The Anti-Corruption Fund (ACF) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’s Southeast Europe Media Programme jointly organized a seminar to discuss practical measures to support independent journalism in Bulgaria.
“Independent journalists in Bulgaria face various challenges, such as strong economic and political pressure, lawsuits aimed at silencing them, limited funding, denial of information by institutions, etc. With this seminar, we want to outline what are the challenges facing independent journalism in Bulgaria and Europe and how we can actually support independent journalists,” said Boyko Stankushev, Director of the Anti-Corruption Fund.
The seminar was attended by 35 journalists from 17 media outlets across the country, covering the work of institutions at the national, regional, and municipal level, the judiciary, as well as working on investigations at the national and local level. The seminar put particular focus on journalists working in regional media.
The seminar program included presentations and open discussions grouped around themes such as enhancing solidarity between independent journalists, existing legal framework and tools to support journalists, alternative financial models for independent journalism, the German model for media independence, and the role of Europe in supporting independent journalism.
Irina Nedeva and Ivan Radev from the Association of European Journalists presented the Association’s experience in defending independent journalists under pressure. They also focused on possible approaches to strengthening solidarity and cooperation between independent journalists, the experience of the first journalists’ associations after 1989, and examples of viable organizing from other countries. The question was raised whether journalists from different media outlets in Bulgaria can unionize to protect their labor interests and the editorial independence of their publications. Or whether the cooperation between journalists should focus primarily on mutual support in cases of pressure, mutual promotion of investigations and materials, and providing publicity as the best protection against attacks.
Lora Georgieva and Sofia Zheleva from the Anti-Corruption Fund’s legal program presented the legal framework in Bulgarian and European legislation, the opportunities and gaps in ensuring adequate protection of independent journalists. They outlined the growing trend of SLAPP cases being used to silence journalists and the measures taken at the national and European levels.
Georgi Savchev from OFFNews.bg and Ilian Vassilev, Chairman of the Board of the Alternatives and Analyses Foundation, producer of “The Alternative,” presented the financial models of their media and the place that new technologies and social networks for crowdfunding occupy in them. In addition, a discussion outlined the opportunities and limitations of the alternative financial models and the extent to which they provide an option for avoiding financial censorship, one of the most common restrictions on freedom of speech.
Michael Geffken, former director of the Leipzig School of Media Education Centre, presented an analysis of the working points and shortcomings of the German model of journalistic independence. Despite better conditions for independent journalists, he argued that the German media environment is also experiencing negative trends – loss of audiences, shrinking market, and a reduction in media diversity. Maintaining good working conditions results from constant struggle and cooperation among independent journalists in the country, the German speaker summarized.
Ognian Zlatev, Head of the European Commission Representation in Zagreb, outlined the growing commitment of the European institutions to independent journalism. The European institutions monitor the situation with the journalistic independence in the member states very closely. They are determined to do their utmost to counter political and economic pressure on them. However, it remains to be seen whether support for journalistic independence will take the form of a European directive with binding requirements or a recommendation to national governments.