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Information, disinformation, propaganda… Where does Bulgaria stand in the search for truth?

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Information, disinformation, propaganda… Where does Bulgaria stand in the search for truth and in presenting facts such as they are? According to the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, an annual index monitoring 180 countries in the world, Bulgaria occupies 91st position. It may not look like much, but only a year ago the country was 112th. But is that any cause for celebration?

“I do not believe we have any reason to celebrate when it comes to media in Bulgaria,” says journalist Petko Georgiev in an interview for BNR-Plovdiv. “I have always been skeptical of the position a country is allotted compared to the other countries. That is a very subjective thing, as it gives practically no information about the position of any given country compared to the others. Bulgaria has not necessarily moved up so much, it could be that the countries further up in the list have moved down. On the other hand, the index itself includes the perception, the way journalists and experts view the place of their media outlets in their own environment. In a country like Bulgaria, the standards, the expectations in a democratic society are high – and it is only natural that the evaluation of the state they are in would be low. In a country with an authoritarian regime expectations are very low, and, naturally, the evaluation would be higher.”

Besides media independence, the index also shows that polarization has doubled, in combination with the information chaos in the world. This media polarization leads to a widening divide inside a given country, as well as among the different countries.

In light of this, what is the mission of journalists in society?

“We have one mission, and it is to present the facts, to tell the stories,” says journalist Mihail Mitev in an interview with BNR-Vidin. “Journalism in Bulgaria has a very low level of trust. We are people who work for society, we are the link between politicians and the sovereign. We ask the questions the public wants to hear the answers to, we are also the people who have to explain how we have, once again, been lied to. That is a fight that lasts a lifetime. It is hard, but it is worthwhile.”

In Mihail Mitev’s words, journalism as a profession will gradually go extinct, because politicians get asked critical questions less and less often, and no critical community is forming that would hold governments to account, via journalists.

Petko Georgiev says that in the flood of information and disinformation, the responsibility of professional media and journalists is even higher.

“Talking specifically about Bulgaria, we ought to divide media outlets into different “camps”. Many of them are media only by name, but are actually paid influence traders. People working there write what they are told to write – by their boss and by the person who is paying them. Unfortunately, that is true of a great many of Bulgaria’s media outlets, though fortunately, they are the smaller ones. There is a second group – the national media, the three national TV stations and the Bulgarian National Radio – where many of the journalists are doing their job professionally. In a democratic European country any attempts at controlling media means pulling the rug out from under yourself.”

There is one more fact that merits attention. In the ocean of information, the internet has only made the job of journalists harder. Loss of trust in orthodox media, as opposed to social media where people tend to try to “dig out” information about what is happening for themselves, has transformed and restricted the role of journalists that can be relied on to say which voice is trustworthy and which facts are the true facts.

Interviews by Lyudmila Sugareva, BNR-Plovdiv and Georgi Zhikov, BNR-Vidin

Editing by Darina Grigorova

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