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2-6 Human Rights: Freedom of Speech and Press




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This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

2-6 Human Rights: Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the
Government generally respects this right in practice, although there
were signs that it was seeking to increase editorial control over
government-owned electronic media. The variety of newspapers published
by political parties and other organizations represents the full
spectrum of political opinion, but a notable degree of self-censorship
exists in the press among journalists who must conform to what are often
heavily politicized editorial views of their respective newspapers.

National television and radio broadcasting both remain under
parliamentary supervision. A September Constitutional Court ruling
declared unconstitutional some portions of a "provisional" statute that
had placed the electronic media under parliamentary supervision since
1990. In October Parliament passed legislation restoring its right to
exercise control over the national electronic media; in December the
Constitutional Court again struck down this provision. In November 34
journalists from a national radio station issued a declaration accusing
radio management of censoring their work and threatening uncooperative
journalists with dismissal. A month later, seven of the journalists
were fired, provoking widespread public concern about freedom of speech
and the establishment of at least two NGO's to monitor the issue. This
ongoing dispute illustrates a growing concern about the lack of balance
in the state-controlled news media.

Some observers criticized changes in the senior leadership of the
national electronic media and editorial control by a newly established
board of directors of Bulgarian national radio, charging they were
politically motivated. In September the Constitutional Court overturned
a provision of the July Local Elections Act which prohibited journalists
working for state-owned media and local electronic media from expressing
opinions on parties, coalitions, and candidates in the October 29 local
elections.

There are two state-owned national television channels and a growing
number of privately owned regional stations. Two channels broadcast in
Bulgarian, while a third broadcasts Russian programming, and a fourth
carries a mixture of Cable News Network International and French
language programming. Bulgarian national television has been planning
Turkish- language programming for at least 2 years, but broadcasts have
not yet begun. Foreign government radio programs such as the British
Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of America (VOA) had good access
to commercial Bulgarian radio frequencies, although in April the interim
council for radio frequencies and television channels turned down a
request by Radio Free Europe to add VOA programming on its frequency.
After initial government approval in the fall of 1994 of an application
to create a privately owned national broadcast television station,
further progress has floundered, with no action being taken by the
current Government. Television and radio news programs on the state-
owned media present opposition views but are generally seen as being
biased in favor of the Government. There are no formal restrictions on
programming. Some political groups complained that coverage was one-
sided, although they acknowledged that their representatives were
interviewed regularly. Both television and radio provide a variety of
news and public interest programming, including talk and public opinion
shows.

More than 30 independent radio stations are licensed. Some private
stations complained that their licenses unduly restricted the strength
of their transmissions in comparison to state-owned stations. Radio
transmitter facilities are owned by the Government.

Private book publishing remained lively, with hundreds of publishers in
business. Respect for academic freedom continued.

 

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