AEJ-Bulgaria Calls for International Probe of Alleged Pressure on the Public Radio Broadcaster

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AEJ-Bulgaria has organized a protest action on Thursday, aimed at defending the freedom of expression of the journalists, working in the public radio broadcaster, BNR. We call for an international probe of the signals for grave political pressure applied on the public radio that lead to the suspension of a prominent anchor, Silvia Velikova, and taking the Horizon program of BNR off air for up to five hours on September 13.

The protest is set to take place in front of the BNR headquarters at noon on Thursday.  Journalists and citizens are invited to join in as a signal to the national and international authorities that they will defend press freedom in the country and will seek responsibility for the ongoing crisis in one of Bulgaria’s most reliable and independent media.

Several journalists from the BNR, including top editors, revealed their first-hand experience with the pressure which has been applied on the management of the radio to oust Velikova because of the critical way in which she reports the ongoing controversial procedure for appointment of Bulgaria’s new Prosecutor General – one of the most powerful positions in the country.

Members of the editorial team of the Horizon program of BNR, which was unprecedentedly suspended amid the scandal with Velikova’s ousting, testified in front of the Council for Electronic Media, or CEM – the regulatory body in charge – revealing that the director of BNR Svetoslav Kostov was directly pushing for the journalist’s removal.

But despite those revelations and a probe by the state prosecutor’s office and the national security agency which found no technical grounds for the suspension of the radio program,  CEM has failed to take action to guarantee the independence of the journalists working in the national radio.

CEM is has the legal right to remove BNR’s Director from office in case of grave violation of the Radio and Television Act. It will hold its next meeting on Friday, September 27.

But the case will not be resolved just by ousting the compromised management of the public radio broadcaster. The sources of the pressure on top state level must be revealed not only in order for press freedom to be guaranteed, but also democracy and rule of law in the country.

The prosecutor who has been charged with investing the case is the same one who is the only candidate for the top job in the state prosecution – Ivan Geshev. We are concerned that the objectivity of the investigation is gravely compromised, as numerous sources have revealed that Silvia Velikova was fired – and later restored at her job – because of her coverage of Geshev’s candidature.

This leads us to the conclusion that the Bulgarian state cannot guarantee a fair investigation of the case, which is a serious challenge to the democratic order as a whole. Therefore, we believe that an international probe into the ongoing crisis is of significant importance.

The case has already attracted the attention of international organizations and press freedom groups, including the Council of Europe and Reporters without Borders.