SAT, 07 APR 2001 23:52:20 GMT
Coup at the National Radio Station
The management has replaced the hosts of a popular show with "tested"
people of its own choice.
AIM Sofia, March 25, 2001
On March 19 police were busy diverted the stream of vehicles that was
bent on cruising down Sofia's central Dragan Cankov Boulevard. Traffic
was blocked by journalists who were protesting a decision by the
management of Bulgarian National Radio (BNR) to replace their colleagues
who were in charge of managing and participating in the Horizont
(Horizon) show with people they consider more trustworthy.
The acting BNR manager, pop music composer Aleksandar Brzicov and the
managing board said they will be broadcasting the show from another
location, Studio 39, because they do not want to deprive the station's
listeners of information because of a "handful" of journalists, who on
the same days said they will resort to civil disobedience. The protest
was launched 40 days ago because poet Ivan Borislavov was appointed BNR
manager. It forced the network managers to install their own men instead
of the protesters. Two days later, the new journalists took
over another program -- the Hristo Botev Show.
Ivan Borislavov pulled out about a month ago due to heart problems he is
said to have had after his clash with the protesting journalists and his
subsequent hospitalization. He was appointed by the National Council for
Radio and TV (NCRT), a public body in charge of naming managing bodies
of national broadcasters. He was succeeded by Brzicov whose subsequent
actions, including the firing of a number of disobedient journalists,
were hardly motivated by his concern for the audience being properly
informed. Namely, the acts of civil
disobedience exercised by the protesting journalists were far from
depriving the audience of information. To the contrary, they
particularly stressed that news programs would go ahead as scheduled.
As luck would have it, when it rains it pours. The same evening when the
"coup" occurred, BNR stopped broadcasting for nearly two hours, between
11:45 p.m. and 1:25 a.m. -- something that hasn't happened since World
War II. It turned out that some thieves had cut the station's power
lines, oblivious to the damage they had caused.
On the next day, journalists at Studio 39 literally beat each other up
for a place in front of the mike.
Following an example of Bulgarian political parties and the Holy Synod
of the Bulgarian Orthodox Christian Church, the BNR also split into two
factions: one were the rebels, against the the station's new manager and
expressing their feelings in the press; the other consisted of those
loyal to the new managing board, who were summoned from various stations
so that the BNR could pull through the crisis. All this resulted in the
starting of the so-called Horizont 2 show, which was botched from the
very outset. To begin with, one morning news show was cancelled, and
other news programs were prepared in the worst possible way. It turned
out that the reporters who were on loan were far from being suitable for
this type of work. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Ratko Vlajkov,
was "promoted" to foreign minister, the Socialists became "specialists,"
the managing board became a "managing alliance," and the Macedonian
Ambassador to Sofia was addressed as "his majesty" instead of "his
The worst, however, was yet to come. Everybody makes mistakes, but it
really takes effort to turn proper and lively news programs, with many
polemic touches, into a monotonous reading of the news, mostly devoted
to culture, or rather to what the new team thinks should be designated
The former journalists were criticized for having used BNR's air time to
force their own problems on the audience. The new journalists, however,
as soon as they got hold of the microphone, began a neverending smearing
campaign of their predecessors and hastened to promote their own
contribution to democracy.
Within days the BNR was transformed from one of the most popular
stations into the exact opposite -- an arena of bellicose mediocrity,
media experts say.
They add that during its 80 years of existence, the only similar
situation in the national radio station's history were the events after
Sept. 9, 1944, when the communists took over. The office of manager was
then offered to a well-known author, Orlin Olinov, a counterpart of
Borislavov. The only difference is that back then, the employees
peacefully accepted their new boss whereas today they launched a 50-day
struggle, coupled with civil disobedience, which is the most drastic
response that is legal. The clash went through all stages of battle --
civil, artistic, among individuals, and even physical...
The conflict could also be seen as a generation conflict. On one side is
Ivan Borislavov, who for years used to type his poems on a typewriter,
and on the other are representatives of the Internet generation, who
know all there is to know about computers. The latter are not inclined
to reconcile themselves to unprofessionalism and this is why they could
not accept the NCRT's choice.
That the game was to become increasingly rough became clear immediately
after Borislavov was appointed. Although envisaged as an independent
body, the NCRT, in fact, used political obligations to act against
professionalism at the BNR.
"I don't know why people have to be so mercilessly purged -- there are
not so many of them. Intellectuals cannot be turned into a crowd," said
Professor Veselin Dimitrov, the dean of the Faculty of Journalism at the
Sveti Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia when a renowned journalist
Lili Marinkova was sacked. She was fired under the excuse that she was
not observing her working hours.
After the dozens of disobedient journalists who had established the
profile of Horizont and made it dynamic, objective and polemic were
sacked and replaced by completely unknown but obedient people, criticism
all but disappeared from the program.
The audience, however, has become more selective over the years. This is
why many people simply switched to other stations. The way things
current stand, the BNR is not of use even to the politicians, be they in
power or in the opposition, observers say. There is no one to listen to
"There is a real danger that the independent BNR could be forced to its
knees," says Professor Nikolaj Vasiljev, a member of the GODO civic
movement. According to him, what is happening in the station involves
"dangerous steps to stifle the freedom of speech and the press."
A member of the NCRT, Assistant Professor Georgi Lozanov, who was
against the appointment of Borislavov, admits that for a month and a
half this body has not made a single reasonable move to resolve the
crisis. "I am still convinced that by making its incomprehensible
decision to appoint Borislavov manager, the NCRT has provoked the crisis
in the BNR," Lozanov said.
On top all this it turned out that not even the BNR managing board was
appointed in a legal way, because its members have to be proposed by a
legitimate manager. At this point, there is no such person, because a
case involving the appointment of a new manager is still being
deliberated by the Higher Administrative Court.
How will all this end? The protesting journalists are adamant – there is
no going back. The new BNR management is of the same, albeit opposite,
view. The NCRT, which is the chief culprit, has attempted to facilitate
a dialogue -- a contact group has been created to help resolve the
The Broadcasting Act, however, does not envisage any instruments
allowing the NCRT to change its decision in regard to Borislavov. Thus
it would be the best if he resigned, together with all his protegees. In
order for that to happen, the person who wanted Borislavov to get the
job in the first place and ordered the NCRT to appoint him will have to
give his blessing.
And who might that be? Probably one of those who are still experiencing
difficulties in clearly defining their position in regard to the
scandal, while publicly saying that they are not authorized to interfere
in the operation of public bodies.