Micz Flor on Tue, 27 Oct 1998 00:35:38 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Bulgarian Radio Culture in Legislative Limbo Land


Interview with Iassen Boyadjiev (Radio Darik and Chairman of the Free 
Speech Society)

Iassen Boyadjiev has been working with Radio Darik in Sofia, Bulgaria
since he got fired by Bulgarians national radio network in early 1996, due
to criticising on-air the extent to which the state is exercising power
over the journalists. Shortly afterwards he co-founded the Civic Forum
'Free Speech' of which he is chairman. In this interview we will learn
about the short history of the Bulgarian radio landscape since 1989, joint
ventures of independent networking with Belgrade in 1997/97 and the
current development of licensing and telecommunication legislation. The
interview was conducted on the 12th October 1998 at the ICA Sofia by Micz
Flor for the November issue of Crash Media (URL below). An edited audio
version will go on-air in November at convex tv. (URL below). 


Crash Media: Since the decline of Socialism a lot has been happening in
Bulgaria concerning private and independent radio culture. Is this a
culture where pirate radio and private enterprises are soul mates? 

Iassen Boyadjiev: Until today, based on the precise understanding of
pirate radio, there has only been one example in Bulgaria. That was around
7 years ago, when Sofia based broadcasting station Radio 99 - which is
still in existence - went on-air from their apartment. But this pirate
broadcast was closed down literally after 48 hours by the authorities.
However, at that time already several teams were well equipped and ready
to start private broadcasts. 

And in 1991 a group of Bulgarians entered an agreement with Voice of
America Europe and managed to borrow money from other American
organisations. They started re-transmitting the broadcasts of VOA Europe.
Later this got legalised by the Vice Premiere Dimitar Ludzhev, despite the
fact that there existed no legislation concerning broadcasting in
Bulgaria. It was merely a decision on his part. 

At the end of 1992 the first licensed private radio stations started
broadcasting - the first one was FM Plus followed in January 1993 by Darik
Radio where I am working today. 

The strange thing is that even today, from a legislative point of view,
all the private stations are broadcasting illegally. No law regulating
broadcasting has yet been passed. This is due to the recent history of
this country where many things after 1989 started happening because of
provisional regulations. At one point there has been a temporary
commission which was authorised to distribute frequencies.  It was a body
composed of representatives of the parliament as well as members of the
committee of telecommunications. This *provisional* temporary commission
followed some *provisional* temporary rules. A lot of members of this
commission became very rich in a very short period of time due to this
provisional arrangement - but I can not actually prove it. 

CM: A few years ago you helped establishing a link with radio Index in
Belgrade, Yugoslavia, at a time when in both countries a series of
uprisings and changes were underway. 

I.B.: If I am not mistaken this exchange took place either in the very end
of 1996 or the beginning of 1997. At that time the street demonstration of
students and other people in Belgrade had already been going on for some
time, and the street demonstrations here were just starting. Here they
eventually lead to the fall of the government formed by the former
communist party. At that time all of us had colleagues and friends and
even a correspondent in Belgrade and so we got the idea to enter a joined

Initially we were aiming to establish the exchange with B92, but due to
some technical difficulties we could not realise it. Eventually we worked
with the radio station Index. In their Belgrade studio several leaders of
the protesting students were present and in our studio in Sofia we hosted
a number of Bulgarian students. The discussion between the Serbian
students in Belgrade and the Bulgarian students in Sofia was realised
using the simplest possible technology, meaning telephone lines. We even
broadcasted songs coming through the telephone lines.  Of course the
quality was not very that good but both sides were able to catch the
message. The songs from Belgrade were the songs of Goran Bregovic, and
from Sofia our protest songs came through the phone lines. 

Interestingly the students here in Sofia were different from the ones
involved in the activities at the end of 1989, they were beginners. So
there was a lot of enthusiasm, they were learning from the Belgrade
students and really appreciated what happened there and the ways in which
they organised their activities. 

And about three months later we established another link. At this point
the Bulgarian side was giving advice to the Belgrade students how to
achieve real results. The they were not getting anywhere whereas here we
could see concrete results and a real change of the situation. 

CM: So who owns the Bulgarian air-waves at this moment? 

I.B.: According to the constitution the air-waves are exclusively within
the authority of the state. For some time, a law had been passed
concerning licenses including radio frequencies. The law was composed in
such a way that for many years nobody got a license for anything. So all
the private radio stations which were already working on the base of
temporary licenses, they would firstly renew them and later kept on
working without licenses. Since there is still no legislation, today they
are practically legal pirate radios. 

But not only the first private radio stations are still working in this
way. Also newer radio stations appearing all over this country fall into
the same set of regulations. The station I am currently working for, Darik
Radio, started operating in January 1993 and since then has opened 13
stations in other cities all over Bulgaria, connected in a network. Each
of these local stations produces three hours in the morning another three
in the afternoon in their studios, whereas the rest of the time they are
transmitting the broadcast from Sofia. Most of these stations were started
sort of illegally with a permission from local authorities. Many radio
stations in Bulgaria came into existence that way. And today bigger cities
have up to 8 private radio stations. 

CM: But those temporary gentlemen's agreements will change in the near

I.B.: A legislation is currently being discussed and will probably be
passed in the near future: the law concerning radio, television and
telecommunications. According to this legislation the already existing
stations will be given licenses and the new ones will need to apply and
eventually be given licenses. The big debate which is currently going on
in this country is the question of who will have the authority to issue
those licenses. The 'Free Speech' society and I as the chairman are
thoroughly following this debate. So far there has been the suggestion by
the government that licenses are issued by a commission appointed by the
'Minsterski Suvet' (Council of Ministers), which means that licenses will
be issued by the executive powers. What we and many others are fighting
for is an independent body which will have the authority to issue such
licenses. We believe - and reality proves us right - that for the period
of time until licenses will eventually be issued by the authorities,
independent radio stations become dependent on the executive branch of
power and will be in a position where they have to accept many limitations
from that body. 

CM: How did the Civic Forum 'Free Speech' come into existence and where do
you see its main function? 

I.B.: The 'Free Speech' society was founded in the beginning of 1996, when
a number of journalists got fired from the national radio broadcasting
station after speaking out on the control of the state over journalists at
the national radio station. And as a result approximately 150 individuals
got together in January 1996 in the lecture hall of the Sofia State
University and formed this organisation. The 'Free Speech' society
includes not only journalists but also people from other professions. 

One of our main objectives is the state of independence of media,
identifying attacks on this independence, cases of censorship and so on.
Since we are journalists, we know how to operate in the public media
space, we know how to make our voices heard. So far we were able to make a
number of suggestions and also produced our own version of the legislation
concerning radio, media and telecommunication. We have reached a point
where even the constitutional court is inviting us to assist on several
cases concerning media legislation. Additionally, we are publishing a
magazine called 'Chetvurta Vlast', the Fourth Power - after the executive,
legislative and jurisdictional powers. 

CM: Is your aim to play a role in the decision making process on who does
and who does not get a license for radio broadcasting? 

I.B.: We do not want to decide over who does and who does not get a radio
license. In Bulgaria we would like to see an independent body in this
function, similar to the constitutional court or the executive board of
the National Bank. In theory and practice this body needs to be unaffected
by the changes of the political status quo and elections. The system we
see today on the Balkans - the ongoing changes, and not to forget our own
political tradition - makes this absolutely necessary. At the moment it is
easy to see who would and who would not get a license with every
successive government. 

CM: Do you see the danger of centralisation from within Bulgaria and do
you know of international interests to buy into the media landscape of

I.B.: We are so far away from such a situation that in the new legislation
which is being debated the question of transparency of property and
ownership of specific media or any limitations on the concentration of
media ownership are not even mentioned. 

There are rumours circulating about American interests. The rumour has it
that the Central European Media Enterprises, an American company which
also runs Televiza NOVA in Prague has submitted an application for a
national TV channel here in Bulgaria. But those are only rumours at the

Thanks to Luchezar Boyadjiev for interpreting.

Civic Forum "Free Speech": slovo96@hotmail.com -- Crash Media :
convex tv.: http://www.art-bag.net/convextv

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