Again for the paid love between the authorities and the media

Photo: Photo Mix of Pixabay

EU funds have increased corruption and facilitated the takeover of the state, in particular they have been used to buy – directly or through public procurement – most of the media. This is what Simeon Dyankov, a former financial minister in Boyko Borissov’s first government, not a representative of the opposition in Bulgaria, has told the “Financial Times”. And this fact, in itself, is important enough.

Yes, one

big part of the media in our country have long ago been sold (and handed over) to Borissov.

The others are constantly at the muzzle-sight of the editions related to Delyan Peevski.

In Stara Zagora, for example, there are media that are placed in service of the local authority for monthly amounts less than the minimum wage in Bulgaria. Others – for far more. The decision on who and how much will receive, is made by the Mayor Zhivko Todorov alone. The list of information, advertising and media services includes both regional and national media, according to information, that for the second year in a row “Pro Veritas” received from the local administration in the city. Last year this happened after a decision of the Administrative Court, this year – in compliance with the Law on Access to Public Information.

For this and for the last year the Municipality has concluded contracts with media worth BGN 653 thousand.

Copy of the information provided by the Municipality of Stara Zagora
Illustration: “Pro Veritas”

The amounts are set as current expenses, which are accepted by revenue and expenditure paragraphs, functions and activities and are paid from the budget account. To our question whether these expenses for the media were discussed and approved by the Municipal Council, Maria Dineva, Chairwoman of the Municipal Council answered that according to the Public Finance Act it is not necessary for each expenditure to be approved by the Municipal Council. And according to the financiers of the Municipality, to whose opinion she referred, this could not happen in practice as these amounts included all the announcements that the Municipality is obliged by law to publish, as well as greetings, addresses, etc. Dineva refused to comment this practice before she is completely certain that it is really a question of current expenses by law, which are also paid as such precisely from this account of the administration headed by Zhivko Todorov. According to her, “if the amount is really like that, this is not normal.”

Copy of the information provided by the Municipality of Stara Zagora
Illustration: “Pro Veritas”

It turned out that the only person who knows all the secrets of the budget is Tsanka Ganeva – the Chief Financier of the Municipality. However, she was on sick leave and could not answer the questions of the Chairwoman of the Municipal Council. And it is namely the Municipal Council that exercises

control over the activities of the mayor and his administration.

We also expected a comment from the chairman of the Committee on Budget and Finance in the Municipal Council in Stara Zagora Nikolay Nikolov, but after he found out what topic he should talk about, he stopped picking up his phone.

Valya Boneva – leader of the municipal organization of the BSP told before “Pro Veritas” that the council has never discussed the size of the funds provided for the media, but promised to ask for this to happen in the vote on the budget for 2021.

In Art. 20 of the Public Finance Act, the principles that have to be observed in the management of these funds are indicated: comprehensiveness, accountability and responsibility, adequacy, economy, efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, sustainability and lawfulness.

Whether and to what extent the Mayor of Stara Zagora complies with the requirements of the law, the citizens, from whose taxes he distributes money to the media, can answer for themselves. However, it is not clear why for the chairwoman of the Municipal Council in Stara Zagora the case is whether the money for the media is pledged and paid as “running costs”? And, if they are from another budget item, does that change the fact that

public funds are spent on media comfort of local government?

And at that – without the sanction of the municipal council?

Whether the media in the city of limes (and everywhere in Bulgaria) receive money from the authorities only from the municipal budget is a rhetorical question. These costs are accounted for and therefore cannot be hidden. But the others – from the black party coffers remain a secret shared “by ear” between the media and the authorities. These coffers, as it is known, are not filled by membership fees, but by the annual subsidies of the parties, which are again from the citizens’ taxes. And it turned out that in debates about their size, the political actors inside and outside parliament reach a consensus unthinkable on other occasions.

So

the citizens are fucked-up again!

And where Bulgaria is in the rankings for media freedom is the last thing that excites both Borissov and the ruling party-oligarchic elite, as well as the mayors of GERB in places.

We will not focus on the errors and discrepancies in the amounts under the contracts, because they are not one or two. They became apparent, as the reports are for a two-year period and 2019 is reported for both reports. We will give only one example with “Stara Zagora News”. In last year’s report, the contracts with this media were added below the line in the list, without date and number, and in this year’s report they were missing altogether. According to the Municipality, this is because the publisher was paid with invoices “for publishing messages and announcements.” However, the amounts for 2019, according to the reports sent to us by the Municipality, do not match. Which means,

that either the same activity is paid twice or there is an obvious documentary discrepancy

in the official information from the Municipality.

The information provided by the Municipality of Stara Zagora show that the predominant part of the contracts it has concluded with the media are worth over BGN 10,000 and the one with the portal of the Bulgarian Municipalities kmeta.bg is worth BGN 21,000.

The Municipality has financed “Novite Stroiteli.BG” with BGN 24,000 for the publication of 1,000 books for famous athletes from Stara Zagora and with BGN 19,200 for another 1,000 books for the villages of Stara Zagora. For “issuing holiday mail for March 3, May 24 and October 5”, “National Business Portal” Ltd receives BGN 18 thousand and “National Business Post” – once BGN 12 thousand “to update banners ‘Vacation, hurray’ and ‘Green Stara Zagora” and for the second time – another BGN 6,000 – again for update, this time of a thematic banner on its website nbp.bg. In addition to “broadcasting materials” and filming celebrations on various occasions, the Municipality has given money to local television (as well as other media) for advertising as if the Municipality was a commercial company.

When asked by “Pro Veritas” whether there are signed contracts with national terrestrial and cable television operators, the answer from the Municipality is negative. The only television station listed in 2019 is “Europa AD”, which received BGN 10,800 for “broadcasting materials”. This gives rise to additional questions such as whether Mayor Todorov’s appearances on national television are free, or, most likely, they are paid for centrally by the GERB party?

The efforts of “Pro Veritas” to process this information for two consecutive years are not intended to put the media that serve the authorities on the pole of shame. The purpose of this analysis is to show how the local government in Stara Zagora wastes public resources without asking citizens if they agree to spend their money in this way. A local referendum, held in conjunction with next spring’s parliamentary elections, would provide the right answer.

The arguments of the small regional media, which find it difficult to survive not only during a pandemic, are well known. But these are the principles of the media market – to get commercials, you need to have a rating. And this rating is achieved with quality journalism. Everything else is a paid collusion with the authorities, which not only corrupts the media environment, but also undermines the foundations of democracy.

 

The truth is expensive. If you have found it here - please support us!

The truth is expensive.  If you have found it here - please support us!

Donate