Europe

‘The Invisible Hand of Media Censorship in the Balkans’

Antoinette Nikolova, founder of the Balkan Free Media Initiative, presented the main findings of a report entitled: “The Invisible Hand of Media Censorship in the Balkans”. The report is the first report of the Balkan Free Media Initiative which was launched in the Brussels Press Club (12 October). The report shines a light on the situation in Serbia, North Macedonia and Bulgaria, but there are wider lessons to be learnt for the EU and wider Europe. 

The report looks at how commercial practices employed by state actors can undermine objective journalism, control public discourse and help governments consolidate political power acting as a threat to democracy.

The report examines three methods used to control media markets: Control of public broadcasters and regulatory authorities; lack of transparency in ownership, the enabling of control of media outlets by governments or their proxies; and, a culture of clientelism through government advertising and/or grants. 

One of the speakers at the event Peter Whitehead of Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) said that state control of the media was particularly pervasive in Balkan states.  The report looks at state control of the media through different commercial practices. While the report focuses on Balkan countries, it has certainly been witnessed elsewhere in Europe. 

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Peter Horrocks OBE, formerly of the BBC World Service and member of the UK’s media regulatory body Ofcom called on the European Union to do more in the field of competition policy to address the situation. 

EU Reporter spoke to Radan Kanev MEP (EPP, BG) about the situation in Bulgaria. Intimidation of journalists and physical violence are well-documented, at the recent protests in Sofia in 2020, Dimitar Kenarov was detained and assaulted by police there was no satisfactory redress. Recently, editor of Euractiv Bulgaria, Georgi Gotev, an outspoken defender of independent reporting on Bulgaria, who chaired Tuesday’s launch was attacked on a street in Brussels, the assailant was not identified, but it appears to be another act of intimidation. 

Kanev described the report is a very strong document, maybe one of the most serious pieces of research into the Balkan media market. Kanev says the EU needs to stop support for programmes for the media where the money is channelled through the executive, he thinks this should be administered directly by the European Commission. 

Bulgaria will hold elections for the third time this year on 14 November. 

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