The row over appointments of new public media chiefs appeared to subside at the start of 2002 with a court ruling that the sacking of Lilyana Popova as head of the state-owned TV station BNT in December 2001 by the country’s Electronic Media Council was illegal. But controversy revived in October, when parliament made what the opposition charged was a political appointment of a new head of the Bulgarian Telegraphic Agency (BTA).
The Council, set up in 2001 to monitor broadcasting, struggled to establish its authority. Amendments to the media law, to reduce the power of the country’s president, were again discussed by parliament’s media committee. During the year, its articles 146, 147and 148, providing for fines that are heavy in Bulgaria, were used against journalists who criticised political figures for corruption.
A journalist physically attacked
Pavel Nikolov, an outspoken journalist with the privately-owned Radio Montana, broadcasting from northeast of Sofia, was beaten by thugs in front of his home on 13March, five days after receiving death threats. He had been due to get police protection the next day.
Pressure and obstruction
In early 2002, Kiril Gotzev, acting head of the public TV station BNT, rejected the advice of the Electronic Media Council and took a political talk-show, "Frontalno" and another political broadcast, "Ekip 4," off the air. At the same time, a new programme called "Aktualno" presented the government’s view. The Council, which told Gotzev to ensure diversity of views on "Aktualno," confirmed him as head of BNT on 4 March.
The administrative supreme court ruled on 29 March that the December 2001 sacking of BNT director-general Lilyana Popova was illegal because the press law passed in October that year was not retroactive. She had been dismissed under the new law by the new Electronic Media Council on grounds that she did not have the necessary qualifications for the job, which she had held since 1998. Popova charged that it was a political decision. Several of her colleagues had resigned in sympathy.
Journalist Katja Kassabova was ordered on 11 May to pay 1,000 leva (500 euros) in libel damages to four regional education ministry inspectors and costs of 2,800 leva (1,400 euros). She had written articles on 12 and 14 September 2000 in the regional daily Compass about corruption in the state education system, naming the four inspectors, who worked in the southeastern town of Burgas. The education ministry then launched an investigation.
The daily paper 24 Hours was ordered on 7 June to pay 7,500 leva (3,250 euros) in damages to Eva Sokolova, the wife of a former president of parliament, for quoting in a 24 May 2000 article remarks at a press conference the previous day by journalist Viza Nedjalkova accusing her of obtaining a building for her Bulgarka Foundation in a suspicious manner while her husband was head of parliament.
The head of the Bulgarian Telegraphic Agency (BTA), Panayot Denev, was dismissed by parliament on 4 October and replaced by Stojan Cheshmedjiev, who had never worked at the agency, on grounds that the government no longer had confidence in him. The agency was criticised for putting out translations of articles from the European media criticising the Bulgarian government. The opposition said the sacking was politically-motivated.