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News 06 Oct 17

Bulgaria Politicians' Alleged Threats to Journalist Cause Outrage

Two politicians from Bulgaria’s ruling parties who issued thinly veiled threats to a TV host on air have drawn a storm of criticism from journalists and media professionals in the country.

Mariya Cheresheva
Victor Nikolaev. Photo: NOVA TV

Two politicians in Bulgaria have been sharply criticised for suggesting a journalist risked losing his job for asking uncomfortable questions.

Angered by questions from Victor Nikolaev, a host of NOVA TV’s morning show “Hello, Bulgaria”, about the acquisition of new fighter jets and tensions in Bulgaria’s main GERB party, two officials from the ruling coalition, Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov and MP Anton Todorov lashed out on air on Friday.

Both hinted that Nikolaev might lose his job for the questions he had asked, giving as an example the fate of his former co-host, Ana Tsolova.

She recently resigned from “Hello Bulgaria” amid speculation that she might have been pushed out over her work as a journalist.

“You are using very strong words and they might cost you your bread [livelihood]. They already cost the bread of your colleague – she had taken a certain direction, and as far as I can see, her chair is missing now," GERB MP Todorov warned Nikolaev.

In response to another question, the MP added: “For such a question, if I was a boss of NOVA TV, I would fire you.”

The next guest on the show, Valeri Simeonov, from the nationalist United Patriots, GERB's coalition ally, also did not hide his dissatisfaction with the journalist’s questions.

Quizzed about alleged corruption scandals and conflicts of interest in Prime Minister's Boyko Borissov’s government, Simeonov threatened to organise a “Victorgate” – а reference to the TV's host's first name, and and the notorious Watergate scandal in the US that terminated the career of President Richard Nixon.

The remarks sparked outrage in Bulgaria, which is ranked in a poor 109th place in the global press freedom ranking of Reporters without Borders, lower than any other European state.

The owner of NOVA TV – NOVA broadcasting group – said threats made to journalists doing their job were “intolerable” and added that the company stood behind its journalist.

Professional organizations of journalists also condemned the threats. The Bulgarian section of the Association of European Journalists called on the Bulgarian media to boycott politicians who threatened journalists and demonstrated disrespect for freedom of speech.

It called the statements of Todorov and Simeonov a crude attempt at censorship, which also revealed the contemptuous attitude of the government towards the media.

“They do not want independent journalists who act as a corrective to power. They want walkers-on, people who simply pass on the messages of those in power,” it noted.

The Center for Media Development, another NGO, called the threats and the lack of respect for media freedom “a crime”, and said it expected politicians to defend media freedom instead of attacking it.

Prime Minister Borissov’s GERB party on Friday insisted that it supported freedom of expression.

“We believe that free journalism has the right to ask questions. For us there are no good or bad questions, there are incorrect answers,” the party said.

It distanced itself from the statements of its MP, Todorov, who is also a deputy-chair of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee, calling them his “personal opinion”.

NOTE: The author is a member of the Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria, one of the media organisations that have reacted to the threats.

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