Media Landscapes

Bulgaria

Written by Vesela Tabakova

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Bulgaria is an industrialised country with a population of 7.6 million, including a Turkish minority of 746,664 people or 9.4 percent, a Roma minority of 370, 908 people or 4.7 percent and small minorities of Russians (15,600), Armenians (10,800), Greeks (3400), Tatars (1800), Jews (1400). Almost 83 percent of the population are East Orthodox Christians.

The share of the aged population is increasing. Nine percent of the population is in the age group from 0 to10 years, 13.4 percent is aged from 11 to 19, 14.7 percent between 20 and 29, 41.8 percent between 30 and 59, and 22.7 percent are over 60 years old. Sixtynine percent of the population lives in urban or semi-urban municipalities. The area of the country is of 111,000 square km. Bulgaria is a member of NATO and on 1 January 2007 it became a member of the European Union.

After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, the country introduced political pluralism and democratic institutions were set up. The transformations after 1989 radically changed the media situation in the country. The liberalization of the market and the free competition came into the media sphere very quickly. However, in recent years processes that restrict the media pluralism and the freedom of speech have been outlined. Besides that, the global economic crisis of 2008 affected both major industries and the media sector.

After the changes, a general characteristic of print media in Bulgaria has been the exclusive dynamics in its numbers and type of development.

There is no law governing the press in Bulgaria and newspaper publishing is entirely free and unregulated. An audit office doesn’t exist. This is why it is not possible to establish the exact number of publications currently in circulation.

It could be claimed, however, that the numbers presented here are trustworthy as they are based on a check and comparison of various sources.

In recent years some main features of the development of print media could be outlined, as follows:

  • the sharp drop of the circulation of almost all newspapers – between 2 and 3 times according to experts' opinion
  • the emergence in 2007 of a new aggressive player in the Bulgarian print media market (as well as in the television market)
  • an attempt to launch free daily newspapers

In 2007 it was estimated that there were over 900 print media titles in the country. This number is much smaller nowadays. Despite the big number of publications compared to the size of the country (nationally distributed dailies are 14 in 2009), it could be claimed that circulation per capita is very low.

As a whole, print media preserve one distinctive feature – the domination of both daily and weekly tabloid-format newspapers defined by Bulgarian media researchers as “hybrid tabloids”. They combine and integrate elements of both tabloids and quality press, of serious and popular, even scandalous reporting. One of the explanations of the convergence of the two types of press – quality and yellow – is based on the fact that several attempts at creating a quality press in Bulgaria have failed. None of the quality broadsheet newspapers initiated in the 1990s survived. They could not find a stable market niche. This situation enabled the developing popular dailies to expand into the territory of the quality press taking some of its functions.

Dailies Trud and 24 Chasa, published by the German newspaper group WAZ (Westdeutsche Algemeine Zeitung) are the most typical examples for this type of “hybrid” newspapers. Both newspapers identify themselves as “serious and quality” ones. Actually, the newspapers published by WAZ are the ones whose circulation went significantly down. In 2003, the daily circulation of Trud was estimated at about 300,000 copies; currently it stands at between 70,000 and 100,000 copies. The circulation of the other WAZ-owned newspaper, 24 Chasa, also dropped drastically and from a circulation of about 150,000 copies to 60,000 copies.

Among the other national dailies Standart, with a circulation of about 35,000 copies during the week and twice higher during the weekend, is worth a mention; others are Novinar – about 12,000 copies, Sega – about 9,000 copies, Express – about 15,000 copies, and Monitor – 10,000 copies. The only daily that increased significantly its circulation in recent years is Telegraph, whose circulation is currently estimated at over 100,000 copies.

The main reason for the bigger demand is the lower price. Telegraph is also part of the yellow print, which represents the institutional information of more serious newspapers. Dnevnik daily, established in 2001, has a circulation of about 10,000 copies and is considered the most serious daily in Bulgaria, writing about business and economy in detail, and accepted as a trustworthy source of information. The daily for business and finance Pari, which belongs to the Swedish publishing group Bonnier, has a circulation of less than 10,000 copies and a weak influence, however it is read by business circles. Douma daily, which is related to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, as well as Ataka daily, a publication of the right-wing populist nationalist party of the same name, have a weak influence and a small circulation.

There is a circumstance, which increases the influence of newspapers, despite the small circulation – the electronic media make a review of the newspapers and cite them often.

In 2009, Noshten Troud which had existed for 17 years and was the only evening daily disappeared from the market. It was published by Media Holding, belonging to WAZ.

Typical for the Bulgarian newspapers is that the revenues of advertising and sales cannot cover their costs. Trud, 24 Chasa and Dnevnik collect over two thirds of the advertising in newspapers. In the case of the other newspapers, advertising and sales are not the only source of funding. They are either completely owned by business circles, related to political parties, or easily influenced by political forces and business circles.

Besides the existing national dailies, there are 10 regional dailies published in the major cities throughout the country, such as Plovdiv, Varna, Bourgas and Rousse. Most of the regional, as well as the local newspapers are published twice, three times or once per week.

Regarding national weeklies, business-oriented Kapital and Banker could be characterized as quality papers. The other two weeklies, 168 Chassa and Politika are addressed to the mass audience. A specialized weekly of high quality, Kultura, has a very restricted circulation but has significantly higher influence.

The appearance of yellow weeklies of high circulation, such as Show, Weekend and others are a new specific of the weeklies in the recent years. By end-2009 the noisily promoted weekly newspaper Galeria emerged with the ambition to take a place in the same market niche.

Free newspapers had been discussed long before their actual appearance. This however, was prevented for different reasons. At the end of 2009 only the free daily 19 minutes remained from the few, which emerged in late 2008 and early 2009. A free weekly, Anons, published by the second-largest Belgian media group Rossel Media, also appeared.

The magazine market had also changed in the same period. A total of 300 magazines are registered in Bulgaria. According to expert data, about 100 magazines were issued in the second half of 2009.

The weekly social and political magazine Tema kept its character and is still published. The new magazine on the market, Praven Svyat, is oriented to social issues. In the second half of 2009 it was purchased by the owner of Darik Radio.

The only Bulgarian tourist magazine Odysseus disappeared from the magazine market (in September 2009). The traditionally strong women’s magazines, such as Eva, Cosmopoltan and Grazia are losing advertisers. The situation with the giants for men, Playboy and Maxim is similar. The financial crisis causes some disturbances among the many life style magazines. Paradoxical is the fact that there are more than one magazine for yachts and yachting in Bulgaria, which is one of the rather poor countries in the European Union. Despite the disturbances, the Bulgarian variant of Rolling Stone, which had been expected for a long time, emerged on the Bulgarian market.

After the appearance of WAZ in Bulgaria in 1996, the situation with the print media could be characterized as a period totally dominated by the newspapers owned by the German group. The latter made serious (and successful) efforts to target the regional market and succeeded in launching local editions or supplements. Local editions of WAZ have put many local newspapers out of business.

According to expert appraisals, WAZ profits decreased in recent years and because of that reason the expert circles started even talking about a possible withdrawal of the group from the country. The future will show the trustworthiness of such claims and forecasts.


New Bulgarian Media Group, which is considered to be related to the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (the party established after the changes of 1989 as a party of the Turkish ethnic minority), emerged on the printed media market in 2007. In 2009 the group owned Monitor, Express, Telegraph (dailies), Politika, Weekend, Meridian Match (weeklies), Borba newspaper and publishing house (in the city of Veliko Turnovo). The expansion of this group on the print media market will go on.

Radio broadcasting was established in Bulgaria as a state monopoly in 1935. The state radio existed as a monopolist till 1989. After 1989 the situation thoroughly changed and is now dominated by an extremely high number of private radio outlets, including national and regional radio chains.

In recent years radio market in Bulgaria has consolidated. Four foreign radio companies shape the image of the radio sector – the Irish Communicorp Group, SBS Broadcasting Group (Scandinavian Broadcasting System became in 2007 a part of ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG), US Emmis Communications, and News Corporation Group (owned by Rupert Murdoch).

In the very end of 2009 a Bulgarian owner appeared as a fifth big player on the radio market. The owner of the web based news agency Focus who operated a network of ten radio outlets in the country received a frequency for Sofia.

The four foreign companies own over 20 radio stations, which broadcast in the capital Sofia and have established chains across the country. There are a total of 30 radio stations serving the capital (with a population of 2 million). According to the last reliable data there are 17 major radio networks, 15 regional radio networks, and 51 registered radio outlets in various towns and areas of the country. The format of most of the radio outlets is musical or informational/musical.

Bulgaria has two radio stations with national coverage, the private Darik Radio and the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR). The former state-owned radio BNR transformed relatively successfully in a public radio with two channels, the informational channel Horizont, and the Hristo Botev channel, with broadcasts dedicated to public, political, educational, and cultural topics and broadcasts for ethnic minorities, among others. BNP's Radio Bulgaria broadcasts abroad, as well as in 7 regional centres in the country.

According to a 2005 study, the average listening time of radio amateurs is about 173 minutes daily. Indeed, the fact that due to the specifics of the radio as media the listening could be background rather than purposeful one cannot be ignored.

Bulgarian TV started in 1959 as a state TV. Immediately after the changes in 1989 the first private cable operators appeared.

According to a study of the media market of the Central and Eastern Europe carried out in 2007, 71 percent of the Bulgarians watch television every day (for comparison, according to the same study 90 percent of the Slovaks and 88 percent of the Czechs watch television every day). The time Bulgarians watch television is the biggest – 329 minutes per day. Television is watched most in small towns and villages.

In 2008, analysts started talking about a "television revolution" in Bulgaria. The decision of News Corp. to sell some of its companies in Eastern Europe, including bTV, was the first of a series of events, which were considered to prepare the change of the Bulgarian television market.

It emerged at that time that Lehman Brothers was evaluating the finance and the assets of the biggest private national television in Bulgaria. According to the forecasts of various analysts at that time, the expected price of the Bulgarian channel was about 500 million euro. A sale of bTV has not been performed and is not performed yet.

However, in 2008 two transactions were concluded within the frames of two weeks. The US company Central European Media Enterprices (СМЕ) bought TV2, a television of national range, established on the basis of 27 regional frequencies., and renamed it Pro.bg, The transaction was for a sum, evaluated as bigger than the whole Bulgarian television market for television advertising, 110 million euro. The transaction included also Ring TV cable channel, a Sofia terrestrial frequency, and a radio station.

Some time later Swedish media company Modern Times Group (MTG) announced that it bought the whole Nova Television, which was owned by Greek group Antenna. The price of the transaction was unexpectedly high for the second large Bulgarian television channel, 620 million euro. Before that MTG had acquired a few televisions from the Diema Group.

It emerged at the end of 2009 that Central European Media Enterprises (CME) company, which had acquired the ownership of the Bulgarian television channels Ring.bg and Pro.bg only a year before that, could merge with any of its competitors in Bulgaria or sell both companies. According to a representative of the top management of the company (with TV channels in 7 Eastern European countries), “the market situation in Bulgaria is such that there are three major players there, while there is place only for two".

According to the latest data there are more than 200 registered cable operators in the country (at the national, regional and local levels). The cable network has been developing quickly and most recent data (from the second half of 2009) show that over 70 percent of households in the country are cable-operator subscribers.

The contents of the commercial channel programmes, both terrestrial and cable ones, display a number of similarities related mainly to thel arge-scale introduction of many reality shows. The audience preferences are oriented to the morning TV magazine programmes. Besides the many Bulgarian television channels, the Bulgarian audience has also access to many foreign channels such as Mezzo, MTV, National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery, Hallmark, AXN etc.

During the whole 20-year period after 1989, the topic about the shortage of funds for production of films has never been out of public debates.

In recent years Bulgaria produced annually three feature films and two documentaries with funds from the state budget distributed on a tender basis. There are also other opportunities, which are used, most of all sponsorship, which also support the production of Bulgarian films.

Competition turned into a powerful factor for the development of telecommunications in Bulgaria. The former monopolist in the sphere of telecommunications was privatised, and is now on the market under the name of Vivacom. Many new telecommunication operators also emerged, and various services started being offered on the market.

According to information from the three Bulgarian operators of mobile services, Mtel (owned by Mobicom Austria Group), Globul (owned by Greek OTE), Vivacom (owned by American International Group Inc. with participation of the Bulgarian state), customers of mobile services stand at 7 million. On the basis of this information, a conclusion could be made that each Bulgarian has a GSM set.

This however does not give the real picture. The inadequacy of the information is due to the fact that mobile operators consider owners of one or more prepaid cards as different customers and thus one and the same user could be accounted for several times.

More precise information will be available at the beginning of 2010, when the registration of the prepaid cards, which started in late 2009, will be over. Anyway, the mass use of mobile phones is a fact.

Mtel, which is the first and for a long time the only mobile operator in the country, has the biggest market share of about 50 percent, Globul ranks second with 38 percent. Vivacom is the newest mobile operator and, as a successor of the former sole operator of landline networks, has still preserved its domination in the sector of landline networks, despite the existence of many other proposals.

The Internet services develop quickly in the country. A representative study carried out by Market Test in July 2009 among respondents aged between 15 and 69, shows that 44.69% of the population of Bulgaria uses the Internet. However, this percentage is practically higher, as the use of the Internet among children aged below 15 is very high. Bulgaria is ranked among the EU best users regarding use of high-speed Internet (of over 10 Мbps).

Bulgaria is among the countries, which have a quality of the broadband internet required for future web applications (such as HD Internet TV ), which will soon become a practice.

In the last three years the internet penetration increased significantly. In 2006 it was 28.5 percent. The number of internet users is growing fast because of increasing access to broadband (70 percent of internet usage; 30 percent is wireless and satellite).

The last detailed representative survey shows that in November 2009 the Internet users are 3, 45 million that means an increasing of 24 percent only for one year.

The Internet users in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, are 68 percent of the whole population of the city. There is a big difference in Internet usage between age groups. The youngest are the most regular internet users – 74.76 percent in the age group between 15 – 19 years old are internet users. 60 percent of them use internet at home. The regular users among the elder people in the age group over 60 are only 11.57 percent ( only 7. 61 percent of this group use internet at home).

The survey shows the main areas of internet use in 2009 as follows – music/mp3 - 44.23 percent; e-mail – 38.37percent; news/on line newspapers 38 percent; sport – 24.22 percent; chatting 22.86 percent, on line TV – 18.92 percent; on line radio – 17.85 percent.

Almost all mainstream newspapers have already online versions with readers’ fora. The lack of Internet versions has proved an inefficient instrument in the efforts to maintain higher rates of circulation.

The process of “migration” of the readers' audience to the Internet editions of some newspapers is significant. Most of the national dailies have online editions, which are not visited much, however Standart, Dnevnik and Sega dailies are read by more readers in the Internet rather than on paper (30,000 hits per day for Standart, between 16,000 and 18,000 hits for Dnevnik and between 14,000 and 16,000 hits for Sega). Dnevnik has a page with briefs in English, Standart has a page in English. The Internet version of Pari has a page of summaries in English.

The three main TVs have well developed websites. The reach of the websites is relatively high especially among the Bulgarians living abroad. They can watch Bulgarian TV news and programmes in real time.

The social networks like Facebook became very popular form of intercommunication between TV and the viewers.

The Web-based media Mediapool.bg enjoys considerable prestige among the educated audience with its high quality and professionalism. It started as a web-based media in the beginning of 2000 and is developing very successfully.

The Bulgarian News Agency (BTA) is a state agency in the country, operating for 111 years. It was established by a decree issued by Prince Ferdinand I in 1898. BTA's operation is regulated by a Statute adopted by the 36th National Assembly in 1994.

At present, BTA employs several hundred journalists and translators. The agency also possesses a network of correspondents throughout the country. BTA has a well-developed network of stringers in the Balkans and Western Europe.

BTA has a considerable number of subscribers in Bulgaria and abroad. Practically, all larger media in the country are BTA subscribers. Institutions of public administration and other large departments also subscribe to the agency’s services. Apart from large numbers of information products (newsletters, review articles, photos, etc.), the agency publishes two weekly magazines.

Along with BTA, Web-based private news agencies appeared. Focus news is developing very fast and became a competitive source of information. As it was mentioned Focus became in December the fifth actor on the radio market.

A large number of news portals and information sites like Dir.bg, Novinite.com, Bgnes, Vesti.bg etc. have emerged in recent years. Their information is uncontrolled and unregulated, but they have been establishing themselves ever more firmly as news-making sources. It is practically impossible to find reliable data on the number of Web-based news sources. It is clear, however, that their number is continually increasing.

There are two organizations representing interest groups in the media sector of Bulgaria. The Union of Publishers in Bulgaria (UPB) unites a part of the publishers of newspapers, magazines and books. Quite a big part of the publishers are not members of the Union. The other organization, which is also an interest group, is the Association of the Bulgarian Broadcasters (ABBRO). The Association represents the interests of the radio and television industry in Bulgaria. According to the last available data of 2007, members of ABBRO are 60 companies, which represent about 160 licensed radio and television operators from across the country.

The existing Union of Bulgarian Journalists, a successor of the Union existing before 1989, could not turn into a respectful professional organization protecting the interests of the Bulgarian journalists. There are also non-governmental organizations in the country, whose activity is related to the implementation of projects oriented to protection of the freedom of speech, to the media professionalization and raising the level of journalism. Access to Information Program, Media Development Centre, Centre for Independent Journalism, among others could be mentioned in this respect.

The development of private TV channels was followed by the appearance and establishment of production companies. Independent producers aimed in the beginning at commercial channels. Practically, almost all reality shows and a large part of the entertainment programmes are realized by independent producers. Public service TV – BNT – also includes productions of external independent producers in its programme.

The share of the external TV productions is increasing in compliance with the broadcasting act. The most active production companies are Seven eighth, Dream Team, Global vision, Intermediary station.

The Radio and Television Act was adopted in Bulgaria in 1998, and since then has been amended and supplemented many times.

However unsolved issues, shortcomings and weaknesses existed during the whole period and still exist, such as lack of sufficient guarantees for the independence of the regulatory body, insufficient expert knowledge and professionalism of the regulatory body, lack of transparency of the licensing procedures, lack of transparency of the ownership, issues related to the ways of funding and spending the sums which the Bulgarian National Television and the Bulgarian National Radio receive from the state budget, etc.

Bulgarian Parliament had to introduce the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive (2007) in Bulgarian legislation by December 19, 2009. Within the frames of this term, Parliament adopted on first reading amendments meeting the requirements for cultural diversity and popularization of European works through linear and non-linear audio and visual media services. The amendments of the act are supposed to be adopted in January 2010.

After 1989 a number of media and professional organizations (as the Union of Bulgarian Journalists, the Free Speech Forum and the Centre for Independent Journalism) drafted and adopted Codes of Conducts.

Media self-regulation was a long time a topic, permanently existing in the discussions of the professional media circles. So far efforts to set up a self-regulatory body, as an ethics committee or committee for complaints have been unsuccessful.

In 2004, under a EU-funded Phare project on technical assistance for improving professional standards of journalism, an Ethical Code of Bulgarian Media was drafted with the participation of EU experts. It was approved by various organizations and media. A part of media, both print and electronic, didn’t approve the Ethical code and till this moment ignore the self-regulation activities.

In late 2005, after debates regarding the mechanisms of the establishment of committees on ethics, and on the possibilities for the existence of separate self-regulatory bodies for the electronic and print media, the establishing of the Ethics Committee for the Print Media and of the Ethics Committee for the Electronic Media – through a procedure of nomination and election – was considered a success. Both committees started their activities.

There are grounds to believe that self-regulation (that has been debated by professionals for years) will be tough to develop due to contradictions among partners. The positive process has, nevertheless, started.

Regardless of the continuous efforts the ethical standards are often violated, particularly by the print media.

Since there are no special statutory regulations of printed media, printed media in Bulgaria are deregulated and there isn’t a regulatory body supervising them.

Texts from other laws, such as, for example, laws about slander and libel (under the Penal Code), can be applied both to printed and electronic media.

The regulatory body for the electronic media was established immediately after the adoption of Radio and Television Act in 1998. In compliance with its functions, set by the Radio and Television Act, the regulatory body, previously the National Council for Radio and Television and now Council for Electronic Media (CEM), monitors compliance with the statutory requirements towards advertising, sponsorship, copyright, protection of youth and minors. CEM considers the cases of violation established by its experts and also complaints by citizens and organizations.

The regulatory body consists of two quotas. The first one – five members – is elected by the parliament. The other quota – four members - is employed by the president. Nowadays the necessity of the members reduction (to five) is debated.

Because of many controversial solutions of CEM the guarantees for the independence of the regulator from political or corporate pressure are permanently in the focus of the professional debate.

The oldest department of journalism is at St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia. The curriculum was completely changed after 1989. Nowadays the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia has full accreditation for training in journalism, including for postgraduate students.

In recent years, education in journalism is carried out by three private universities as well. (New Bulgarian University in Sofia, Free University in Varna, Free University in Burgas. Media educational modules exist in the curricula of some other universities as well.

There are other opportunities for professional qualification of working journalists. It should be taken into consideration that there are no educational requirements for taking a journalist job and the specialized education is not mandatory. However, the graduated journalists have good chances to be employed.

The financial difficulties have become a reason for the disappearance of printed publications dedicated to the reflection and self-reflection in the field of journalism and media. Currently there is no specialized journal in the field of media and journalism.

Kapital weekly has a media section, where both analyses of the events and tendencies in the media sector and results from studies and statistics related to the sector could be found.

The Internet site Predavatel.com (predavatel means ‘transmitter’ in Bulgarian) is a source of reliable information.

The media landscape of Bulgaria offers periodically unforeseen changes, under the conditions of economic crisis including. Some events related to the emergence and behaviour of a new actor both in the field of print media and on the television market are a proof for this.

The forecast for the occurrence of some changes in the market of print media, where a new transformation of ownership is completely possible, is realistic. It is not possible the print media not to be influenced by the significant reduction of advertising in them. Changes in the television sector are also possible. These processes are elements of the common tendency to the concentration of ownership.

Speeding up the process of digitization in the field of radio and television is very important. Despite the delay, there are positive symptoms for its compensation and overcoming and it could be considered to a great degree of probability that the digitization will be completed by the end of 2012, as it was initially specified.

The quick increase of the Internet demand will continue in next years as well. The role of the Internet in seeking and finding news will increase more and more. The changes related to the functioning of the Bulgarian National Radio and the Bulgarian National Television are imperative for Bulgaria.

The Radio and Television Act, adopted in 1998, already includes a text on financing of the public radio and the public television through collecting fees. This text did not “work” and their funding still comes from state budget.

The decreasing tendency of the share of young people in the audience of public radio and public television is clear. The process of segmentation of the audiences is getting deeper and deeper.

In the years to follow, some changes will occur in the regulation of the audio and visual activity in the direction of converging the two regulatory bodies, the Council for Electronic Media and the Committee for the Regulation of Telecommunications, an imperative change adequate to the processes of convergence in the media and communication field.

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Vesela Tabakova
Professor at the Faculty of Journalism
Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”
Chairperson of the Centre for Independent Journalism
1000 Sofia
49 Moskovska str.
Tel: +359 2 987 77 30
E-mail: vtabakova@abv.bg