The role of Bulgarian media in public life came under scrutiny after several media outlets were used as an instrument for triggering political crises and for political engineering (2013-2014). At that time, the Bulgarian media market was experiencing the impact of two negative trends. On the one hand, the economic crisis of 2009-2013 had cut advertising revenues by half. On the other, the old models of media financing were diminished by the use of digital technologies and the explosive growth of social networks and mobile communications. |
Studies of media environment often employ as their main source of information journalists, managers and owners of media. The Center for the Study of Democracy took a different approach, focusing on content analysis of the publications of leading Bulgarian media. It is exactly content analysis that reveals suspected external influences and dependencies of the media. Conclusions are based on quantitative data about pluralism, impartial and balanced media coverage of events in a particular time period.
The collapse of the traditional model of media financing – through retail and advertising – had two serious consequences: 1) media became dependent on smaller and smaller number of sponsors and advertisers, and 2) journalists became more vulnerable, as media outlets had to cut their staff, sacrificing their capacity to generate analytical and investigative publications. The analysis of the advertising market showed that the impact of the economic and technological changes was felt most painfully by print media. Particularly hit were regional media: due to the declining advertising market they became highly dependent on the local authorities through the so called PR contracts.
The overall conclusion of the study is that when media are inadequately financed they get easily captured by various economic and political groups which either influence the way events are covered, or pay for their ‘media comfort’, making certain topics tabu. A form of extreme media dependence is the use of media as platform for direct influence on politics. Political investments in media reduce media‘s role to vehicles that serve private, usually short-lived, political ambitions.
The paper Media and Political Influence (in Bulgarian) also presents four cases studies, exploring the coverage of four topics of public significance: the cancelling of the South Stream project; the debates about the construction of a second lift in Bansko ski resorts; the media coverage of the 2015 local elections; the crisis of regional media. Instances of unbalanced and biased coverage are exposed with each of these topics, demonstrating various external influences on editorial policies. Bias is revealed in mixing facts and judgments in the titles of publications; in the publication of paid materials or copying of press releases without identification of the source; in biased or unbalanced presentation of one of the debating parties, etc. While media content does reflect different points of view and positions, in-depth, investigative journalism is missing.
Media and Political Influence (in Bulgarian)
CSD Policy Brief No. 60: Media (in)dependence in Bulgaria: Risks and Trends
CSD Policy Brief No. 57: Regional Media in Bulgaria: the Limits of Survival
CSD Policy Brief No 49: Media Ownership in Bulgaria: State of Play and Challenges
Conference Media and Political Influences
Conference Regional Media in Bulgaria: Limits of Survival
Conference Media as an Instrument for State Capture