A new BHC report reveals how the media misinformed during the COVID crisis

A new report reveals the pseudo-scientific nature of much of the content in Bulgaria’s 2020 – 2022 epidemic. The publication focuses on how the media, including social media, have covered the pandemic itself and the responses, policies and practices put in place by state institutions.

The study, available to download online, is titled “Not Even False. Media Independence and the Right to Information during the Covid Pandemic” and is published by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. The author, Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, is one of the founders of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and heads the BOLD Foundation (Bulgarian Community for Liberal Democracy).

To date, Bulgaria ranks second in the world in terms of mortality per million population, after Peru, and first in excess mortality. During the pandemic, the rights of hundreds of thousands of Bulgarian citizens were violated. The vaccination plan adopted in December 2020 was in flagrant violation of the right to life, the right to health and the right to non-discrimination of people who were at the highest risk of death or severe disease if they became infected with the new coronavirus.

Between January and July 2021, more than 10,000 people, the vast majority over the age of 65 or with certain chronic conditions, died from COVID-19. These were preventable deaths caused by the fact that the Borissov government had not prioritised people in these highest-risk groups for vaccination.

The new research shows that restrictions on media freedom have had a direct negative impact on media quality throughout the pandemic, including a deterioration in professional journalistic standards. Mainstream professional media did not function as an independent source of information. Although with important exceptions, most have presented government policies and actions favourably. As a result of the media coverage, Bulgarians’ perception of how Bulgaria was coping with the co-financial crisis was in woeful contrast to the objective data.

A key conclusion of the study is that the media in Bulgaria generally failed to counter the infodemic adequately. Moreover, through an abundance of unverified, non-compliant with good journalistic practices, they have damaged public attitudes, along with fake news websites and social media. Roma, people in closed institutions and people with disabilities, who for decades have been the victims of systematic stigmatisation, discrimination and hate speech, were far from the media’s attention.

The study was prepared within the framework of a project of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee in cooperation with the BOLD Foundation and the independent media Marginalia. The publication was made possible with the partial financial support of the Black Sea Trust.