World Association of News Publishers

Bulgaria: More Transparency Required to Combat ‘Soft’ Censorship

Bulgaria: More Transparency Required to Combat ‘Soft’ Censorship

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“Curbing Media, Crippling Debate: Soft Censorship in Bulgaria” outlines how the independence and pluralism of Bulgaria’s media has steadily eroded over the past decade.

The discretionary allocation of funds to media in exchange for favourable reporting on government is a major problem in Bulgaria, according to a new report published today by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).

Authorities are employing tools of ‘soft’ censorship to dominate the media and narrow access 
to information. A lack of alternative revenue streams has led elements within the media to shift editorial policy and pay little heed to professional standards.

The new report is available to freely download from

Extensive interviews 
with media experts, editors and journalists 
in the country reveal that state funding for media is a principal tool of ‘soft’ censorship in Bulgaria.

Official ‘soft’ censorship, or indirect censorship, is defined as “an array of official actions intended to influence media output, short of legal or extra-legal bans, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on media outlets or media practitioners.”

Despite the Bulgarian government starting to provide more data on official funds to media from 2015 onwards, the allocation of government advertising and subsidies in Bulgaria continues to lack transparency. The fragmented character of the available data on circulation and audience figures makes the assessment of the fairness of official spending on media extremely difficult.

Evidence collected over recent years suggests that much of the Bulgarian government’s public awareness campaign spending originates from European Union funds. Such funding is intended to raise awareness of EU laws and standards—which themselves protect free media and clearly forbid discrimination in the allocation of state monies to media. The report highlights that this has simply not been the case in Bulgaria.

Equally, the opacity of media ownership in Bulgaria obscures relations between beneficiaries of state advertising and the state bodies responsible for distributing the funds. 
The report recommends that the Bulgarian public should be given access to data to make informed choices about their media consumption, including data concerning ownership structures. 

The report’s recommendations also urge action to reverse the erosion of media freedom in the country. “All state funding for media outlets, including advertising and subsidies, should be entirely transparent and allocated through fair processes supervised by independent bodies and institutions,” the report says.

The full report can be freely downloaded from

Through detailed research into soft censorship practices globally, WAN-IFRA and CIMA are drawing attention to the kinds of widespread and deleterious problems facing independent media that rarely generate the same level of international outrage as direct attacks on the press. The findings and recommendations of the soft censorship research series aim to contribute to the implementation of fair and transparent rules that are necessary for the development of independent media sectors around the world.

WAN-IFRA also collects and regularly publishes updated information on the misuse of financial and administrative powers to manipulate reporting, which can be found - together with the soft censorship report series – online at and on the Twitter feed @SoftCensorship. All materials are free to download and share.

WAN-IFRA, based in Paris, France, and Frankfurt, Germany, with subsidiaries in Singapore and India, is the global organisation of the world’s newspapers and news publishers. It represents more than 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries. Its core mission is to defend and promote press freedom, quality journalism and editorial integrity and the development of prosperous businesses.

For more information on WAN-IFRA’s press freedom activities, visit



Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2016-03-31 12:52

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...