Attacking the Peevski Act: Manipulation disguised as charity

Delyan Peevski

The chorus of websites of varying degrees of obscurity affiliated with the so-called Capital circle of Ivo Prokopiev and his fellow oligarchs that is criticising the provisions of the so-called Peevski Act (amended version of the Mandatory Deposition of Print and Other Materials Act) has been joined by an unexpected voice. The law provides for full transparency in the financing of all publications in Bulgaria, including websites.

Naturally, this development sent the media outlets financed by the indicted Prokopiev, Ognyan Donev and Tsvetan Vassilev and their crony Sasho Donchev into a state of stupor. We say “naturally” because such transparency would illuminate the non-market methods through which these individuals sponsor both publications they officially own and media outlets that otherwise claim to be independent. What was less expected was the way that the Bulgarian Donors Forum (BDF), the charitable organisation holding the Donors Message Service (DMS) numbers, came to the rescue of the same publications that have been howling against the law since its very adoption. There hardly is a Bulgarian citizen who has not used one DMS number or other to send a text message, donating to a charitable campaign for a sick child or a person in need or simply voting for their favourite participant on one of the myriad reality shows that TV networks have to offer. It is unlikely, though, that anyone has sent donations to parties or media outlets through these numbers. There are other, far more traditional and, what is more important, not anonymous, ways to support either of those, if one wishes to do so.

Against this backdrop, the organisation in question surprisingly sent a position to the Ministry of Culture, insisting that the regulation for the administration of the Peevski Act currently under discussion should not include the existing requirement for donors of media outlets to be disclosed. The BDF proposal is for donors’ names to remain anonymous. What is the rationale behind it? Well, the organisation says that the “obstacles” created by the law would have a negative impact on donating as a whole, urging for only the platform through which a particular donation is made to be revealed. In other words, the sources of the money received by media outlets would remain unknown and so it would be just as unclear who orders the texts or fake news published by them, in the cases that there are such.

It was for that exact reason that a regulation in the Political Parties Act was adopted, explicitly saying that every donation made to a political organisation, regardless of its amount, should be disclosed together with the name of the donor – so that it is clear who pays the piper and orders the tune, so to speak. If there is such a requirement for the people who shape the country’s policies, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that it should also apply to those who shape the public opinion. Media outlets are not charitable campaigns collecting money in support of sick children. Their mission is to treat what is ailing the system and make it healthier – a task they cannot possibly perform if they themselves are afflicted by the same issues.

One unhealthy practice, for example, is the behind-the-scenes financing from indicted oligarchs, who use freedom of speech as a shield against looming retribution for their crimes. This is why it is much more logical for the BDF to call for complete transparency of financing – so that the fourth branch of government in the country can do its job the way it is supposed to instead of being used by behind-the-scenes actors for manipulations and propaganda.

Speaking of the importance of knowing who “pays the piper”, it is worth noting the names of the website that announced the BDF’s proposal and the media outlets fighting their new obligation to disclose their sources of funding. The one to set the tone for the chorus weeks ago was Bivol, a website with major Russian ties along family lines. Websites connected to some of the abovementioned oligarchs through reporters and probably financing, regularly chime in, while the BDF’s position was covered first by Frognews – a website that for years has been playing the role of a press office for the fugitive banker Tsvetan Vassilev, who defrauded thousands of CorpBank depositors. This is the company that a charitable organisation like the BDF keeps.

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