The attempt to interfere in the work of the media by the presidential press secretary Kiril Atanasov was registered as a threat by the European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), which has registered 94 cases of violations of press and media freedom in Bulgaria.
On Friday, Atanasov, press secretary of President Rumen Radev, attempted to pressure Nova TV’s Brussels correspondent Antoinette Nikolova as she reported on the president’s duplicity related to his pro-Russian positions, the ECPMF explains.
Going against a previous parliamentary decision, Radev spoke out against Bulgaria providing military aid to Ukraine at the European Council meeting on 23-24 March despite EU leaders all pleading to unanimously pledge.
On 24 March, Nikolova reported on the decisions of EU leaders regarding aid to Ukraine, where she noted the discrepancy between what Radev tells the media and the position of European leaders.
After Nova TV aired Nikolova’s news report, Atanasov called the journalist and the editorial management, claiming that “incorrect suggestions” were made, that Bulgaria did not sign the conclusion document and that it is “not binding, but only a framework”. Atanasov declined Nova TV and Nikolova’s offers to issue a formal response to the news report on behalf of the Presidential Office.
“I think it is everyone’s duty to inform themselves about the whole picture before informing the public. In the telephone conversation, of course, I did not threaten the Nova TV reporter, and I expressly emphasised that I did not wish to send a right of reply,” Atanasov wrote on his Facebook profile.
“I also told this to the editorial staff of the media, to whom I also pointed out the incorrect suggestions. Nikolova’s claims that I am in collusion with journalists and that I arrange them so that they cannot ask uncomfortable questions are in gross contradiction to the truth and are morally reprehensible. Staged scandals only serve disinformation. The presidential institution cannot accept a misleading public interpretation of events, regardless of what this is due to, and will continue to alert the media when it sees a discrepancy between the media coverage and the facts,” he added.
Besides this recent case, insurance company Lev ins filed so-called SLAPP lawsuits against Mediapool.bg for €500,000, while pro-Russian party Vazrazhdane’s campaign targeted Emilia Milcheva for her report for Deutsche Welle, noting that Vazrazhdane had been collecting signatures to initiate a referendum on Bulgaria entering the eurozone.
Problems with media freedom in Bulgaria were also noted in the latest report of the US State Department on human rights and in Amnesty International’s latest report published Tuesday.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started, Radev has publicly professed his pro-Russian views in Bulgaria. In recent months, the former minister also threatened to veto EU sanctions against Russia and emphasised that annexed Crimea belongs to Russia, ECPMF said.
Because of Nikolova’s case, the International Coalition for Women in Journalism called on Bulgarian institutions to stop intimidating journalists.
(Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)