The International Press Institute (IPI) and its global network today condemn the attempt by the leader of the far-right Bulgarian party Vazrazhdane, Kostadin Kostadinov, to eject journalists from four professional media outlets from a post-election press conference.
IPI also rejects the politician’s unacceptable verbal attacks against the same four media during the press conference and demands he both apologize immediately and refrain from making any further unjustified and undemocratic smears against the country’s press in the future.
On 5 October, Kostadinov, who leads the party known for its pro-Russian stance, was due to hold a press conference in the hall of the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency (BTA), the country’s state news agency, about his party’s results in the general election three days previously.
As the press conference began, Kostadinov told the crowd he did not want to “share a room” with journalists from four media: Capital, Dnevnik, Club Z and Mediapool and demanded they leave the hall. All four are regarded as professional and independent sources of news.
Kostadinov accused them of being “foreign agents” working in the interests of the United States – a label which has been weaponized by Russian authorities to censor and shut down independent media. “Our morals, principles and values do not allow us to communicate with such yellow-brown sewers of the American embassy,” Kostadinov said.
The politician, who has previously made similar high-profile attacks on the media, continued to insult the news organizations and described them cancerous before demanding that the hosts BTA eject them from the room before the event could begin. After no action was taken, Kostadinov walked out of the room accompanied by other party members.
“IPI condemns the insulting and unjustified attacks on the integrity of Capital, Dnevnik, Club Z and Mediapool and the clear obstruction of their journalistic work by Kostadin Kostadinov and his party” IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “This kind of dangerous rhetoric against the media by the leader of a parliamentary party in Europe is shocking and cannot be normalized.
“We call on both Kostadinov and Vazrazhdane to issue immediate apologies for their attempt to expel professional journalists from their event and for the unfounded allegations made by the party leader. Concerningly, these smears fit a clear pattern of insulting and threatening statements against independent media made by Kostadinov and his allies in the past in retaliation for critical reporting.
“Public figures holding elected office have a duty to act in a responsible manner while interacting with the media, even those they disagree with. In the wake of the general election, we therefore urge all other Bulgarian political parties to publicly reject the actions of Vazrazhdane and confirm their steadfast commitment to the democratic values of free and independent journalism and the right of journalists to attend party press conferences.”
Griffen also called on the state news agency to clarify its rules and publicly state that no accredited and professional journalists can be unilaterally prohibited without proper justification from attending similar events by any political party at its venue in the future.
IPI has filed a complaint about Kostadinov’s action to the Council of Europe’s platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and urges state authorities to respond in a timely manner to this and all further alerts filed by press freedom and journalist groups.
IPI also raised concern about the high level of media ownership concentration in Bulgaria and its effects on citizens’ access to independent and pluralistic media during the general election.
Kostadinov has an infamous and well-documented history of issuing insults and threats against critical media. Ahead of the 2019 European Parliament elections, Vazrazhdane (Revival) released a campaign video showing a man opening fire in a crowded room. In a telephone conversation Kostadinov then told the editor of U.S-funded Svobodna Europa: “In this clip, we are shooting at media like yours”.
This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries, and Ukraine. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.