Bulgaria6 December 2004
Romanian journalist gets off with a fine
George Buhnici, a Romanian journalist with the privately-owned television station Pro TV, was sentenced by a Bulgarian court on 3 December to a fine of about 500 euros for using an unauthorized concealed camera. He had been facing up to three years in prison for the offence, which is regarded as spying in Bulgaria.
24.11.2004 - Free press under attack with Romanian TV journalist charged and BBC reporter investigated
Reporters Without Borders today deplored the threats to investigative journalism posed by Bulgarian decisions to charge Romanian TV journalist TV George Buhnici with using a concealed camera without permission and investigate BBC reporter Justin Rowlatt for the same offence as well as "inciting corruption."
The decision to press charges against Buhnici, who works for the Romanian privately-owned television station Pro TV, was taken by the prosecutor’s office in the northern city of Ruse on 22 November. He faces up to three years in prison. The Sofia prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation against Rowlatt on 19 November.
"Article 339 (a) of Bulgaria’s criminal code, declaring use of a concealed camera to be act of espionage, is absurd and archaic and imposes a disproportionately severe sanction on what is standard practice among investigative journalists," Reporters Without Borders said.
The press freedom organisation said it was also "unacceptable" to accuse journalists of inciting corruption when they work under cover to obtain information of public interest.
"These obstacles to investigative journalism are likely to harm Bulgaria’s image at a time when negotiations to join the European Union are under way," Reporters Without Borders warned.
In a BBC television programme called "Buying the Games," Rowlatt used a hidden camera and passed himself off as a businessman ready to bribe Ivan Slavkov, a Bulgarian member of the International Olympic Committee, in return for support for London’s bid to host the 2012 games. Slavkov took a great interest in Rowlatt’s offers.
According to Pro TV, Buhnici used a concealed camera to film cigarette trafficking in a duty-free shop on the border between Romania and Bulgaria. He was arrested by the Bulgarian authorities on 16 November and released on bail three days later. Bulgarian customs officials seized the camera and film.
Announcing on 22 November that charges are to be pressed against Buhnici, Ruse regional prosecutor Ognyan Basarboliev said no further details would be given about the case until it comes to trial. Buhnici must remain in Bulgaria until the trial is over.