Presentation on theme: ""The different styles of journalism across Member States - The Bulgarian style of investigative journalism" Ms. Reneta Nikolova, Chair of the Board of."— Presentation transcript:
"The different styles of journalism across Member States - The Bulgarian style of investigative journalism" Ms. Reneta Nikolova, Chair of the Board of the Bulgarian Club of Journalists Against Corruption. Warsaw, Poland 24-26.06 2009
Some historical conditions In Bulgaria we can speak about investigative journalism not until 1990 – the year that marks the end of the totalitarian regime and the beginning of the transition to democracy. Before that period, in the conditions of authoritarian communist rule, it was not possible such type of journalism – investigative journalism - to exist, let alone speak of freedom of speech and freedom of media.
The other peculiarity was the existence of the Bulgarian secret services called State Security – services that spread their influence in all spheres of life through their agents and informers, including the sphere of journalism. That was a very successful way to manipulate public opinion as well as a form of subordination of people who can conceal, manipulate and interpret according to “a suitable way” the necessary information. Now, with the process of opening of the secret communist files, but mind 18 years later, it turned out that hundreds of journalists have worked all the time for the secret communist services. I think that these are two of the factors that we should have in mind.
So, the year was 1996, 3 May. That was time of gang wars in Bulgaria, time when organized crime groups divided territories by force. In the suburbs of Sofia during the successive fire attack three policemen were killed. The country was shocked. The same evening a TV team received information that the then interior minister was at a party celebrating in the company of models after a beauty pageant, models alleged to be very close to one of the gang groups. The behavior of the minister on the condition that three policemen were killed on the same day and the country was in mourning was absolutely inadequate. This reportage broadcast on TV brought to his resignation. As a result of the crisis in the country at the end of 1996 the government of the ex communist rule fell.
This example is indicative of the role and power of TV journalism and illustrates part of the style of investigative journalism used a lot at present. I will call it shot at point-blank. Usually a journalist receives information that a certain public figure will be at an unsuitable place with unsuitable people – the team goes to the place and takes pictures which are later irrefutable evidence of the journalist’s thesis about the certain politician, mayor, magistrate or other public figure. There are a lot of such examples and they usually lead to noisy scandals that end with resignations of the people involved.
Hidden camera Another often used method of work in TV investigations is the hidden camera. It is primarily used by private televisions. It is rather attractive and has a very strong effect on TV viewers. It has also shortcomings – in most cases the picture and the sound are of low quality and according to Bulgarian legislation they cannot serve as evidence in court. Most often these cases are shot in connection with fraud and bribes, such as doctors who want money from patients, administrative servants who want money from citizens, as well as in issuing different licenses as driving licenses or bribing traffic policemen in road accidents.
The big investigations Speaking about Bulgarian investigative journalism I cannot but mention another part of it without which the Bulgarian style of investigative journalism would not be complete. I would call it documentary, heavy investigative journalism. In the interest of truth in most cases it can be seen in the press. Part of it is connected with the peculiarity that I mentioned at the beginning of my presentation – our heritage from the State Security. Part of the files of that megaservice were opened and some Bulgarian investigative journalists began serious investigations in the documents in the search for truth on emblematic for Bulgaria cases on which facts were intentionally concealed in the past years. We are speaking about cases that are internationally known, such as the murder of the Bulgarian writer and dissident Georgi Markov in London and the coup against the Pope. I can mention here my personal experience as a TV journalist and producer of the film on screenplay by the investigative journalist Hristo Hristov about the truth of “The Secret Case of the Labour Camps” – a documentary which reveals horrific facts about the monstrous crimes in the labour camps during communism and an investigative documentary about the kidnapping from Denmark and the murder of a Bulgarian emigrant – the film is called “State Security Service against the Bulgarian Emigres”. Documentary
Privatization, economy, euro funds The second part of the serious investigations concern the criminal way in which privatization was done in Bulgaria, the different economic crimes and the fraud and misuse with euro funds which became topical issues for our country. A series of examples can be mentioned – the investigations of colleagues connected with the programs SAPARD, Republican Road Infrastructure Fund, PHARE and others. From my personal experience as a TV journalist, author and presenter of the program on BNT 1 “We and the Law” I would like to mention the latest case on which I worked. It was connected with a mayor of municipality who has misappropriated approximately BGN 400,000 (EUR 200,000) through the PHARE program for the building of an eco- path, bicycle alley and an information tourist center. When we visited the municipality, we could not find the eco-path as there was not such path and the bike alley was actually a 200-m asphalt alley leading to the forest. All these procurement orders of this project the mayor who is investigated by the prosecution has given to the company of his brother.
Club – Journalists against Corruption – the Bulgarian model of union of investigative journalists On 6 April 2004 25 journalists from 19 leading electronic and print media established the non-governmental organization Club – Journalists against Corruption with the main objective to join the efforts of media, institutions and civil society to provoke intolerance to corruption and fraud with euro funds. This year our association celebrates its 5 th anniversary and since its founding it has established as one of the most authoritative anti-corruption organizations in Bulgaria. The Club was the first media organization which in 2006 asked for monitoring on involvement of its members with services of the former State Security. Out of 163 monitored journalists 6 proved agents who were immediately expelled from the organization. Except for integrated investigative campaigns in the most problematic spheres, as public procurement, repairs with state funds, local government, licensing regimes, etc. the Club develops serious activities regarding the prevention of corruption and fraud with euro funds.
The Project The project “Mastering the Experience of the OLAF Communications Network and the New European Models of Partnership with the Judicial System” has been determined as one of the most successful projects realized through the Administrative Capacity Operational Program and the European Social Fund. The documentary “OLAF – the Euro Funds Watchdog” was made for which the authors received special greetings by the European Commission’s President Jose Manuel Barroso. The audience of the film is over 2 million, it can be seen on the Internet and there is also a special presentation of the project. “Prevention is always better than cure” is one of the principles on which the Club is working, whose members are one of the well-known Bulgarian investigative journalists.
The Problems Speaking about the vision of Bulgarian investigative journalism we should also mark the problems which face Bulgarian investigative journalists. I will cite here “Reporters without Boundaries”: Bulgarian investigative journalism is endangered, says a report from February 2009. Investigative journalism and pluralism of information in Bulgaria are seriously endangered by mafia groups and different kinds of political and economic pressure. This is pointed in a special report on the condition of journalists in our country by the media organization for human rights “Reporters without Boundaries”. The mafia groups have realized the importance of control over information and the different benefits that can be derived of that by spreading their influence into the media sector, according to the research called “Resignation or resistance, Bulgaria’s embattled press hesitates”.
According to the organization, the control of grey economy is already endangering the existence of investigative journalism and the pluralism of information. The situation that we found during our mission in Sofia worries us, say representatives of “Reporters without Boundaries”. “Certain journalists have resigned to auto-censorship while others resist actively the political and economic pressure. The murder of Georgi Stoev in April 2008 and the brutal attack on Ognyan Stefanov in September 2008 reminded what risks run those who deny turning the press into a simple instrument of communication in service of private interests”, the introduction of the report says.
“To the fight against those mafia groups and their abilities to harm the media should more than ever approach at European level. This should be a priority of the political figures for whom Europeans will vote in June”, said Jean- Francois Julliard, Secretary General of Reporters without Boundaries.
The organization appeals to European institutions and European press to maintain their interest and to expand their support. This will significantly strengthen the efficacy of non- governmental organizations in defense for freedom of speech and the Bulgarian press, is written on the site of the organization. Bulgaria was ranked 59 th for freedom of media in the world classification of Reporters without Boundaries.
In conclusion Today Bulgaria faces very serious challenges. Along with the economic crisis serious problems remain the high- level corruption, the misuse of European funds and the lack of visible results, i.e. effective sentences in the fight against crime. The role of media in opposing and preventing these phenomena is crucial. This is, of course, a rather dangerous role which hides big risks. In this connection, the support to Bulgarian media on the part of international and European federations and other European institutions is very important. I would like to pay special attention to the signed in 2005 memorandum of cooperation between the European Anti-Fraud Office and the International Federation of Journalists and to underline the great significance of the Communicators Network of OLAF and especially to its Chairman Alessandro Buttice.
The Union of Journalists in Bulgaria “Podkrepa” together with the Union of Bulgarian Journalists will be working very actively as a watchdog in realizing media monitoring on the institutions responsible for the assimilation of European funds. In conclusion and in connection with the main theme of the seminar I would like to express my confidence that what will make us stronger is unity – united efforts in the name of common causes, improving professional standards and perseverance in defending our positions, such as the initiative for ethical and qualitative journalism launched by the International Federation of Journalists. What is more – despite the difficulties and the pressure we shall continue to make investigative journalism and to inform the society because there is no real democracy without free media.
Thank you for your attention CLUB JOURNALISTS AGAINST CORRUPTION 12 Vitosha Bul. Fl.6 1000 – Sofia, Bulgaria www.nenakorupciata.org Tel./Fax: + 359 2 987 65 50 firstname.lastname@example.org