International Affairs

2018 World Press Freedom Index: Delyan Peevski and why Bulgaria ranks lower than any other EU member


 

The 2018 World Press Freedom Index was released on April 25th by Reporters Without Borders.  Bulgaria slipped two spots going from 109 in 2017 to 111 in 2018. The country now ranks lower than any EU member state and most EU candidates. It outranks only Turkey (#157 on the list) but given that Turkey currently has more jailed journalists than any other country in the world, that’s not really a surprise.

What bothered me were the distinctly higher rankings of some other European countries which don’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to press freedom. Let’s not forget about the 2017 murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta (ranked #65 in 2018 having slipped 18 spots since 2017). Or how about the much more recent March 2018 murder of Slovakian investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée? Slovakia currently ranks #27 on the list, having gone down 10 spots.

Given these figures in nations where journalists were outright murdered in cold blood for investigating corruption, at first glance Bulgaria’s low rank appeared to be at best arbitrary and at worst political. So I decided to look into it and, lo and behold, my initial knee-jerk reaction was not exactly accurate. No such index is free from human error and bias, but the truth is always more nuanced.

Methodology: The World Press Freedom Index

RWB are very transparent in their methodology and for anyone interested, they have detailed information on how they go about compiling their index.  They measure seven indicators – pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses.

The ‘abuses’ indicator is calculated through a separate formula to ensure that its severity is appropriately measured, i.e. a country with instances of abuse should score lower than one with poor media independence and other tighter controls according to RWB. RWB calculates the first six indicators first, then uses a second formula to calculate the combined score of all seven indicators, taking into account the greater of the two scores. Given that the severe nature of the ‘abuse’ indicator is controlled for, the implication would be that Bulgaria scored lower than Slovakia and Malta despite their abuses.

Delyan Peevski as a symbol for the failure of Bulgarian media

RWB helpfully outlined three main factors which led to Bulgaria’s low score: misusing EU funds as bribes, threatening journalists, and Delyan Peevski. Although using EU funds to ‘persuade’ media outlets to not cover certain political issues and threatening journalists are both serious allegations, I wanted to focus on Delyan Peevski. He is a fascinating character who epitomises much of what is wrong with journalism in Bulgaria today.

 

Delyan Peevski, Source: Novinite.com

 

At the tender age of 37, this man owns 80% of print media distribution under the New Media Bulgarian Group which publishes six major Bulgarian newspapers.  He is also a politician affiliated with the Party for the Movements of Rights and Freedoms (DPS), a political party which focuses on protecting the rights of minorities in Bulgaria. Because wielding considerable power in both national media and politics is not enough, Peevski also took over Bulgartabac back in 2011 when the state-owned tobacco company was privatised.

So, right now, there is one man who is not only an influential politician and a prominent businessman but also happens to have control of 80% of print media distribution in Bulgaria. Let that sink in for just a moment.

In a functioning democracy, the press should be a symbol of transparency, accountability, and freedom. It should present a balanced viewpoint and multiple perspectives on issues of importance. How can it do any of these things, if it is under the control of a man who is a walking conflict of interest?  Not even the most naive constituent could believe that Peevski’s newspapers could come close to anything resembling unbiased journalism.

Peevski’s response to ‘fake news’

The below image comes from the website of Monitor, one of the newspapers attributed to Peevski, who lovingly call him ‘our publisher’ whenever they refer to him in their articles. The image is an excellent example of Peevski’s misuse of his media.  It comes from an article from the 26th of April, 2018, a day after the World Press Freedom Index was released.

It is a reactionary piece aimed at the non-Peevski affiliated media providers who did choose to cover the report by RWB and named  Peevski. The article uses tropes such as ‘fake news’ to discredit these publishers and the news organisations they are associated with. You will notice that Deutsche Welle, at least its Bulgarian branch, has been named and shamed among others.

 

“Fake News” according to Peevski

 

The red text at the top of the image reads “Factory for Fake News” whereas at the bottom, the white text reads “One lie, repeated 100 times, becomes truth”. Yes, Mr Peevski, I suppose that’s why you needed to ensure control of 80% of our print media distribution. Then you could have the mainstream media pander to your narrative and repeat every lie one hundred times.

Final Thoughts

Let’s give ourselves a pat on the back, we didn’t murder any journalists last year! On second thought, that’s difficult to do when there is little to no dissent and everyone panders to the party line. Ours is a structural problem. We are a new democracy. We are a country that, up until a few decades ago, was shackled to the communist propaganda machine.

Mr Peevski has a large influence on the state of Bulgarian media right now, it is true. He is by far not the only one. We need to look at the report by RWB as a wake up call, and realise that we did so poorly not because we have no press freedom but because we barely have a press.

We cannot have Mr Peevski and other politicians dictating our media to this extent.

The situation right now can be broadly summarised by paraphrasing the popular saying:

“Every country has its own mafia, but in Bulgaria, the mafia has its own country”.

 

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Stela

23 Comments

Sabrina

Very insightful! This Peevski is quite the scoundrel

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Stela

Yes, he is indeed…

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Marin Petkov Ginev

I am the proud father of this young author. Very well exposed conclusions .
Браво Стела! Гордея се с теб и успехите ти!
Т

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Stela

Мерси тате 🙂

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Anton Ginev

Отлична публикация. За жалост е точно така.

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Stela

Да, за жалост 🙁

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Zlatka Gineva

So impressive! The thoughts are very well arranged . I am so proud of what you have done! Unfortunately that is the situation in our beloved Bulgaria. Hopefully the new generation will be cleverer then my generation and will change the status quo.

Толкова впечатляващо! Много добре подредени мисли. Гордея се с работата ти Стеленце! Разтърси ме с болезнената истина. За съжаление това е ситуацията в нашата любима България. Надявам се, че вашето поколение ще промени това състоянието .

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Stela

Благодаря мамо 🙂

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Guergana Todorova

It is so refreshing and interesting to hear the thoughts of the young future of Bulgaria and although the reality is sad and as well described by the talented author, one can only say that as long as we have such bright young people there is hope for our country.
Well done Stella !!! Wish you a bright and successful career and I will be looking forward to your future publications please continue on as we are all proud to have such brilliant minds representing our country!!!

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Stela

Thank you for the kind words! I really hope more people take an interest in these issues as we can only see change if enough people speak out and unite.

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Damyan Misirdzhiev

Sad story unfortunately, but spot on and well captured. Bravo Stela!

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Stela

Thank you 🙂

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Toulla

Congratulations to Stella for these brave and clear thoughts about the press freedom in Bulgaria although she is not living there..
Hopefully this situation will change soon..
Wishing Stella a bright future!!

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Stela

I don’t think the situation will change soon unfortunately, but thank you for your kind words!

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Barbara

Being Polish, not a far neighbour of Bulgaria, I was totally oblivious to such things happening in a country which is a member of European Union.. Sad reality.
I found Stella’s text very informative , interesting and written with, undoubtedly, journalistic spark. Well done, Stella!

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Stela

Yes, also the country which currently holds the EU Presidency. We need to hold our nations to higher standards, because if people are willing to put up with this situation, there is little incentive to change.

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Mariya Virovska

A very insightful article, reflecting the actual disgraceful practices in Bulgarian political life…They are appalling indeed!
However I can only praise and respect Stela for speaking out about these practices! Her commitment to our fatherland is inspirational, never mind the fact that she was raised abroad.
Congratulation on your achievement, Stela! You are bright and talented and I wish you every success and fulfillment in your career!

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Stela

They are disgraceful and we should not put up with them.

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Anna Manahova

Words that strike as a strong sad lash for all of us that try to survive in this reality every day! Yet, such young people as you, Stela, make me believe that there is still a hope for change and this can be achieved only by being critical, focused on problems and endlessly and loudly speaking. Keep on going…

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Stela

I agree, we need to remain critical and speak out! It’s only by raising awareness that other people will join in too and we can start to see change…

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Zoia Koleva

Very bold and well structured article.Full dissection of the press freedom in Bulgaria.Very impressive.
Well done Stela!

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Stela

Thank you 🙂

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Z.Ferdinandova

Lovely post Stela. Very good focus and in-depth research, especially for a person who doesn’t live in this country. You are a ray of light that make me feel more optimistic about the future of Bulgaria.
Congratulations on starting this blog in a brave manner and there are no doubts that you can be an unique journalist. The one that is courageous enough to tell people not only what they want to hear. I am so proud to know you!
As George Orwell says “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”
Good luck in your future study and professional development!

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