Vienna, November 24, 2022
In its latest newsletter, the Council of Europe Platform to protect journalists’ safety again underlines the importance of exposing – and demanding answers for – assaults on free societies. Our Section in Bulgaria has shown its usual determination in sticking up for our profession:
In early July 2022, the investigative journalist and BTV presenter Maria Tsantsarova was investigated by authorities over a broadcast which revealed that MPs who advocated against COVID-19 vaccines had themselves been vaccinated against the virus.
The report showed that, while in public elected politicians from the ultranationalist, pro-Russian Vazrazhdane (Revival) party opposed COVID-19 vaccines and called the pandemic a hoax, in private they had themslves received doses of the vaccine. It was based on information about their vaccination status that had been leaked to Tsantsarova by a source.
The report drew both criticism and praise in Bulgaria. BTV said it had decided to publish the medical information to point out what it said was hypocrisy on the part of the MPs.
Tsantsarova recognised that, while publishing such sensitive information would normally violate journalistic code of ethics, in this specific case there was a clear public interest in doing so, given Vazrashdane’s anti-vaccination campaign and Bulgaria’s lagging vaccination figures, among the lowest in the EU.
Bulgaria also had one of the highest death rates from COVID-19 of all EU countries. Vaccine mandates and pandemic measures have been an issue of animosity in Bulgaria.
In January 2022, members of Vazrazhdane attempted to storm the parliament building as they protested COVID-19 restrictions, leading to widespread condemnation. Following the report, the General Directorate for the Fight against Organized Crime (GDBOP) and the Commission for the Protection of Personal Data (KPLD) opened an investigation into the alleged violation of the MPs privacy. A criminal probe into the case was also opened.
Tsantsarova was summoned twice for questioning and asked to reveal her source. The Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria issued a statement defending the ethics of the report and saying that it was “unjustified to attempt in any way to reveal the secret of the journalistic source”.
It added: “In the conditions of a pandemic that led to tens of thousands of deaths in Bulgaria, it was and continues to be of key importance that the public be protected from misinformation on the topic of vaccines.”