Country Summary

Voters elected anti-Communist opposition candidate Peter Stoyanov, a pro-market liberal, to the presidency on Nov. 3, after Stoyanov defeated Zhelyu Zhelev, Bulgaria’s first non-Communist head of state, in a primary in June. The Socialist-dominated Parliament did not face elections in 1996, and it was the Parliament that showed its willingness to keep the press in check when its members in September attempted to introduce a new electronic media law. The Parliament overrode Zhelev’s veto to pass the law, but the Constitutional Court of Bulgaria ultimately rejected it.

The Constitutional Court invalidated the main provisions of the law on Nov. 14. The law would have severely restricted both state-run and private radio and television stations. The draft called for a National Radio and Television Council to oversee programming, staffing, and licensing of state-run stations, and would have monitored general programming of the private radio and television stations.

Widespread complaints of censorship, specifically by journalists at Bulgarian National Radio (BNR), prompted several BNR staffers in December 1995 to found Bulgaria’s first press freedom association, called Svobodna Slovo (Free Word). More than 100 journalists, translators, and sociologists officially established the organization on Jan. 8, defining it as politically independent and committed to the defense of free speech.

While Bulgaria has a number of nationwide independent newspapers and journals, including a newsmagazine that started publishing in January, the country’s poor economy limited the spending power of most Bulgarians to buy print media. A poll in the local newspaper Standart found that the vast majority of Bulgarians get their domestic news via state television or radio. The poll also found that the majority of respondents felt that the state media’s news coverage and commentary were politically biased.

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