Bulgarian Banks Try To Silence Web Site That Called Them 'Bad Apples'
from the give-those-people-a-medal dept
Whatever your views on the value of Wikileaks, one of its useful side-effects has been the appearance of other sites that have tried to do a similar job of calling the powerful to account using leaked information, but at a more local level. One of the most successful of these is BalkanLeaks, created by the Bulgarian investigative journalists Atanas Tchobanov and Assen Yordanov. In fact, it’s been rather too successful for some, and is now on the receiving end of some legal threats, as a column in Forbes explains:
Earlier this month, Tchobanov and Yordanov’s news outlet Bivol.bg, which publishes documents from their WikiLeaks-like leak site BalkanLeaks, received a letter from Bulgaria’s central bank threatening to fine the news organization for publishing “false information and circumstances” that undermine the “reputation and credibility” of four Bulgarian banks that filed the complaint with the government — a violation could carry as much 150,000 Bulgarian lev ($100,000) in penalties.
As Reporters without Borders notes, the “false information and circumstances” originated in a US embassy cable obtained by WikiLeaks, which was published by Bivol.bg back in June:
The article consisted of an analysis of a US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks about “bad apples” in the Bulgarian banking system, but it corroborated the US ambassador’s comments with information from its own sources.
It’s some of those alleged “bad apples” that have complained to the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB), accusing the news site of violating Bulgaria’s Credit Institutions Act. But as Reporters Without Borders comments:
“The Credit Institutions Act concerns only the banking world and cannot be used against the media or to defy the constitution, which guarantees media freedom. Moreover, the BNB has no jurisdiction over media law and cannot be allowed to impose heavy fines on news outlets.”
This seems likely a clear case of bullying, using banking laws and the threat of a big fine to silence a small news organization. As the Forbes article points out, this isn’t the first time that the Bivol.org journalists have chosen to take on extremely powerful groups:
Using the same anonymity tools as WikiLeaks, the group has obtained leaked documents exposing judicial bribery, former members of the Soviet-tied secret police, and blackmailing between Bulgarian prosecutors. After obtaining and publishing a State Department cable on Bulgarian organized crime the group received from rogue WikiLeaks ex-associate Israel Shamir last summer, Bivol partnered with WikiLeaks to release the rest of the Bulgaria-related cables. One accused Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov of close mafia ties, a claim he vigorously dismissed in a Bulgarian TV interview as “yellow journalism.”
At a time when many people are wondering whether WikiLeaks is a spent force, it’s heartening to see BalkanLeaks and Bivol.org continuing to expose wrongs through the use of leaked information, despite the very clear risks.