Radio Free Europe returns to Bulgaria and Romania

The private, independent international news organisation Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is to return to Bulgaria and Romania after more than 10 years of silence, in a bid to strengthen the media landscape in both countries.

From December 2018, RFE/RL will provide multi-media reporting and analysis in Bulgarian and Romanian and partner with local media to amplify existing projects that promote public accountability and debunk false news.

“We hope in particular that our coverage, carried out by local journalists, will help the growth of a free press, promote democratic values and institutions, and inform discussion in both countries of their place in NATO, the EU and other Western organisations,” said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent. “We look forward to partnering with local independent media and civil society.”

According to a RFE/RL press release, government officials, civil society representatives and journalists in both countries have expressed concern that disinformation, corruption, and social division are undermining their political systems.

Bulgaria ranks 111th in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, down by 2 positions compared to 2017, ranking lower than any other European Union member. According to Reporters Without Borders, corruption and collusion between media, politicians, and oligarchs is widespread. Deylan Peevski, a former head of Bulgaria’s main intelligence agency owns the New Bulgarian Media Group, which includes six newspapers and controls nearly 80 per cent of print media distribution.

Romania meanwhile ranks 44th, but the media has been increasingly transformed into a political propaganda tool. Reporters Without Borders claims that the media environment has also been affected by the activities of far-right groups linked to the Orthodox Church which are openly opposed to press freedom. A new bill proposed by Liviu Dragnea, leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party and the country’s de facto prime minister, would penalise the denigration of Romania’s image abroad, raising concerns about political censorship of the media.