Free Europe recycles old lies about Delyan Peevski

There are innumerable sayings around the world about all sorts of things, but some version of one in particular can be found in every European country, across the pond too. That is no coincidence. You all know it – while the cat is away, the mice will play. In that same spirit, while the new CEO of the US Agency for Global Media Michael Pack is trying to steer the Congress-funded publications, including Radio Free Europe, back to observing ethical norms and their originally intended roles, a segment of the personnel of those same media outlets is using the temporary limbo created by the reshuffling at the top (See here) to continue their proverbial mice play.

Truth be told, we are referring specifically to Radio Free Europe, which renewed its news service for Bulgaria a year and a half ago in the form of a website, vowing to act as a guardian of democratic principles and ethical norms in journalism. However, that vow remained an empty promise. In reality, the Bulgarian desk of the RFE, generously funded with American taxpayers’ money, was occupied by people with direct ties to Ivo Prokopiev – defendant in the EVN case and charged for money laundering in connection with the Kaolin investigation. The Bulgarian team is headed by Ivan Bedrov – a former employee of Prokopiev who continues to work for the oligarch and assist his attempts at political engineering and manipulating public opinion. Former employees of the website Mediapool, which is also affiliated with the indicted oligarch and for years used his Economedia group for hosting services, are two other members of the team – Polina Paunova and Boris Mitov, who are directly responsible for covering events in Bulgaria. And so, instead of presenting the situation in the country in an objective way, for a year and a half now the so-called Bulgarian desk of the RFE has been running the media outlet as an offshoot of the mainstream media machine formed by the publications of Prokopiev and the rest of the indicted and charged oligarchs in Bulgaria for the purpose of inundating the public space with fake news and disinformation. It has literally turned the RFE into a battering ram to be used against their enemies, with lawmaker and Telegraph Media publisher Delyan Peevski at the top of that list. He has been identified as an enemy of the aforementioned gang because of his legislative initiatives, which foiled their plans for a secondary plundering of CorpBank. But most of all because of the long-time policy of the newspapers in his media group – Telegraph, Monitor and Politika – to shed light on the crimes and fraudulent schemes of the aforementioned Ivo Prokopiev and his oligarchic cronies.

There is no shortage of evidence of the clearly biased attitude towards Peevski demonstrated by the (anti)Bulgarian desk of the RFE, dubbed this way because of its ties to the behind-the-scenes clique in the country. More specifically – 342 pieces of evidence. That is the number of articles attacking the MP, which is an average of one and a half every two days. As you might expect, almost all of those were written by at least one of the three former employees of Prokopiev. Whenever their names are not listed among the authors, they turn out to be one of the sources, along with other cogs in Prokopiev’s mainstream media machine. As was the case with the latest RFE piece about Peevski – a text in English that spreads the manipulations dictated by Prokopiev in the form of talking points he sends via email. Namely, that the opposition lawmaker Delyan Peevski is pulling the strings of the government. Despite having been written by someone in the RFE headquarters, the text exclusively notes assertions originally made by either Bedrov & Co. or people and journalists connected to the indicted oligarchs Prokopiev. One example is Hristo Ivanov, a former justice minister (inserted in that position by Prokopiev) and current leader of the political party Yes, Bulgaria, also directly tied to Prokopiev. Or how about the website Mediapool of Stoyana Georgieva – one-time spokesperson for former PM Ivan Kostov, under whose term in office Prokopiev privatised Kaolin, the largest mining company in that segment on the Balkans, for cents on the dollar.   

The result is an article that effectively spreads fake news, paid with the money of American taxpayers no less.

What are those false claims? As there is a whole lot of them, we will focus on the main ones – disseminated hundreds of times by the Capital circle, its media group Economedia and their affiliated publications. Those have been disproven just as many times by the information in the commercial registers in Bulgaria. By the by, these sources are public and easy to access and conduct a check.

For example, the article features the old talking point of the Capital circle that Peevski is undeniably a media magnate “who controls over 20 newspapers, a private TV channel and news websites”. To lend some much-needed credibility to this hackneyed lie, the authors cite a 2016 article by the Radio Bulgaria programme of the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), which astonishingly does not even contain such a claim. In the rush to recycle the old lie, the people ultimately responsible for this piece must have overlooked that detail.

What is the truth? The media group of Delyan Peevski is composed of exactly six newspapers, some of which also have digital editions – the national dailies Telegraph and Monitor, Meridian Match, the weekly Politika, the English-language Weekly Europost and the regional Borba. That is all. There is no TV channel in the mix. Nor are there radio stations, something that has also been attached to the lawmaker of the opposition party Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF). Meanwhile, official data from the National Statistical Institute shows that in 2019 print publications alone numbered 223 in Bulgaria (See here).

Another truth proven over time is that not Peevski but the indicted oligarch Ivo Prokopiev is the real “media magnate”, who is pulling the strings of not only print media, but also radio stations, as is the case with the BNR, and national TV networks through his media outlets, those of his fellow oligarchic publishers and journalists cashing checks from his NGO network. One of those TV networks is bTV, which just a week ago was revealed to have had shameful dependencies on the indicted gambling tzar Vasil Bozhkov, who defrauded the state coffers out of BGN 700m and fled to Dubai.

Against this backdrop, it is hardly a surprise that the RFE article contains one more fake news item started by Prokopiev and perpetuated by his mainstream media machine – that Delyan Peevski holds 80% from the print media distribution business in the country. On that score, the authors cite the Paris-Based Reporters Without Borders, which several months ago acted like an attorney for Prokopiev by attacking the Anti-Corruption Commission for Illegal Asset Forfeiture (ACCIAF) with lies that were promptly refuted by the institution with facts. What is beyond absurd is that Peevski has not only never had a share in the distribution of print media, but that starting this March the business was taken over by the state-owned Bulgarian Posts. Alas, that last one is not even mentioned in the RFE article, unlike about a half dozen more blatant lies. Those include the claim that the lawmaker supposedly has control over Bulgartabac – a company in which he had a minority stake that he eventually sold in 2016.             

What is shocking is that all of this is not only the fruit of tens of millions in US Congress funding, which is how much the RFE annual budget is, but it goes completely against at least six principles in the ethics code that not only the RFE journalists across the world are obligated to follow, but every journalist working for any of the other publications under the umbrella of the US Agency for Global Media. The code explicitly says that truth should not be sacrificed in the name of objectivity and balance in the RFE articles. “When one of the sides manipulates facts, ethical journalism dictates that falsehoods are pointed out and that what facts support is highlighted,” the document reads. Unfortunately, journalistic work funded by Peevski has never observed that principle, as evidenced by the articles concocted by his former employees (See here). The question is how much longer will American taxpayers’ money go towards funding such obvious manipulations and propaganda pieces that are spreading the lies of an indicted oligarch both in Bulgaria and abroad like a highly contagious virus?

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