Silence journalists and you seize control

It was not that long ago so I am sure that the older of my fellow journalists have not forgotten the obscurantist days our guild had to live through in Bulgaria. No, I am not referring to the years leading up to the events of 10 November 1989, but about the following decade.

On the surface, we were free to investigate the shortcomings of our fledgling democracy, write about everything that was happening and unmask the ugly nature of original accumulation of capital. And we did it. But you have to believe it was far from easy. At that time, journalists were no different than criminals in the sense that legal actions against us could be taken under the Penal Code, with a prosecutor and an investigative officer on the case and restrictive measures that ranged from release on one’s own recognisance (for first-time offenders) to bail and custody (with the severity escalating for repeat offenders in their second and third case, respectively) – the whole deal. It was the state that used to start legal proceedings against us. Of course, the major media outlets provided legal counsel to their reporters and the result was often an acquittal, at least in Sofia that was the case. But many colleagues outside of the capital were crushed. They were not just silenced, but forced to pay back-breaking fines that they were slapped by the court with for writing the truth about some local lord. Silence journalists and you seize control.

In 1999, or thereabout, things changed following strong pressure exerted by the European community. The defamation and libel lawsuits against journalists were no longer launched by prosecutors but by the private persons who felt wronged by these articles. There is a world of difference, believe me. I have been through both scenarios and I am grateful for this experience, to some degree. I was never convicted (it is never too late, of course), but I learnt to be careful what I say and check facts. Most of my colleagues did the same, which was only to the benefit of readers, viewers and listeners.

So we once again trusted that there was freedom of speech in Bulgaria. Alas, nowadays the situation is even more ominous because we are seeing not individual journalists but an entire newspaper being repressed – the bestselling one at that, Telegraph. And since there are no grounds on which to file a lawsuit against the publication and thus ruin it, the plan is to just shut it down. Its name is not to certain people’s liking, apparently. Note that the articles published there are not mentioned, even though they are the real problem for these people.

Bravo, mister prosecutor! Aren’t you smart! Or maybe we should credit not you but your shadowy masters. At least you got in the news. How else would we have learnt about your existence?

Just to let you know, though, you are operating on old information. Things have changed immensely. You can no longer just go ahead and gag journalists and your pitiful attempt to do so will soon be forgotten.

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