A new dose of sedatives for the media from the state Sylvia VELIKOVA ·Art. 40. (1) The press and other mass media sources of information shall be free, and not subject to censorship. Art. 41. (1) Everyone shall have the right to seek out, obtain and disseminate information. (2) Citizens shall have the right to obtain information from the state bodies or agencies on matters of legitimate interest to them, which is not a state or other kind of secret protected by the law, and does not affect the rights of others.” From the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria
While the latest in the series of high-profile murders and the ensuing ·respect” campaign of the Interior Ministry took over the headlines, members of parliament made their latest hushed attempt to keep the media under control. Those few who did mutter something regarding it explained that it was something Europe wanted from us. But even with such an authoritative alibi, they didn’t manage to hide, from those most fervently attached to the notion of ·freedom of speech,” the fact that with their proposed changes to the Protection of Personal Information Act, which passed on their first reading, legislators were in fact attempting to erect yet another protective barrier around their own personal immunity. Amidst all the wailing over the desecration of the state system by the heinous murder of the banker Emil Kyulev, a multi-partisan array of MPs found the time to write that ·the processing of personal data regarding crimes, administrative violations, criminal convictions, or security measures, may only be conducted under the supervision of the respective competent authorities.” More simply put, if you want to say or write that politician X, justice Y, or a ·well-dressed businessman” has strayed from the path of righteousness, you will have to request and receive the appropriate official permission. Otherwise, you will be fined 10,000 to 100,000 levs (5,000 - 50,000 Euro). Meanwhile, in another proposed amendment to the Protection of Personal Information Act, legislators looked to protect the secrecy of their own personal property and income. Naturally, this was again because of Europe. Although thus far only passed on its first reading, it would take away the legal possibility of reporting information when ·the sources of the information are public registers, or documents providing public information, the means of granting access to which are stipulated by law.” And so, since journalists will be unable to say who has broken or tried to break the law, or who rubs shoulders with inappropriate individuals, they will be legally restricted from seeking information about the property ownership, educational qualifications, or marital status of so-called public figures: MPs, ministers, magistrates, etc.... since that
is private information. Or, to put it more simply, VIP-lawbreakers will be investigated, interrogated and, if necessary, tried, without any witnesses... unless the competent agency bears a grudge on them and decides to carry out the aforementioned steps publicly. Who could guarantee, however, that the new Article 5a of the Protection of Personal Information Act would not be applied selectively or by special order? There is still time to take a step back and make further precisions to the amendments in question before their final adoption. It would be good if this correction were to come as the result of internal consciousness, so to speak, rather than of external finger-wagging, meaning from Brussels. The European Commission has already been approached by Bulgarian nongovernmental organizations, regarding this latest legislative attempt to severely curtail freedom of speech and hinder the essential work of the media, so our MPs will have an opportunity to fend off the latest Euro-criticism during the second, final vote on the bill. And to those who are tempted to say that there is no scandal, because the proposed amendments are a direct translation of a directive from the European Commission, with which we are obliged to comply, I would respond in kind. The bill’s author is neither a journalist nor a human rights activist, but a member of the Commission for the Protection of Personal Information. According to Krassimir Dimitrov, our society has no need to adopt controversial literal translations of texts from European laws, which could be utilized for purposes not posed by the law, but rather the exact opposite. ·Parliament should exclude journalists from any new legislative limitations, and seek to achieve a balance between the right to protection of one’s personal information and that to freedom of speech, as provided by the European Convention on Human Rights,” is his categorical opinion. If it is not heeded, and the proposed changes become part of our body of legislative texts, then it doesn’t take an especially active imagination to foresee how politicians, magistrates and ministers, whom we can call ·a competent agency,” for short, would then limit the doses of information that the media are able to convey to the electorate. It’s quite obvious; they will do whatever is good for them. Only in that case, what are we to do with the two articles of the Constitution quoted above? And with the provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure according to which court hearings are publicly accessible? And the European Convention on Human Rights, and Europe in general, with its expectation of real results in the battle against crime and corruption? And most important, with the plain fact, which can be seen on the calendar, that we are living in 2006 and not in 1984, and that this is the time of Big Brother on the TV, and not the dictator?
While the latest in the series of hight-profile murders and the ensuing "respect" campaign of the Interior Munistry took over the headlines,...