The Union of Bulgarian Journalists is actively involved in the international anti-SLAPP campaign, and is preparing a register of judicial prosecutions against Bulgarian journalists aimed at obstructing their work, and will hold a conference on the same issue. The patron of all these activities will be Vice President Iliana Yotova. This is what the chairwoman of the Governing Board of the UBJ Snezhana Todorova talks about in her interview.
Ms. Todorova, what are the current initiatives and activities that the Union of Bulgarian Journalists, which you head, is undertaking in the already active autumn season?
- Our Union always places the protection of freedom of speech and the rights of journalists at the top of its goals and objectives. These will continue to be in our focus in the new initiatives and activities we are undertaking.
I would like to single out among them our active involvement in the international anti-SLAPP campaign, which aims to defend journalists who are attacked with lawsuits in order to obstruct their work. The International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists, of which the UBJ is a collective member, as well as other journalists' and human rights organizations and leading European institutions, are committed to this cause.
Let me remind you that the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) will hold a special conference on the subject on 20 October in Strasbourg under the patronage of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.
The problem is very serious and extremely painful, it directly strikes at the right of journalists to carry out their important work for society without fear or pressure, and it constitutes a blatant attack on freedom of speech.
I would like to underline that in Bulgaria, unfortunately, many colleagues are also subject to SLAPP persecution, and other forms of biased and malicious influence on journalistic work should not be overlooked. The situation of journalists working out of the capital, in the country side, is particularly serious and we are receiving repeated alarming reports about this in the UBJ.
We are now taking the initiative to draw up a register of journalists in the country who have suffered from SLAPP-lawsuits and attempts to interfere with their work. We will work with our journalists' colleges and bar associations, as well as with official institutions such as the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary.
We will prepare a special conference at which we will present the results of our work on drawing up the register, which will not be 'closed' but will be constantly updated with new information.
As a patron of all our anti-SLAPP activities we have invited the Vice President, Mrs Iliana Yotova, who, as is well known, is a journalist by profession. She readily accepted such patronage. At our meeting, Ms. Yotova also expressed her firm position that Bulgarian journalists - and especially out-of-capital journalists - must be actively and effectively protected from both SLAPP abuse and other pressures.
UBJ has repeatedly raised its voice in defence of freedom of speech and the rights of journalists. This issue has also been the focus of proposals for legislative changes drafted and submitted by the SBJ to the National Assembly five years ago. What is the fate of these proposals?
- Indeed, the UBJ's proposals for legislative changes focusing on guaranteeing freedom of speech and the rights of journalists were submitted as early as June 2017 to the Parliamentary Committee on Culture and Media.
Alas, in all this time our proposals have never been considered, although in the meantime, other media legislative changes, tabled later, have been given the go-ahead. I would like to emphasize here that none of the other initiatives dealt with the protection of journalists' rights as our proposals do.
There was some movement on this issue during the previous government, when the media working group set up by the Ministry of Culture uploaded the proposals for changes to media legislation to an online platform. The UBJ's proposals are also there - in a separate folder. But things did not progress further.
Last week, the current Minister of Culture in the caretaker government, Prof. Velislav Minekov, brought together representatives of the various unions of cultural workers for a working meeting to listen to our problems and to help find solutions.
I drew prof. Minekov's attention to the UBJ's proposals for legislative changes, and he responded in the best possible way. He assured us that he would endeavour to give our proposals more serious consideration.
I would like to stress that the UBJ will continue to insist that they be considered by the new Parliament, whatever its composition. Also, regardless of which government takes power, our Union will always defend the rights of journalists and freedom of speech as a matter of principle.
The WSJ is also developing active international links with similar professional organizations. Most recently, we welcomed a delegation from the Journalists Association of the Republic of Korea. As far as I know, a delegation of the UBJ is also going to visit Seoul. Could you tell us about these contacts?
- The UBJ has bilateral relations with journalists' organizations from about 70 countries. Our cooperation agreements always include exchanges of visiting journalists. Unfortunately, for understandable financial reasons, we are not able to carry out such exchanges with all our partners.
Fortunately, our friendly relations with the Association of Journalists of Korea (AJK) are developing very positively and fully. We signed a cooperation agreement with it in 2015 and Bulgaria thus became the first European country with a journalist agreement with the AJK. Since then, we have also been carrying out regular annual delegation exchanges, which allows our colleagues to get to know each other's two countries and to prepare relevant publications "first-hand".
Alas, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to discontinue exchanges for two years. But here we are now restoring it. A five-member delegation of the AJC is visiting us from August 29 to September 4, and also a five-member delegation of the UBJ is to visit Korea from September 24 to October 2.
During their stay in our country, the Korean colleagues got acquainted with the main characteristics and problems of the media environment and journalistic work in our country. They also shared their experience on these issues. They also visited Sofia, Plovdiv, Panagyurishte, Starosel, the folklore complex "Erdrega" near the village Dren. They got many vivid impressions about our landmarks, history, culture, traditions, modern development, business opportunities, etc.
I hope that the visit of the UBJ delegation to the Republic of Korea, which I will lead as the President of our Union, will also be fruitful.
I would like to emphasize that the UBJ will always work wholeheartedly for the development of friendship and cooperation among colleagues and countries of the world, for the strengthening of peace, dialogue, humanism and goodwill in international relations, because only this path can be constructive and positive for humanity.
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