Media Situation in Bulgaria

Almost 25 years after the end of the communist era, the media landscape in Bulgaria has a bad reputation again. Monopolisation in the newspaper sector, insufficient or inefficient legal rules and a self-regulation system only in theory, all give rise to criticism. A lack of economic transparency, self-censorship and lack of objectivity are often mentioned both by media experts and journalists. Foreign ambassadors have repeatedly expressed their concern, and the exploitation of the print media for political purposes was the subject of Western media reports. The shortcomings in the media sector have resulted in the country slipping down to 100th place of 180 states in the latest press freedom ranking by "Reporters Without Borders" – the worst result in the EU. Eight years ago, right before joining the EU, the country still ranked 35th. In a representative opinion survey of the KAS Media Program in December 2013, only one in seven Bulgarians states they believe in the independence of the media. Quality coverage is considered to be rare.

Even though digitalization is making rapid advances, television remains the number one medium for broad sections of the population. For two thirds of Bulgarians (62 percent) it is the preferred information source for politics, only 20 percent here mention the Web and a mere 4 percent the newspapers. Nevertheless, the younger generation of up to 34 year-olds holds online media to be equally credible and objective as television. News portals close gaps in independent coverage. This situation is alarming for the daily press since lack of trust is clearly making itself visible for quite some time in a sharp decline in circulation. For some established nationally appearing papers, figures are privately being mentioned of only 10,000 to 20,000 copies. According to insiders, many titles are for a long time unprofitable and are maintained only because they serve outside interests for the purpose of influencing political and economic decision makers. This also partly explains the poor position of the EU-member Bulgaria in the international rankings on freedom of the press.

In the increasing competition with the Internet the print media must now put the emphasis consistently on higher quality to remain relevant for broader sections of the population. If the publishers are already under pressure in traditionally strong European print markets as in Germany, this applies all the more for smaller countries like Bulgaria in a period of transformation and modernization. It remains to be seen whether a substantial majority of media proprietors and managers will meet this economic challenge and orient itself more strongly to international professional standards. Moreover, a more intensive dialogue between the different players in the media sphere – politicians, media owners, and journalists – will be necessary in order to achieve balanced media legislation reforms and a better self-regulation.

Christian Spahr, Denica Zheleva

KAS Media Program South East Europe