Lawmakers approve media transparency bill

Proponents say that it will also help in combating fake news

The bill intended to bring transparency to media ownership was supported unanimously by the lawmakers in the parliamentary Committee for Culture and Media. The considering of the new legislative texts introduced by Movement for Rights and Freedoms MPs Delyan Peevski, Hamid Hamid, Yordan Tsonev and Velislava Krasteva went without actual deliberations.

The amendments to the Mandatory Deposition of Print and Other Materials Act, which provide for the disclosure of distributors and providers of media services, will be brought to the parliamentary floor for second reading next week.

“I expected this consensus because of the huge amount of work that the task group set up by the committee did prior to the vote together with representatives of the Ministry of Culture and members of some media outlets. Changes were made in response to all objections voiced by professional organisation, journalists and media owners. The credit for this consensus goes to the task group, which found common ground, taking into account all opinions and views. The result is a great bill,” said Hamid. He also revealed that media owners will submit information to the Ministry of Culture, which in turn will have the duty to check for discrepancies with the corresponding data in the Commercial Register and enforce the law. “The bill is aimed at transparency and keeping the public informed,” added the MP. Halid noted that there are all sorts of swirling speculations in society about who is who in the media market and assured that the new texts will clear these suspicions. “This is an important step in the combat against fake news, considering that in many of these cases the media owners remain in the shadows. With the new legislation, the general public will be aware of who owns the respective media outlet and who distributes it,” Hamid continued.

The bill envisions the establishment of an online register with the Ministry of Culture and each media owner will be obligated to file a statement within 30 days by filling an online form on the ministry’s official webpage. The information will be shared with the Registry Agency and will be subject to disclosure via the Commercial Register. The statement will also include information about whether the media services provider is in public office and information about any public funding received during the previous calendar year, its amount and basis, as well as details about the individual who authorised the funding. In the instances where the person controlling the content of the media service or the editorial policy is not the actual business owner, this circumstance should be noted in the statement. The penalty for documents not submitted within the deadline or containing discrepancies will be between BGN 10 and BGN 15,000. The online register should be up and running within a year of the bill’s final approval. In addition, under the amended act distributors of print media have until 31 January to declare with the Ministry of Culture their owner and the number of commercial outlets employed in selling and distributing these media products. If anyone owns more than a third of the total number of these outlets, the ministry will alert the Commission for Protection of Competition and the antitrust laws will be triggered.

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