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Bulgaria: News Hungry


Plamen Petrov
WPR Correspondent
Sofia


Bulgarians, like residents of any open-minded, democratic country, scoop domestic and international news from all available print and electronic sources. But only about 4 percent of the 7 million-strong population own a PC with an Internet connection, while almost every Bulgarian household boasts a TV. In the absence of a levy on television and radio sets, it is no surprise that most Bulgarians rely on these two types of media to stay informed.

But print publications are by no means becoming obsolete, analysts say. As a recent National Center for Public Opinion Research poll shows, there are no fewer than three daily newspapers in the top six news-oriented media. Trud, a daily with an estimated circulation of 500,000, is the second-most-visited source of information for events in Bulgaria, lagging just 2.4 percent behind the leader, Channel 1 of Bulgarian National Television (BNT).

The poll showed that political news is the most sought-after kind of information. Thus, another myth is refuted—the notion that people do not trust newspapers and electronic media because they are unreliable sources of information, create only negative emotions, and manipulate events for the sake of sensation.

While four-color, glossy lifestyle and specialty magazines abound, the late 1990s marked the demise of the traditional newsmagazine in Bulgaria. The demand for newspapers has not died out, though. Sofia-based newspapers are the highest grossing, varying in newsstand price from 30 to 50 stotinki [14 to 23 cents].

Apart from the capital and the largest provincial centers, the economy is depressed, unemployment is high, and the purchase of periodicals is a luxury for many. For example, the people of Dobrich are inquisitive, but owing to mass impoverishment, few of them are regular newspaper buyers now, according to Natasha Savova, a street paper vendor in this large northeastern Bulgarian town. She told the independent Standart News: “I remember that we hit our largest turnover [in 1996] when [ex-Prime Minister] Andrei Lukanov was assassinated. Nowadays, should a deputy in parliament get the bullet, nobody would be much impressed. Our turnover has plummeted since the same time last year.

“There was a time when folks would buy newspapers like hotcakes,” recalls Savova. “Our regular clients took home two or three newspapers a day. Now they can afford one per week. To make matters worse, thieves stalk our stands, and while one group pilfers what is on display, others are on the lookout for our turnover money,” she complains.

According to Milko Petrov, head of the Theory and History of Journalism Department at the University of Sofia, while the provincial newspaper landscape has contracted, regional dailies have managed to survive by serious, in-depth coverage of the news.

 


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