Bulgaria: Bridging the information gap between media and state administration Drucken

Bulgaria: Bridging the information gap between media and state administration


Bulgaria is a country with a very well developed media market. 10 national and 20 regional daily newspapers are being published at the present moment. The monthly magazines are more than 80. The 8 million people in Bulgaria have the possibility to choose between 3 national air TV-stations and approximately 150 national, regional and local cable channels. The radio market is also overcrowded – there are more then 200 stations, mostly regional and local. Most of the TV channels and radio stations are broadcasting entertainment programs, but despite that a significant number of them have news programs. There are 3 national news agencies operating in Bulgaria. Furthermore a few Internet-based media are gaining popularity during the last years and some of them are competing very well against the traditional media.

The very well developed media market in Bulgaria, in combination with the relatively small advertising market (roughly €90 milion for 2003) leads to a very severe contest, part of which is the competition for information. Even though with slight turbulences, this leads very logically to a constant improvement of the situation with access to information of different state institutions.

Bulgaria has gone through very serious transformations during the last several years, similar to the other East-European countries. Something interesting about this transition is the fact that the different elements of the state, economy and society are changing with a different speed. For example, the media market development has outrun the state development with years, regarding the access to information legislature. The competitive media market was formed in the first several years after 1999. At that time the only legal documents, regarding access to information were the two articles in the Bulgarian constitution. The Access to Public Information Act (APIA) was adopted ten years after the beginning of the transition – in 1999. Up to that moment the journalists were used to look for and to receive the necessary data without it – officially or from their sources.

Today, five years after the adoption of legislation, concerning the access to information, the situation has been slightly improved. More and more journalists are using the APIA procedures, even though they are not perfect. According to the Bulgarian legislature for access to information, at the occasion of official inquiry, an answer has to be provided within 14 days. In general, the journalists prefer verbal questioning as a means of obtaining information. The reason for this is obvious: the important information has to be quickly obtained, in order to be up-to-date. Because of this, the administration often uses written requests for information as a sanction on journalists. In some cases, when state authorities are unwilling to provide the requested information, it appears that the APIA provides them with the most convenient solution. The option for a court appeal is not always very useful, even though for another reason. The reform of the Bulgarian judiciary system is not yet completed and sometimes a lawsuit can last for years.


Three years ago I initiated proceedings against the Government in the Bulgarian Supreme Court on the basis of the APIA. I had required to be provided with a copy of the verbatim report from the first meeting of the newly elected Bulgarian Council of Ministers. The government administration has refused to grant me access to the requested information, due to the fact that this is an administrative secret – a working document, which is used for the preparation of the official documents. I appealed in the Supreme Court against the refusal and after a year and a half I won the case. The court’s decision was that the government’s refusal is unlawful, but this did not grant me access to the requested information. Instead, the government administration refused again, using a different argument. I brought a new lawsuit, which I lost and I am appealing currently. There is around half a year left till the end of this government’s term, and it is very likely that the lawsuit lasts for a longer period.


It is obvious that such a procedure is unacceptable for the journalists. There is no story – an analysis or an investigation, which can remain interesting for such a long time. Nevertheless, the journalists are among those people, using the APIA most often. According to the Bulgarian NGO Access to information program (AIP) during 2003 the journalists form the largest group of information seekers. Information received through the APIA is used mainly for journalistic investigations in different areas of public life, because for such kind of a research the two weeks waiting period for response under APIA is not a large barrier. AIP has developed a system to track who is searching for what information, and if this information is provided or refused, and for what reasons. According to the statistics, more than half of the requests for information are done by journalists. (Table 1)

Table 1


The fact that journalists know the law doesn’t mean that it is known by the state administration. According to the AIP survey, the most frequent denials for access to information are not justified with any argument. (Table 2) The use of the argument “a trade secret” is also worrying, due to the not clear enough definition in the law.

Table 2


Besides the stated problems so far, concerning the access to information for journalists in Bulgaria, overall, there is a positive tendency. An increasing number of journalists are using in one or another way the possibilities it provides. Even though this may not help them in the everyday work, it can have another positive effect. The increased number of requests and lawsuits are educating the state administration and are creating discipline towards the access to information rights. I believe that three conditions have to be fulfilled in order to achieve this right – good legislation, public awareness of that legislation, and well-educated state administration. The first two conditions, even though with some reservations, regarding the Bulgarian legislation, are fulfilled. Overall, the culture among the state administration is lagging behind. Fortunately, the tendency in this direction is also positive. There are state bodies, which are entirely open to the public and it is very easy working with them. Of course, there are other examples for meaningless information withholding. For example, the Bulgarian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) is well-known with its denials to provide information. Some time ago, colleagues of mine decided to request officially from the Ministry the text of one agreement with Interpol, which was published on the Internet site of the international organization. MIA denied, with the argument that the agreement is a “state secret”. Fortunately, similar comic examples are getting rarer. The state representatives – somewhere quickly, somewhere not that quickly, are realizing the benefits of transparency. Knowing the access to information rights is increasing, the gap between the media and the state administration is becoming smaller.