Bulgaria: Spread of false news on EU restrictions

Dec. 12, 2017 | Media and Politics

Ahead of its first EU presidency in January 2018, Bulgaria remains vulnerable to false news stories about alleged European restrictions on its beloved foods and traditional tipples.

Source: BalkanInsight

False Reports of EU Bans Inflame Bulgarians

By Mariya Cheresheva | BIRN Sofia

The Bulgarian government is frantically preparing to take over its first ever presidency of the Council of the EU since it joined the European bloc ten years ago, but news about alleged Brussels-inspired bans keeps on flooding the country’s media, inciting outrage among locals.

Provoked by a European Parliament vote on the use of phosphates in frozen meats on Tuesday, a number of Bulgarian media have reported that people might be banned from consuming some of their favourite foods and beverages.

While European media have largely reported that tightened EU rules over phosphate additives might affect the sales of doner kebabs, which are popular throughout Europe, the food scare took on even greater proportions in Bulgaria.

“The EU is Preparing a Great Axe for Bulgarians – It’s Banning Rakia a type of brandy largely consumed in the Balkans and Tripe Soup popular as Bulgaria’s greatest cure for a hangover!”, tabloid website Blitz.bg, reported on December 3.

Despite assurances from MEPs and the European Commission that the EU is not targeting kebab shops in particular but is actually trying to ensure that food is safe, online reactions to the news in Bulgaria have been highly negative.

“Without doner and tripe… they are banning us from everything healthy. How would they react if we would have wanted to ban their Octoberfest or fake fruits and vegetables? What kind of democracy is that?” a reader responded to Blitz’s article, one of a series of angry comments on the subject.

The kebab scare, however, is nothing new for Bulgarians, who have been reportedly to have been threatened with a wide range of EU bans since accession to the bloc in 2007.

A Google search for “EU bans” in Bulgarian offers a long list of suggestions for alleged prohibitions – from baptism to Bulgaria’s popular ‘buffalo’s heart’ tomatoes, to plasma-screen televisions and old stoves.

The majority of the false scares originated from other EU countries and have been picked up and widely disseminated in Bulgaria, but some EU ban myths have purely domestic origins.

In January, the East Stratcom Task Force, the EU’s official unit against pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns, reported in its disinformation cases database an item published by the website The Bulgarian Times, which claimed that the EU is prohibiting children from making snowmen because they are white, and therefore racist.

Concerned readers were warned that if they do not build a black and yellow snowman next to their white snowman, they face a 5,000 euro fine.

The article, after being revealed as fake, cannot be found on the Bulgarian Times webpage any more.

The EU Stratcom Task Force said it that the phenomenon of disinformation about the bloc’s activities should be tackled.

“Fake news or disinformation is an increasing – and very real - problem in Europe and globally. We take it very seriously,” a spokesperson for the Task Force told BIRN.

“It is clearly important to address disinformation and to make people aware of its existence and to equip people with the knowledge and understanding they need to counter this threat,” the spokesperson added.

The spokesperson added that the dissemination and circulation of disinformation “can impact on peoples' perceptions and on public opinion”.

The unit finds it “extremely important” not only to counter fake news about the EU, but to “communicate the positive agenda of the European Union and of the policies we have in place”, he added.

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/myths-about-tough-eu- bans-scare-bulgarians-12-11-2017