Broadcast regulator begins procedure to oust head of Bulgarian National Radio

Bulgaria’s statutory broadcast regulator the Council for Electronic Media (CEM) voted on October 9 to begin the procedure to remove Svetoslav Kostov as director-general of public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio.

Three of the five members of CEM, including chairperson Sofia Vladimirova, voted in favour of starting the procedure and two abstained.

Kostov has five days to respond, after which CEM will meet to vote to remove him.

At a meeting on September 27, CEM gave Kostov five days to resign. He has refused.

At the October 9 meeting, the two CEM members who abstained, Betina Zhoteva and Galina Georgieva, said that they did so because there were currently insufficient grounds in law to fire Kostov. They said that they needed more information, expected from the prosecution, before being able to make a decision.

The vote was the latest episode in a saga that began when Bulgarian National Radio’s popular Horizont morning programme went off the air for five hours on September 13.

BNR management said that this was for reasons of technical maintenance. An investigation led by prosecutors found that this was not true.

The suspension of broadcasting of Horizont has been widely linked to an attempt to remove from the air veteran journalist Sylvia Velikova, allegedly because of her open opposition to the nomination of Ivan Geshev to be the next Prosecutor-General. Amid a public outcry at the move against Velikova, she was reinstated following intervention by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov.

Journalists at BNR, CEM and journalists’ associations have called for the resignation of Kostov. He has been defended by some BNR employees, including technical and other staff but not the majority of journalists.

On the eve of the October 9 CEM meeting, Kostov said that he had prevented a second suspension of broadcasting of BNR programmes, saying that he had received late notice of the intention to suspend several programmes, and had blocked the plan. Kostov, appointed BNR director-general just more than three months ago, alleged that there was a plan to sabotage him.

On September 27, Bulgaria’s National Assembly set up an all-party ad hoc parliamentary inquiry to examine the facts and circumstances surrounding the interruption of the broadcasting of Horizont by BNR, as well as allegations of political pressure on the radio.

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