Bulgaria has state- and private-owned radio stations and television networks providing national coverage, as well as numerous private radio and television stations providing local news coverage. Cultural events and issues of international, national and local relevance are covered extensively in their programmes. Both the state-owned and private electronic media have numerous, mainly weekly, programmes for minority cultural groups. For example, the daily Turkish news programme broadcast by the Bulgarian National Television.
According to the regulations of Article 71 of the Radio and Television Act, Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) and Bulgarian National Television (BNT) should provide assistance to the creation and dissemination of national audio and audiovisual productions:
• BNR allocates at least 5 percent of the subsidy received from the state budget and Radio and Television Fund for the creation and performance of Bulgarian musical and radio dramatic productions; and
• BNT allocates at least 10 percent from the subsidy received from the state budget and Radio and Television Fund for Bulgarian film and television productions.
The Radio and Television Fund was created by Article 98 of the Radio and Television Act. The fund’s budget consists of:
• monthly reception fees for radio and television programmes;
• initial and yearly licensing and registration fees for radio and television; and
• interest rate resources already in the fund.
Resources collected via the fund are to be used for the financing of:
• BNR and BNT (for preparation, creation and dissemination of national programmes);
• council for Electronic Media;
• projects of national importance, related to the introduction and usage of new technologies in radio and television;
• significant cultural and educational projects; and
• projects designed to extend the dissemination of radio and television programmes over population and/or territory.
There is a lack of transparency of media ownership and capital in the commercial broadcasting sector, with no public register of ownership. The provisions on media ownership in the Law on Radio and Television (1998) – and also the Telecommunications Law (2003) and the Law for the Protection of Competition (1998) – aim to prevent broadcasters from monopolising or even dominating the market. In practice, however, there are no effective anti-monopoly regulatory mechanisms.
There is an Article in the Law on Radio and Television (1999) that refers to the monopoly prevention:
Article 108. Upon submission of documents for the granting of licenses under Article 111, the applicants shall declare that they do not hold any interests, shares or rights of any other kind to participation in radio and television operators, in excess of the permissible limit, according to the anti-trust legislation of the Republic of Bulgaria. (The Competition Protection Act (2008) defines the concentration of economic activity, and the Commercial Law (1991) regulates the procedures for transformation of companies).
In the 2016 Media Pluralism Monitor Report, high risks for media pluralism in Bulgaria were detected primarily in the areas of market plurality and political independence. Three of the market plurality indicators point toward a particularly high risk: media ownership concentration (horizontal) (96%), commercial and owners influence over editorial content (92%) and cross media concentration of ownership and competition enforcement (89%). Two indicators in the political independence domain point to high risk: state regulation of resources and support for media sector (97%) and political control over the media outlets (79%).
Up to now (2019), no measures have been taken to combat concentration in the media sector, even if the issue is being actively discussed between the media experts. An example of this is the conference (R) Evolution in Journalism. Media Innovation in Central and Eastern Europe, organised by the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria. It discussed the topics of media freedom and independence in the country, the decline of the media environment and the need to take actions to address these issues.
The circumstances in Bulgaria led to the development of a mainly vertical system of concentration – the telecommunication operator, in the majority of cases, is an owner both of a television and of a radio channel, of the studio complex, of the broadcasting equipment, of the transmitting cable network – i.e. the entire chain for media broadcasting.
The problem is also clearly reflected in the 2019 Reporters Without Borders World Freedom of Speech Index, according to which Bulgaria ranks 111th out of 180 countries. This is the worst result among all EU’s member states. The index shows that journalists in the country do not feel free and independent.
Currently, the Bulgarian public media are in crisis; the radio is fighting a scandal over freedom of expression, and television is having a huge debt.
Although both the Constitution of Republic of Bulgaria and the Electronic Media Act (2007) guarantee freedom of expression and journalistic expression in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian National Radio (the oldest electronic medium in the country) fell into an unprecedented crisis in September 2019. A BNR journalist covering the legal issues was taken off air, which happened during the election of a new general prosecutor. Meanwhile, the broadcast of the Horizon programme was suspended for five hours. At a subsequent hearing of Horizon’s editorial board, shocking facts were presented to the Council of Electronic Media for exerting pressure on the general radio director – for restricting journalists, imposing censorship and interfering with editorial independence.
At the same time, Bulgarian National Television is over-indebted. The public television’s reports at the end of 2018 indicate that its liabilities exceed BGN 18 million (EUR 9 202 483). However, the BNT unions issued a joint statement stating that the budget deficit is over BGN 35 million (EUR 17 893 716). It is estimated that by the end of 2019 the amount will reach BGN 44 million. Bankruptcy on public television is happening, even though its budget subsidy and its own revenue are relatively constant. However, the funds raised are outweighed by higher costs for outside productions, buying more sports rights, increasing staff salaries and purchasing large film packages and programmes.
The press is entirely privately owned.
There are no available statistical data on the correlation between imported and locally produced programmes in Bulgaria. The Law on Radio and Television (1999) sets the programming quotas: at least 50 percent of the total annual programme time must be for European and Bulgarian programming, excluding newscasts, sports shows, game shows on radio and TV, commercials and the radio and TV market, when that is applicable.
There are no specialised TV channels for arts and culture in Bulgaria, but there are culture-dedicated TV shows – Culture.Bg (BNT) and Multimedia (Bulgaria On Air). They cover the cultural sector in general, including current news and interviews with Bulgarian and foreign cultural representatives. BNT also broadcasts the literary program The Library.
Bulgarian journalists have opportunities to participate in various programmes related to culturally sensitive issues. Regular information on such programmes and initiatives is published on the AEJ website.