Over the last decade, Bulgaria has dropped from 51st place in the Global Press Freedom ranking in 2007 to 109th in 2017 – the lowest position of any European Union member.
According to sources, Maria Dimitrova, an editor-in-chief of Zovnews, a local newspaper in Vratza, northwest of Bulgaria, was attending a family gathering at the end of October when she started receiving threats over the phone and on Facebook.
The messages came from a well-known figure from the Vratza underground who threatened the journalist with sexual abuse and warned that she would “suffer in some way”.
A few months earlier, she had helped the Bulgarian investigative website Bivol with a story that had revealed an organized criminal group active in Vratza involved in racketeering, drug trafficking and a wide range of other offences.
The journalist approached the authorities about the threats made to her and her publisher, but said the case remained neglected until it gained broader publicity later in November.
Sources said that despite the silence of the Bulgarian authorities, local and international media groups raised an alert about the pressure Zov news had experienced as a result of its work.
“We are very worried about the threats to the website publisher Georgi Ezekiev and one of his reporters, who have filed a complaint that was ignored by the police,” Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of Reporters without Borders EU-Balkans desk, said in a statement on November 24
She urged Bulgaria’s authorities to take such threats and attacks more seriously and “do everything possible to protect the targets”.
Violent attacks and threats against journalists have intensified, the 2017 Media Sustainability Index of IREX noted.
Nevertheless, physical attacks are not the most common means of silencing journalists in Bulgaria. A 2017 Survey on Media Freedom carried out by the Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria, in which 200 Bulgarian journalists took part, said political pressure has become the most common form of pressure against media professionals.
According to the report quoted by sources, a striking 92 per cent of the participants in the survey said they believed pressure on journalists is a common phenomenon in Bulgaria.
Reporters without Borders said it rated Bulgaria lower that any other EU member in its press freedom index because of “an environment” in Bulgaria “dominated by corruption and collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs.