Отклонения, лирически и прозаически
The Gag that Rocked the Cradle

February 2008

“No news is good news, no journalists is even better”
Nicolas Bentley

Journalists are rarely welcomed by those in power. The inconvenient questions they ask and their prying cameras are a real pain in the **** and that is why officers of the state have amazingly been given immunity from these prying eyes. This immunity, more or less, exempts ministers and MPs as well as some other high officials from the obligation to bear responsibility for their own actions. Journalists generally appear to be the link between the elected and the electorate, providing a means of exercising control over those who have been endowed with certain powers. That power corrupts is well known and so this decision, coming while the EU was putting together a report criticizing corrupt practices in Bulgaria, is even more of a surprise.

Journalists in Bulgaria have been given a hard time in recent years and contrary to what one would expect, it’s been getting ever harder for them to carry out their jobs. Two different stories from 2007 pointed this out clearly: Police officers allegedly beat up a journalist in May last year, but were eventually freed from guilt – it was their word against that of the journalist. In the Freedom of Speech list for 2007, Bulgaria and Poland were left far behind every other EU Member State.

Journalists have been given an even harder time in Bulgaria so far this year. In their first session for the new year, Socialist chairman of the Parliament, Georgi Pirinski, introduced what could correctly be termed as “totalitarian” measures restricting the free access of the media, and thus of the people, to the corridors and session chambers of the Parliament building. A new regulation restricted the access of the media to the so called Corridor of Power (where the ruling coalition offices are) and to the left side of the sessions chamber (where the Socialists, the “ex-King’s men” and the “Turks” reside – can you guess? Yes exactly, the ruling coalition). This regulation was not voted in. It wasn’t even approved by the ruling coalition members. In fact, the Socialist Chairman of the Parliament took the decision alone, approved by just a few Socialist ministers.

Alongside the criticism that the government has received for the banning of journalists from parliament, the anti-‘Big Brother’ award, which was handed out by the Access to Information Programme Foundation and Internet Society Bulgaria, has been given to the Interior Ministry for releasing confidential information and personal details of BBC journalists.

At the beginning of August, Bulgaria's Interior Ministry announced that two members of the team, which reported to have exposed a bid to sell Bulgarian babies to the UK, had criminal convictions.

The interior ministry alleged that one of BBC freelance journalists had been convicted of conspiracy to defraud and had been sentenced to eighteen months of probation and seventy hours of community service for drink driving. It also claimed another reporter had been cautioned for common assault. The accusations were published on the ministry web site along with the passport numbers, full names and dates of birth of the reporters.

The report, which featured hidden camera footage, was aired on the BBC Ten O'Clock News on July 26. Sangita Myska reported to have found out that babies were being illegally offered for sale in Bulgaria with the promise of smuggling them abroad. The journalist told the story of a human trafficker in the resort city of Varna, showing off toddlers with a selling price of 60,000 euros each.

The investigation sparked controversy in Bulgaria after it was slammed by Varna police as "an attempt to manipulate the truth", but even if this was true the action taken by the Interior Ministry again flew in the face of Free Speech.

The problems might not be around for long though as the fourth no-confidence vote against the current government will be held in the second week of February, this time surprisingly because of corruption. The first, in April 2006, was for the inability of the government to manage the floods and the continuous corruption practices in the utilization of funds granted by the EU for the damages. The second – the crisis in health insurance; the third – the crisis in education.


by S. Stefanov / H. Rowlands