“Freedom of the press today is more important than ever, and our media must be able to report without fear of repression and harassment”, stated today Ambassador Simon van der Burg at the opening of a high-level forum in Sofia on anti-corruption and national security, attended by the President Rumen Radev, the Minister of Justice Krum Zarkov, the ministers of justice of Serbia and Montenegro, anti-corruption bodies and experts.
The conference, organized by the Ministry of Justice of Bulgaria in cooperation with the Basel Institute on Governance and the Centre for the Study of Democracy, took place on the eve of the Summit For Democracy, initiated by the United States.
As a co-host of the Summit for the broader European region, the Netherlands is putting media freedom in the focus of attention. It underlines its importance for maintaining well-functioning democracies.
“Quite often, journalists are the first to discover and report on corruption cases, security threats and important developments. At the same time, free and independent media are under pressure in many countries, sadly also in the EU”, Ambassador Van der Burg underlined.
As a great example, he mentioned the famous Bulgarian journalist and leading investigator at the Netherlands-based collective Bellingcat, Mr Christo Grozev, who recently received worldwide recognition at the stage of the Oscars for his contribution to the documentary ‘Navalny’. At the same time, he is persecuted by Russia for his work.
The ambassador also pointed out that the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) as a weapon against democracies is not uncommon and reminded that recently an independent Bulgarian media has been “SLAPPed” with an unprecedented lawsuit of 1 million leva.
Ambassador Van der Burg used the opportunity to inform that the Netherlands is actively supporting the free press through the Dutch Human Rights Fund and multilateral organizations. However, much more needs to be done globally for the sake of our democracies and for the sake of our freedom.
In this context, today’s event proved to be very valuable in increasing awareness and streamlining the efforts as it managed to involve both high-level officials and a number of representatives on the expert level from Bulgaria and the region.