Bulgarian Newspapers ‘Losing Trust, Money and Readers’

Dwindling print advertising, scandal-mongering headlines and hidden ownership are tarnishing popular trust in the country's leading political newspapers, says a new market analysis of Bulgarian media.

Bulgarian newspapers are generating little revenue and becoming a liablilty for their owners. Photo: Martin Dimitrov/BIRN.

A new study carried out for the Bulgarian branch of the Association of European Journalists has shed light on the dire state of Bulgarian print media market.

The study shows a low level of trust in print media, mainly because of the negativity of most news headlines, plus the predominance of what it calls “incorrect, aggressive, non-objective media content”.

“The general picture shows a declining public trust in media,” said Iliya Valkov, an assistant professor at Bulgaria’s University of National and World Economy and a journalist at Sega newspaper, who led the study.

The Association of European Journalists also said that almost no newspaper in Bulgaria generates a profit.

Some of the reasons for Bulgarian print media’s decline are highlighted by a content analysis of almost 16,000 headlines from the past 12 months.

“With a few exceptions, there is a tendency among the outlets to build a positive image of the political status quo,” the study says, adding that any criticism of the authorities tends to be “rather moderate”.

The positive image of people in power coincides with the rising role of the state as a key advertiser in recent years, it suggests.

The study’s content analysis found that, despite the fact that most newspapers often featured Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in their headlines, only Capital and Sega expressed a sustained critical tone when covering the premier.

While advertisement budgets for TV and internet mediums is on the rise, the money companies spend on print media has practically collapsed between 2011 and 2017, falling from 75 million euros to 7.5 million euros, the study says.  

Dwindling advertisement revenues make almost all print media a financial liability to their owners, the study adds, leading to hidden dependencies on revenues such as state advertisements, EU project funding and bank loans.

The survey features extensive profiles of ten media outlets designated by a representative national survey to be the most influential newspapers in the country. The profiles are to be released in the coming weeks.

The ten most-read national newspapers are Telegraph and 24 chasa, followed by Trud, Weekend and Standard, then the economic weekly Capital, followed by Bulgaria Dnes, Monitor, Sega and 168 chasa. Most are described as tabloids by the research.

The study found finds that seven out of the ten newspapers are printed at the same printing house, which was built with credit from the now-bankrupt Corpbank and is currently owned by an offshore company.

All but one of their publishers – Venelina Gocheva, who runs the daily 24 chasa and the weekly 168 chasa – has other business interests.

Sasho Donchev of Sega and Teodor Zahov and Ivo Prokopiev of Economedia, which publishes Captial, have interests in the energy and real estate sectors, while the owner of Trud, Petyo Blaskov, is in the real estate business in Sofia, the research says.

The largest print media owner in the country, Delyan Peevski, who is also an MP from the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, only has interests in companies based abroad and has generated tens of millions of euros through them in the past four years, after previously declaring his property to consist of nothing but an apartment and an old car.

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