RSF admits: 10 people slander BulgariaLyubomira Budakova, Natalia Radoslavova , Sofia
Ten people. That is the number of individuals because of whom Bulgaria is stuck at the ludicrous 111th spot on the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), behind a series of African countries not exactly known for being democratic. For years, the French NGO has studiously been avoiding questions about the methodology behind its ranking, while advertising the index as representative of the media industries of the various countries “analysed”.
As it turns out, the ranking of Bulgaria is determined on the basis of the claims of ten people – journalists and lecturers. To put things into perspective, there are over 10,000 people employed in the news business in Bulgaria (according to the National Statistical Institute). The revelation came from none other than Pierre Haski, chairman of the Administration Board of Reporters Without Borders.
Telegraph Media managed to finally meet with him after half a dozen letters sent to the management of the NGO and a fruitless game of hide-and-seek with Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of the organisation. Our conversation with Haski also revealed that the contact person in the RSF for the Capita circle – Pauline Adès-Mével, head of the RSF’s Eastern Europe and Balkans desk – is the one who selects the 10 people who have regularly been slandering our country.
For years, the ranking has been used by the behind-the-scenes clique in Bulgaria and the indicted oligarchs’ media outlets as a tool to exert influence over publications that are investigating these dubious individuals’ schemes. As most of the revelations are unearthed by Telegraph Media, the newspapers in the media group and their publisher Delyan Peevski are the target of libel and manipulations produced by a bunch of publications trying to pass themselves as independent. Their lies are perpetuated by the RSF ranking dressed up as observations on the structure of the media environment in the country. And that happens despite the fact that most of the claims are complete slander that can be easily disproven with a visit to the national public registries.
For years, the NGO has been avoiding questions about how many people are included in the opinion poll and how exactly they are selected – questions posed not only by Telegraph Media, but other media outlets in the country. In the meantime, the organisation has clearly been protecting the interests of indicted oligarchs like Ivo Prokopiev who masquerade as publishers but are in serious legal trouble because of various schemes. The RSF regularly publishes manifestos in defence of Prokopiev, his publications or journalists, while turning a blind eye to serious free-speech violations inflicted upon the media outlets perceived as “enemies” by those entities (see below).
Questions and answers
In its search for answers to the questions how exactly the World Press Freedom Index is compiled, how the interviewed journalists are selected, why the RSF is not protecting all journalists in the country and how it is possible that the NGO does not fact-check the information it publishes, Telegraph Media made a number of attempts to contact the French organisation. After reaching out dozens of times via email and over the phone, a team of the media group was finally able to have a nearly 40-minute sit-down with Pierre Haski, chairman of the Administration Board of the RSF (See here). The conversation was recorded with the explicit consent of the long-time French journalist (the recording is kept in the editorial offices of Telegraph Media – editor’s note), but with the qualification that he is not involved in the day-to-day running of the RSF as he simply chairs the Administration Board and is therefore not familiar with all the details. At the same time, however, he showed pretty deep understanding of the details. We are publishing a transcript of the conversation after months of waiting for him to make good on his promise that we would get answers to our questions from the “people within whose competency they fall”. We did not get the promise answers and just days ago the entire Bulgarian public was handed the latest RSF ranking with a solid serving of lies on the side. Neither Mr Haski nor the secretary-general of the organisation, Christophe Deloire, answered our persistent invitations to hold a more inclusive discussion that would partly focus on why the RSF places Bulgaria 111th when Freedom House and the Cato Institute place it among the countries that have free speech and free media.
We were shocked to hear Pierre Haski admit, albeit half-heartedly, that in its Bulgarian section the index is based on just ten people, all of whom are selected by Pauline Adès-Mével, who is in charge of the RSF for Bulgaria. The lady has attended numerous gatherings organised by the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria, which boasts as its members mostly media outlets owned by indicted oligarchs such as Ivo Prokopiev and Ognyan Donev. She personally witnessed a gross violation of free speech and the basic right of every journalist to ask questions. The incident occurred two years ago when reporters from media outlets that are inconvenient to the oligarchs were literally tossed out of the presentation of the so-called White Paper on Media Freedom in Bulgaria – a veritable leaflet riddled with lies in support of the shadowy figures.
Even though he noted that he was not aware of the unpleasant scene, Haski was clearly aware of the theses peddled by the Capital circle and disseminated by the RSF. When pushed to be more specific, he would invariably pass the ball to his colleagues directly involved in making the index. Admitting that the ranking is based on the opinion of just ten people, he was sure to stress that it would be silly of us to use this information because he was “not the person in charge for that”.
We can all guess as to why all those qualifications were made. This new piece of information pulls back the curtain on the most shameful secret of the RSF and is key to unlocking the mystery surrounding whose interests the NGO actually protects and why it keeps inundating society with lies fabricated by certain circles in Bulgaria, while the Cato Institute ranks the country 39th and Freedom house assesses it as one of the nations with complete freedom of speech.
It explains why the purportedly reputable international journalistic organisation allowed itself to have a bout of amnesia just days ago so it can serve the interests of its Bulgarian partners, the oligarchs. The RSF somehow suddenly forgot that at the end of last year, following a meeting of the NGO with Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the government decided that Bulgarian Posts would take over the distribution of print media in Bulgaria. This fact was even mentioned by Pierre Haski during our conversation, as he expressed his expectation that the country will climb in the ranking as a result of the move. And yet, the RSF ultimately left us at the convenient (for them and the people they are obviously working with in Bulgaria) 111th spot in the world. It also conveniently forgot that the distribution business in Bulgaria is not only not controlled by Delyan Peevski (it never has been), but is now in the hands of the state.
You can read the entire conversation with Haski here.
He answered a great deal of questions. For our part, we can only remind our French “colleagues” the immortal words of one of the founding fathers of the American democracy Abraham Lincoln, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Just in the past 2 years: The violations of free speech that have been purposely ignored by the RSF
January 2018 – During a presentation of the White Paper on Media Freedom in Bulgaria published by the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria, Pauline Adès-Mével witnesses an incident in which reporters from media outlets inconvenient to the oligarchs are literally tossed out of the public event so as to be stopped from asking “malicious” questions of the oligarchs in attendance who try to pose as “independent publishers”.
August 2018 – Lyubomir Metodiev, an employee of the press office of the Council of Ministers, hits Eli Krumova, Plovdiv correspondent for Telegraph Media. The inacceptable incident occurred during Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s visit to the archaeological excavations near the village of Manole, Plovdiv region.
June 2019 – A prosecutor from the Sofia District Prosecutor’s Office orders the Patent Office to erase the trademark of the best-selling daily newspaper in the country, Telegraph. In response to this unprecedented violation of free speech, Telegraph sends a letter of protest to the prosecutor general and the Inspectorate with the Supreme Judicial Council.
July 2019 – Telegraph Media informs the European Commission, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and the Inspectorate with the SJC of yet another violation of free speech, this time carried out through the judicial system of the country. The newspapers Monitor and Telegraph have been sentenced for reporting the fact that the wife of the country’s most prominent judge, Lozan Panov, has a criminal record – something that is confirmed by the Ministry of Interior in court. She loses the case at the first-instance court, but at the higher level it is “randomly” assigned to Judge Krasimir Mazgalov, who is extremely close with Lozan Panov and some in the management of the grant-funded Bulgarian Judges Association. Mazgalov, who has dared to publicly slander Telegraph Media, refuses to recuse himself from the case and promptly whitewashes Mrs Panova’s criminal record.
March 2020 – Slavi Angelov, chief editor of the weekly 168 Hours, is brutally assaulted by three men outside of his home in downtown Sofia. In the hours immediately following the beating, the investigators announce that the main theory they are working on is that the attack is connected to the journalist’s work. A month later their suspicions are confirmed after the perpetrators are arrested and revealed as three ultras who likely acted at the orders of a businessman hiding abroad.
Reporters Without Borders, which is very active in promoting theses in defence of the indicted oligarchs, are suspiciously quiet about all these violations.