ALDE, Media Freedom in Bulgaria and the Dark Side of the Moon (UPDATED)

01.06.2012 - 17:14

In a comment-worthy initiative, the Alliance for Liberal Democrats in Europe (ALDE) has set for an open hearing in the European Parliament on “Media Freedom in Bulgaria” scheduled for June 6. However, the setup of the entire event has certain inconsistent facets that by no means are compatible with the ethical values and political correctness of ALDE and was organized by the Vice President of the party Antonya Parvanova. The media landscape in Bulgaria is a minefield, difficult to understand, and even more difficult to deal with. Unfortunately, due to the lack of experience in the matter, the event was based on the wrong people and against the main stream media of the country. However, after the earlier version of this release which was distributed Thursday late evening, ALDE acted immediately and this morning (Friday June 1st) distributed a revised program.

In the new program the two Bulgarian media organizations were removed. Indeed, the Union of Publishers of Bulgaria (UPB) which was promoting the event in an effort to get from the European Parliament legitimization and status was removed because it represents minor media related to business interests. The Bulgarian Media Union represents the great majority of the big Bulgaria media was removed because despite it appeared in the program, the organizers forgot to invite them. As a matter of fact, members of UPB received email invitations only this morning.

It is worth mentioning that in the new program, the name of Commissioner Nelie Kroes who was supposed to close the event was replaced with the name of member of her cabinet.

Indeed, ALDE had initially based its event on the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria, an organization, which no longer represents Bulgarian media but, rather the interests of two Bulgarian businessmen, Lyubomir Pavlov and Ognyan Donev, both active in media as well. Ognyan Donev is well known to New Europe readers, as he was previously honoured by this column (February 4), when we had reportage on his pharmaceutical company Sopharma, which resulted in the dismissal of the Deputy Minister of Health Gergana Pavlova (former director general of Sopharma) by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov himself. Currently, Sopharma is still, to the best of our knowledge, under EU investigation due to a substantial complaint filed with the Department of Competition on the grounds of articles 101-102 of the Treaty.

While the state of freedom of the media in Bulgaria is consistently criticized, the media landscape in the country is characterized by a continuous ‘fight’ for power seizure by people with dubious reputation.

At the last General Meeting of the Union of the Publishers in Bulgaria (UPB), a major part of the publishers - members of the Union, walked out in protest against attempts of Lyubomir Pavlov and Ognyan Donev to take control of the Union and against the proposal that Pavlov be elected president. Among those who left were some of the main Bulgarian publishers - Standard, Novinar, Banker, Sanoma Bliasak and others. Currently, the members of UPB, represented by Lyubomir Pavlov, are limited to not more than nine smaller publishers, among which the main ones are the printed media owned by Pavlov and Donev, namely 24 hours, 168 hours and Trud as well Capital and Capital Daily owned by another businessman of the entourage of Donev, Ivo Prokopiev. This development turned the Union of Publisher in Bulgaria solely into a tool in the hands of small group of people not related to journalism but mostly to businesses of all kinds.

In February this year, the Bulgarian Media Union (BMU), a non-governmental organization, which unites the publishers of the biggest and most influential Bulgarian newspapers and magazines, was established. It was joined by a total of 34 publishers representing most major national and regional media including Telegraph, Standart, Monitor, Klasa, Presa and Novinar. The Bulgarian Media Union received significantly wider representation and consequently earned the identification as the union of the Bulgarian press on a national scale.

It should ne noted that legal proceedings have been initiated against Lyubomir Pavlov and Ognyan Donev in relation to the ownership of Media Group Bulgaria Holding OOD - publisher of the newspapers 24 hours and Trud (purchased from the Austrian company BG Privatinvest GmbH). In March 2011, Pavlov and Donev acquired 83% of the Holding's capital, in a manner which reportedly infringed the interests of the Austrian company, which remains partner of the Holding as well. This case, having won negative publicity, is subject to investigation by the Sofia Prosecutor.

The participation of Alexey Petrov, another Bulgarian personality under investigation by the Sofia Prosecutor, in the Pavlov-Donev group, adds to the angelic picture of the media approved by the vice president of ALDE to speak about media freedom in Bulgaria. Indeed, Petrov is partner in the publishing group of Nedyalko Nedyalkov, an official shareholder in Bulgaria Dnes AD. Pavlov and Donev are partners in the company of the same group publishing 168 HRS.

Earlier this week, when asked ALDE claimed that all Bulgarian publishers were invited to the open hearing. However, New Europe learned that only representatives of marginal publishing companies were invited. To this effect the governing body of the Bulgarian Media Union, had sent a letter to ALDE, expressing its disappointment that the Bulgarian Media Union, encompassing all major Bulgarian media, has not received any official invitation for the event. The letter says that the list of participants was ‘inconsistent’ and ‘contradictory’ in regard the current situation on the Bulgarian media market, while the truth is that in the Bulgarian Media Union, which according to the released program for the event participates with speakers, nobody has received any invitation whatsoever. The letter also expressed concern that in the program of the event one can find names of figures with dubious reputation.

Such an ‘omission,’ however, looks strange, as BMU includes the biggest and most influential newspapers, magazines and online media of the country. In the same context Irena Krasteva, CEO of the biggest Bulgarian media group (newspapers Monitor, Telegraph, Politika, Europost, Meridian Match, etc.) also wrote to ALDE, stating that the invitees in the event have been selected by the wife of MEP Stanimir Ilchev (ALDE), Svetla Petrova (a former TV presenter), which was embarrassing.

Apparently, the Bulgarian media landscape navigates in ‘muddy waters’ in the direction of Brussels. Certainly all those details described in this reportage are known to many Bulgarian MEPs but it is highly questionable whether the top people of ALDE had such knowledge as the entire event was organized by the two Bulgarian MEPs (program, speakers, invitations, etc.). Yet, for those in the know, the situation is quite clear. A small number of Bulgarian media, marginal to the Bulgarian making and mainly active in combining journalism and business promotion in search of political legitimization from the European Parliament, have attempted to manipulate ALDE, one of the leading political groups of Europe.

Kassandra