The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today joined the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) in urging representatives of the Bulgarian construction industry to refrain from attempting to undermine the credibility of the investigative news website Bivol.bg.
Bivol and its Romanian partner, RISE Project, received a grant from the IJ4EU fund, managed by IPI, for an investigation into fraud in EU-funded projects in Bulgaria and Romania. The first stories, published in September under the hashtag #GPGate, have detailed allegations of massive corruption in Bulgaria and prompted an investigation by the Bulgarian authorities and the European Union’s anti-fraud office, OLAF.
The investigation has also prompted a backlash. In recent media reports, the Bulgarian Construction Chamber was quoted as suggesting that Bivol’s sources of funding were “vague” and “opaque”. In a letter to the Chamber, IPI and ECPMF clarified that funding provided to Bivol via the IJ4EU fund was the result of an “open and transparent process … carried out by independent experts using objective criteria”.
Read the full text of the letter below.
Bulgarian Construction Chamber
6, Mihail Tenev Str, 1784 Sofia, Bulgaria
Concerning your statements regarding the Investigative Journalism for Europe Fund
November 19, 2018
Dear Mr Miroslav Maznev and Ms Renata Nikolova
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and the International Press Institute (IPI) wish to take this opportunity to clarify the details of a grant provided to the media outlets Bivol.bg and RISE Project Romania.
ECPMF and IPI are concerned over recent statements from the Chamber appearing to raise questions about the funding that Bivol and Rise Project received via the Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU) fund. Far from being “vague” or “opaque”, as has reportedly been suggested, the grant that the two websites received was the result of an open and transparent process. While supported with funding from the European Union, the grant selection was carried out by independent experts using objective criteria.
The IJ4EU fund was established on the initiative of the European Parliament and the European Commission to strengthen cross-border investigative journalism in Europe in the name of democracy and the public’s right information. ECPMF and IPI were selected to implement the fund, with IPI tasked with the independent management of the fund.
An open call for investigative proposals was launched in March 2018. Around 65 applications from teams of journalists across Europe were received. An independent expert jury, led by Wolfgang Krach, editor-in-chief of Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung and a leading figure behind the Panama Papers investigation, selected 12 projects to receive funding. A complete list of the grantees and grant amounts can be found here:
Projects were selected based on several critiera, but particular weight was given to the significance of the planned investigation and the experience and journalistic credibility of the teams involved.
We understand that scrutiny brought by investigative journalism can be uncomfortable. But we urge the Chamber to refrain from making statements that have the effect of discrediting Bivol and Rise Project by casting a shadow over their sources of funding or questioning their motives. Responses to journalistic reports should focus on the facts and not on undermining the integrity of the messenger.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
With sincere regards,
International Press Institute
Dr Lutz Kinkel
IEuropean Centre for Press and Media Freedom