Bulgarian Media Funding Law Sparks ‘Witch-Hunt’ Fears

Controversial legislative changes in Bulgaria aimed at forcing media to reveal all their sources of funding have been criticised amid concerns that they could herald pressure on donors.
Bulgarian MP and media mogul Delyan Peevski introduced the new legislation. Photo: MRF press centre. 

A new law that will force the country’s newspapers to declare their sources of income and details about their funders, sparking fears of a witch-hunt of foreign-funded media and pressure on individual donors to smaller outlets, has been attracting criticism in Bulgaria.

The law, which was passed on November 1 by a large majority, backed by the ruling coalition and most opposition factions, with only the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s MPs voting against it, was introduced by media mogul Delyan Peevski and his party, the ethnic-Turkish Movement of Rights and Freedoms.

According to the law, distributors and media content providers are required to declare any outside financing that theey receive to the Ministry of Culture each year.

This includes loans, bank credits, donations of cash and property, as well as information about the company or individual donor that provided the funding.

Investigative website protested about the move, saying it will never disclose information about its 2,000 individual funders.

“Just so you know – we will not disclose any name or personal information of any of our funders, even if they persecute us for that,” said in 1 Facebook post on November 1.

People who exert control over the editorial policy of newspapers must also be named in declarations, the legislation stipulates.

But these declarations will only apply to funding received in the 12 months prior to the introduction of the legislative changes and would, in practice, not reveal how Peevski’s own media empire was assembled in the pre-2014 period.  

“The goal is to clean up the name of a certain media owner [Peevski] who wants to prove he has no monopoly over the print market,” Bulgarian Socialist Party MP Anton Kutev, one of the staunchest critics of the bill, told parliament on the day of the vote.

Peevski has recently been attempting to demonstrate that he is not a monopoly owner.

After failing to sell off half his media business to US-owned film-making company New Image, he announced in August that he will delegate control over his newspapers to a non-profit foundation.

The media mogul did not vote on the legislation; he has not attended any parliamentary session since the inauguration of the National Assembly in May 2017.

Symbolically, the bill was put before parliament on the Day of the Bulgarian Revival Leaders, a celebration of figures from the country’s past who contributed to the country’s cultural and educational development, including editors and publishers.

Meanwhile new media legislation in other Balkan countries has also been causing controversy.

In Romania, 129 NGOs filed a petition on Monday to President Klaus Iohannis asking him not to promulgate a bill on money-laundering passed by parliament on October 24 because it makes all non-profit organisations, including various media outlets, declare all their beneficiaries.

In Albania, a government move to make 44 news websites register with the tax authority as part of an alleged ‘anti-defamation drive’ was criticised by the OSCE’s Freedom of the Media Representative and the Civil Rights Defenders organisation.

“This practice, when applied, could seriously restrict public access to diverse sources of information, the plurality of voices, and erode the right of freedom of expression and information online,” said OSCE representative Harlem Desir.

Read more:

OSCE Condemns Albania Website Registration Demand

Romania Adopts Disputed Money-Laundering Law

Bulgarian Newspapers ‘Losing Trust, Money and Readers’