As in many former Eastern bloc countries, the free market economy meant a growth in the number of media, of which the most important are in Western hands. For example the Swedish SBS, but also the German WAZ, owning the largest Bulgarian newspapers Trud and 24 Chasa. Bulgaria has about eight million inhabitants, of which only three million are economically active, but Bulgaria has fifteen newspapers.
The EU office is very noticeable in the Sofia city centre: glossy steel and polished windows against tired and derelict neighbours, modern where old trams patter through the streets. Peter Petrov works here, two months ago a journalist, now a EU press officer in Bulgaria. 'I was Foreign Affairs Chief Editor for Presa'. A honest looking newspaper, but in that weird Cyrillic alphabet, it could mean everything. Started in 2012 by experienced Bulgarian journalists to finally establish an independent newspaper.
Were Bulgarian newspapers that biased?
'Quite', Peter states. 'And this only has become worse now circulations are decreasing and for income they become more dependent on the owners, who are sometimes rich individuals or corporations. Not a single Bulgarian newspaper can exist on its own'.
Was Presa independent?
'No. But is this different from other countries? Remember the enormous influence Rupert Murdoch has on his papers. I do not believe ultimate press freedom exists. Every medium has an agenda and journalists are assumed to write according to this agenda.' He takes a sip of his tea in the lunch room opposite of the EU palace.
What do you read?
'Everything, I have to. Bulgarian, but also the Financial Times for example. Paper edition, yes. Do you know that Bulgarian people younger than 40 never buy a paper? They collect their news through free newspapers, but mostly from - a huge amount of - news websites. For example'. He shows me a website on his mobile phone that does not look very solid. 'Sometimes you can see enormous headlines with a small made up news story. For example about a celebrity who just has died. This generates clicks, apparently this is important to them'.
I have to laugh, Peter does not. 'It will become a problem for our democracy. Young people are used to this type of bad news, they do not have any expectations. Just like the new draft of journalists: they are also used to nothing better. They arrive at completely trimmed news offices, populated by other interns, without a mentor or experience...' He looks sad. 'Is this better in the Netherlands?' Not so much...
Writer and journalist Mark Schalekamp travels the EU for his project Youropeans. In every city he interviews a doctor, barber, an immigrant, a prostitute, local celebrity, police officer, businessman and an artist. And he shares his view on the media landscape for Publistat.