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RSF urges Bulgaria to counteract judicial harassment of media

RSF urges Bulgaria to counteract judicial harassment of media Media freedom

SOFIA (Bulgaria), January 17 (SeeNews) - International non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Bulgaria's government to adopt legislation that protects journalists against gag suits.

Bulgaria needs to counteract the frequent use of SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), which are designed to limit freedom of expression by dragging media outlets or individuals into costly legal proceedings they can rarely afford, RSF said in a statement on Friday.

Bulgaria's new government coalition that took office last month should adopt the specific recommendations proposed by RSF in March 2021 to protect press freedom in the country, the organisation said.

"They include encouraging citizens, businessmen, and public authorities to submit their complaints to the country’s Media Ethics Commission, so as to create an effective alternative to defamation suits often intended to intimidate journalists," RSF added.

In its statement, RSF condemned what it said was judicial harassment of two Bulgarian investigative journalists - Stoyana Georgieva, editor of independent news website Mediapool, and Boris Mitov, a former Mediapool reporter.

In December, Sofia City Court ordered Georgieva and Mitov to pay 67,000 levs ($39,000/34,200 euro) in damages - an exorbitant sum for Bulgarian standards, for “defamatory allegations” in four articles in February 2018 about the court’s then president Svetlin Mihailov, who was running for a new term of office at the time, RSF said.

According to RSF, the plaintiff’s personal interests may have been preferred over the Mediapool journalists’ freedom of expression.

"This gag-verdict could set a dangerous precedent for press freedom in Bulgaria. The disproportionate amount of damages that the journalists have been ordered to pay could have a chilling effect on media covering matters of public interest. We urge the Sofia appeal court to overturn this decision," Pavol Szalai, head of RSF’s EU and Balkans desk, said in the statement.

Bulgaria ranked 112th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index, which marks the lowest position among EU member states.

(1 euro = 1.95583 levs)

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