More than four days after outrage erupted over the posting on a Bulgarian “media” website of explicit photos of sex acts by the girlfriend of a candidate in the autumn 2019 mayoral elections in Sofia, the office of head of state President Roumen Radev issued a statement on the controversy.
The posting by the website “PIK” of the explicit photos led to condemnation by the Association of European Journalists Bulgaria, a number of Bulgarian-language media, and a statement by the Association of Broadcasters, which affirmed journalistic ethics.
The Association of European Journalists Bulgaria has called for a boycott by government organisations and private companies of websites that practise what the association called “porno journalism”.
In a statement on September 9, reported by Bulgarian National Television but that by the late evening posted on the President’s website, the press secretary of the Bulgarian President said: “In connection with a number of inquiries about the Presidential institutions attitude to vulgar publications and the activities of the “PIK” agency…the transformation of certain media to an instrument of political self-righteousness poses a threat not only to free journalism, but also to civil society”.
The statement expressed hope that this case “could trigger a debate that could lead to a healing process in Bulgarian journalism”.
While it had been widely expected that Bulgaria’s autumn local elections would be bitterly fought, the posting by the website “PIK” – seen as close to controversial media owner Delyan Peevski – of photographs of a person claimed to be close to Democratic Bulgaria candidate for mayor of Sofia, Borislav Ignatov, provoked outrage for their explicit nature.
The Association of European Journalists Bulgaria announced “an initiative aimed at limiting the financing of this type of ‘journalism’.”
“Although politicians enjoy a lower level of privacy protection, there are boundaries that should not be crossed and the material in question is well beyond them. However, this concerns not only a political figure, but a person who is allegedly related to him and who is not a political or public figure, that is, who enjoys full protection of privacy,” the association said.
It said in addition to seeking to humiliate and disparage specific people, the act is dangerous to the whole community, since the material in question, whose authenticity is untested and dubious, has been published as compromising materal in the upcoming local elections and aims to influence pre-election sentiment.
“In the present case, there is no public interest that can in any way justify the publication of the images.”
The statement said that this was by no means the first case of grossly disregarding the ethical and professional standards of the issue in question, benefiting politicians and representatives of the judiciary.
The association urged political figures protecting PIK to take responsibility.
“The PIK site has become official, bombarding all critics of those in power with compromises. And this process is not one-sided,” the association said, adding that there was “evidence of financial motivation” from people in power to a site that, the statement said, spreads slander and pornography.
It said that in Bulgaria’s May 2019 European Parliament elections, four political parties had concluded advertising contracts with PIK: Borissov’s GERB, Volen Siderov’s Ataka, Krassimir Karakachanov’s VMRO and Valeri Simeonov’s NFSB. “At the time of the conclusion of the contracts, all four were part of the governing coalition.”
The association called on institutions that had contracted with the site to make this information public and rethink the agreements.
Its initiative, using the hashtag in Bulgarian #БезПорноЖурналистика (BezPornoZhurnalistika, “No Porno Journalism”), calls on institutions, organisations, political parties and others, including private companies, not to advertise on websites and other media that propagate defamation and compromising materials.
“Instead of supporting porn journalism, we can help the undisputed industry professionals. For years, AEJ has been working to this end – creating a community of journalists who believe in professional standards and the right environment in which to work.”
Separately, about 20 Bulgarian-language media websites posted a declaration entitled “Today is the Day!”.
The declaration said that today was the day when Bulgarian media had to draw a line.
Distancing itself from an attempt to discredit a Sofia mayoral candidate in a way incompatible with journalism, the declaration went on to object to parties and individual politicians “who legitimise such ‘media’ by giving them interviews, inviting their representatives to events, and pay them for advertising and PR campaigns during elections.”
This aspect of the declaration led to various politicians, including the leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, Kornelia Ninova, saying that PIK had been barred from their news conferences.
On September 7, the Association of Bulgarian Broadcasters published its position on the matter. The association’s members include Bulgarian National Television, bTV, Nova Televizia and some cable channels.
The association’s statement did not mention PIK by name.
It said that it “deeply believes in the responsibility of the media for respecting the ethical rules of the journalistic profession. This responsibility and high professional standards determine the decisions of the media regarding the content of our programmes”.
Its members had adopted “and adhere to” to the Code of Ethics, “including basic rules such as respect for privacy, adherence to a good tone and decency in our broadcasts”.
“We believe that relationships between the media, and the media professionals working for them, must be characterised by mutual respect and fair competition in order to preserve the authority of the profession.
“High professional standards oblige us to distinguish between information in the public interest and information that satisfies only the curiosity of the author or the public with the privacy of a public figure. It may be in the public interest to protect health, safety, security, information which is related to the prevention and detection of serious crimes and abuse of power, and which protects the public from the danger of being seriously misled,” the statement said.
“Respect for the ethical standards of the journalistic profession is a sign of the maturity of democracy in the country,” it said./ibna