International non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on the Bulgarian authorities to improve the security of journalists and access to information, and ensure a transparent and legitimate distribution of media funding in the runup to the April 4 general elections.
The authorities should also work on strengthening media ethics, RSF said in a statement published on Wednesday.
These recommendations, drafted with the help of local media experts, are being targeted at all the political parties and at the Bulgarian public and aim to turn press freedom into the subject of a national debate and an election issue ahead of the poll, the organisation explained.
According to RSF, Bulgaria needs to step up journalists' security, accelerate the treatment of crimes committed against journalists, as well as protect the media from judicial harassment.
Furthermore, the Bulgarian government must distribute the public advertisement and communication funds according to clearly defined and transparent criteria and reconsider the allocation of public funds to the media that are in breach of the ethical standards of journalism.
The local authorities should also ensure that all journalists’ and all media’s queries are treated equally by press offices of public institutions, the RSF said.
"Press freedom has reached an impasse in Bulgaria and independent media are on the brink of disappearing. [...] These parliamentary elections provide an opportunity for action by domestic political forces and every voter who is concerned about the freedom and quality of the media,” Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s EU and Balkans desk, was quoted as saying.
RSF said that its recommendations are intended to be combined with a proposal submitted to the Bulgarian government a year ago, but left without a response, to create an independent and pluralistic national commission for improving press freedom in the country.
Bulgaria ranked 111th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, which marks the lowest position among EU member states.