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The Bulgarian receipt how to silence investigative journalism

A Union Ivkoni bus accident [Dnevnik]

By Georgi Gotev

The Bulgarian National Television (BNT) inadvertently disclosed the very simple mechanism allowing big players with guilty conscience to stop the publication of journalistic investigations affecting their interests. The supporting roles in killing the disturbing revelations are played by the prosecution, and by the media boss, especially if that person is for some reason vulnerable.

BNT sent on Wednesday (6 March) to the media information aimed at destabilising Valia Ahchieva, an investigative journalist the weekly program of whom was suspended last January. In recent weeks, Ahchieva contributes her investigative reports to this website, pro bono.

By this communication, possibly without realising, BNT disclosed the receipt how to kill disturbing journalistic revelations. They wrote that “days prior to the broadcasting” of Ahchieva’s program on 9 December 2018, “two letters [from entities targeted in the investigation] were received in which doubts were expressed about the quality of BNT’s work as a public television, as well as violations of ethical and professional standards of a journalist work for which the Prosecutor’s Office has been seized”.

The journalistic investigation planned for broadcast on 9 December was not aired. It concerned lenience of the road transport authorities with respect to Union Ivkoni, a bus transport company, owed by a former MP from the ruling party GERB.  The program was looking to the circumstances of two major bus accidents in which six people lost their lives and more than twenty were injured.

The BNT communication continues:

“BNT responded immediately by sending a letter to the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor’s Office to verify the case. BNT, as a responsible public media, cannot afford to broadcast a program which is subject to a check by the competent authorities”, they wrote.

It’s so simple: the entity or entities with a guilty conscience turn to the Prosecutor’s office, claiming that the journalist violated ethical and professional standards (as if the Prosecutor’s office was competent on such issues.) Further, the media leadership stops the broadcast, because it is subject to check by “the competent authorities”, which they seize too, just to double-check. And they call this a “responsible” attitude…

But why is the BNT leadership so eager to take the side of those with guilty conscience?

Simple. BNT chief Konstantin Kamenarov is under trial for drunk driving. To escape from a court session on 18 February, he presented a medical certificate of illness. However, Kamenarov attended a meeting with press chiefs in the European Parliament on 19 February on fake news. The revelation came after BNT aired footage showing Kamenarov attending the event.

Further, Ahchieva disclosed that Kamenarov has signed a letter warning her not to publish her investigative reports with other media, while he was on sick leave.

If convicted on drunk driving charges, Kamenarov risks up to 3 years of jail. He would also need to resign from BNT, as the chief of this media cannot be a person with a conviction. The chief of a media should not be a person vulnerable from manipulation, but that’s another story…

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