutionalized channels which transmit the external influence directly into the newsrooms.
These are the main conclusions of a survey on the state of media freedom in Bulgaria, conducted by the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ) among 169 journalists in the period 10th May to 10th June 2013. The results expose the indisputable deformations of the democratic state, which only sheds further light on the public motives that led to the ongoing anti-government and anti-oligarch protests.
The study which primary goals were to identify the problems of the media sector, will serve as a solid  basis for a more extensive and representative survey in 2014. Although the questionnaire provided an option for anonymity, it is remarkable that 144 out of 169 respondents chose to reveal the names to the research team. Still, AEJ guarantees the anonymity of all the participants.
The term “unregulated pressure”, used in the survey, was defined in the questionnaires as a threat to the physical, financial and moral integrity of the respondent. Based on this concept, a shocking 86.98% of the participants agree that influencing the content of the journalistic materials is a practice in Bulgaria’s media sector. No one of the respondents has defined the pressure on the media and the journalists as “non-existing phenomenon”.
The opinions, concerning the pressure in the media where the journalists currently work for, disclose different trends. A little less than a half of the respondents admit they have been a subject of pressure because of their journalistic work (46,15%) while 53,85% claim they have never had such experience. It is worth mentioning that journalists, who have started a new job in the past 2 years, seem to be under pressure significantly more often in comparison to their colleagues who have longer experience in a particular media outlet. However, a stunning 2/3 of the respondents have witnessed cases of their colleagues being subjected to pressure.
Very alarming is the clear statistical relation between the pressure and the dynamics of the personal income of the journalists for the last 5 years. Journalists who have been subject to pressure prevail in the group where the incomes have declined, while their colleagues, who claim they have never suffered from pressure, fall in the group with clear pay rise.
The most common kind of pressure, according to 70% of the journalists is the one coming from the outside, but exercised by employers and owners who defend the interests of close political or economic allies. The internal pressure in newsrooms is a common practice for the editors-in-chief, according to over 60% of the respondents. Another 30% confess that they do not need to be reminded what is “right” to do in their work, as they practice self-censorship quite regularly.

Netizens survey

In parallel with the survey for practicing journalists, AEJ-Bulgaria approached also netizens – citizens who actively produce media content through blogs and other internet tools – to ask for their opinion on the media sector in Bulgaria. A total of 50 netizens were invited to take part in the survey and 26 of them responded. 96.2% of repondets  have blogs, while the platforms “Twitter” и “Fаcebook” are being used by76.9%. The majority of the netizens have produced content for traditional media – 83.3%. A total of 73% are not paid and a huge group of 69.2% declare that getting a paycheck is not their goal, even though 3.8% would  still would like to profit from their work.
A total of 80.8% of the netizens say that they are motivated to produce media content because this allows them to focus on topics of their personal interest. Over 82.6%of the respondents believe that the role of citizen  journalism is to compensate the defects of the traditional media. About a half – 52% of the respondents believe the freedom of expression in Bulgaria is poor, while 40% say it is “satisfactory”. 46.15% of them claim they have been a subject to pressure, while the other 53.85% deny any violations of their freedom.
The results of the survey were presented at an open debate with the participation of Boris Gurov, sociologist, Nelly Ognynova, media law expert, Spas Spasov corespondent for Dnevnik and Capital in Varna, Konstantin Pavlov-Komitata, blogger. Moderator of the debate, which took place at The Center for culture and debate Red House on 25th of June,  was the journalist from the Bulgarian National Radio Irina Nedeva.
„I would like to focus on the fusion of money – media – power and the deformations it has caused to the media market in Bulgaria. There is no doubt that the number one problem is the concentration of media and the lack of transparency in the media ownership”, said Nelly Ognyanova.
„There is a radical difference in the quality of the journalists’ work in  the national media and the conditions for their regional representatives”, said Spas Spasov.
According to Konstantin Pavlov-Komitata “ the survey gives a picture of Bulgaria the way it existed several weeks ago ( before the mass protests began) and it helps us to observe the media landscape in a prerevolutionary situation”

Maria Cheresheva, Vice-President of AEJ-Bulgaria, called up on the all participants in the debate  that it will be good if “we all stand for initiatives based on the problems, identified by the survey”, adding that –“AEJ-Bulgaria would be happy to work with people and organizations that share the same ideas”.

The survey was made possible by the financial support of the Embassy of the United States of America in Sofia and the media partnership of the Bulgarian national radio (BNR),Dnevnik.bg, Offnews.bg, Profit.bg.

“This survey is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Department of State. The contents are the responsibility of Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of State or the United States Government.”