NGO report categorises media outlets as “good” and “bad”

The study is published on the eve of the new EC monitoring assessment

Delyan Peevski

A media report prepared by two NGOs linked to the former failed minister of justice and even more unsuccessful party leader Hristo Ivanov, categorises media outlets as “good” and “bad”. So, on one side of the barricade are placed almost all national daily newspapers, who the document believes attack the court system, while on the other side, deemed “pure and good”, find themselves the online publications of indicted oligarchs like Ivo Prokopiev and Ognyan Donev.

It is not made clear why the criticism of the judicial system is viewed as exerting pressure in the case of the former and as the natural consequence of journalistic analysis in the case of the latter. The goal is evident – to discredit the journalistic investigations appearing in the outlets of Telegraph Media, published by MP Delyan Peevski. The lawmaker is a long-time thorn in the side of the behind-the-scenes clique in Bulgaria namely because of the revelations that his media outlets make as well as his legislative initiatives, aimed at thwarting the oligarchs’ shady deals.

The document is authored by two representatives of organisations connected to Ivanov – the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives (BILI) and the Centre for Judicial and Investigative Journalism (CJIJ) – and was released by the Bulgarian Judges Association (BJA). Neither the accompanying press release nor the document itself discloses who commissioned the study and why? But the timing of its publication is noteworthy – on the eve of the new European Commission assessment on progress in Bulgaria under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM).

This is hardly a coincidence. The two NGOs involved in the report are openly grant-funded and affiliated with the shadowy political and economic circles in the country, which are extremely concerned by the possibility of the CVM for Bulgaria being scrapped. On the other hand, the analysis, which states as its aim tracking “media attacks against Bulgarian courts, judges and their professional organisations”, is unequivocally manipulative. The choice of examples of so-called attacks and examined media outlets and their “victims” is suspiciously selective. The document conveniently omits important facts and is, on the whole, pure propaganda on behalf of a circle of people who have either been indicted with serious charges, are being investigated on suspicion of such, or have gravely undermined the independence and the image of the judicial system with their actions.

It is important to note that the so-called analysis reviews only “attacks” against certain judges known to serve the interests of the indicted oligarchs and behave in a way that is intended to defend the shadowy interests in question. Of course, they are led by the head of the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) Lozan Panov, followed by two chairpersons of Sofia courts – Kaloyan Topalov and Metodi Lalov (there is public information about them being Panov’s protegees – editor’s note) and several judges from the BJA, who are closely connected to Hristo Ivanov and the Capital oligarchic circle. These include the current BJA head (and crony of Lozan Panov – editor’s note) Kalin Kalpakchiev and the infamous Neli Kutskova, Miroslava Todorova, Atanas Atanasov and Velislava Ivanova. Some of the abovementioned names were captured on photos during secret meetings with the former Permanent EC Representative on CVM for Bulgaria Joeri Tavanier. Apropos, once these scandalous facts were revealed, he was replaced.

The report by the Ivanov-affiliated NGOs labels as “attacks” against these judges texts that in reality shine a light on concerning dependencies of the magistrates in question on figures outside of the judicial system (but with serious interests in it) as well as frequent exhibiting of decidedly unacceptable behaviour under the Bulgarian laws and constitution.

It is also worth noting that the study’s authors apparently believe these no more than a dozen people to represent the entirety of the Bulgarian judicial system and that every text that dares to be critical of them constitutes an attack on the judiciary’s independence. At the same time, articles criticising other judges, prosecutors and investigators and published by the “good” media, owned by indicted oligarchs, are described as “critical journalistic analyses of events of the day”. A visit to the website of one of the NGOs behind the report – the CJIJ’s Judicial Reports – shows it to contain at least a dozen of articles blasting either judges or prosecutors. Why are these not included in the report? Because they are against magistrates who Ivanov, the BJA and the media outlets owned by the oligarchs Prokopiev and Donev perceive as bad – in other words, judges that are not members of the BJA. An inspection of the content of Capital, Dnevnik and Club Z, published by these oligarchs, reveals even more disturbing facts – these publications perform ordered character assassinations of everyone who dares to investigate their bosses. This too is nowhere to be found in the analysis of Ivanov and his underlings.

It is important to note that the report references three articles ran by Telegraph Media members – all three in the newspaper Monitor. The articles are about disclosing the property of some of the abovementioned judges, tracking behind-the-scenes ties of some of the candidates for membership in the Supreme Judicial Council and covering a public statement made by the prosecutor general. Meanwhile, over 5,200 articles covering the judicial system in Bulgaria were published during the period under review in Monitor and Telegraph (specifically named as “bad” in the report – editor’s note). Some of them were critical of the judicial system and its work because journalism’s main responsibility is to expose systemic shortcomings and insist that they be fixed. If they were not so busy protecting Panov and his BJA cohort, the NGOs would have seen that over the span of two and a half years the two newspapers published a series of articles about consumers who suffered damages because of court decisions ordered by utility companies such as the heating companies around the country. They would have also noticed the fact that Monitor has a series of articles holding the executive and judicial branch of government responsible for allowing individuals convicted of serious crimes to walk around freely. There are also thousands more of these articles, revealing the virtues and flaws of the judicial system.

This is why, several months ago Monitor and Telegraph launched the Justice in the Daylight initiative. It calls for more transparency in the judicial system and for judges to publicly explain their rulings on cases of significance for the entire society. As a continuation of this initiative, a meeting was held between the chief editors of five national newspapers and representatives of the judiciary. The participants agreed on making the judicial system more open to the media so that its voice is not hijacked by a handful of loud and grant-funded magistrates. Less than a month ago, we saw the election of the first court chairperson who had making court decisions more transparent as an item on his management concept.

But all of this is missing from the BJA report. Why? Because certain oligarchs are desperately trying to convince Europe that Bulgaria is governed through dictatorship and chaos so that they can get rid of the ongoing cases against them and once again gain access to the state feeding rack. They are prepared to use all sorts of lies and manipulations to achieve that.

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