BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS: JOB SATISFACTION IN THE EARLY
"Today, journalists in Bulgaria are like wild animals--like
vultures who eat dead animals. We live in filth and dirt, but
continue to see the possibility for good."
The world changed in 1989 when Communist rule was overthrown throughout
Eastern Europe and the Berlin Wall, symbol of Communist oppression,
down. Within a matter of months, the revolution appeared to be secure
winds of hope swept across the continent, leaving people dizzy with
anticipation of establishing democracy, sewing seeds of capitalism, and
celebrating the deep satisfaction that comes with freedom.
Bulgarian journalists grabbed onto the optimism of the new era, confident
of their importance in bringing information to citizens who would
themselves. Many of the most skilled reporters left state media to
for private newspapers and radio. New journalists emerged. This
documents changes in Bulgarian media since 1989 and examines
levels among journalists in the early post-communist period.
Bulgaria was ruled by the Ottoman Turks from the 15th century until the
country declared its independence in 1908 and won freedom during the
Balkan War in 1912. The long history of Turkish control continues to
influence life in Bulgaria, most clearly evidenced in the harsh
discrimination against the Turkish minority. During World War II, Bulgaria
allied with Germany, and came under communist rule in September, 1944,
when Soviet forces took the country without resistance. The Bulgarian
Communist party controlled all aspects of Bulgarian life for the next 45
years in close alliance with the Soviet Union. In fact, Bulgaria has
called the "most faithful Soviet ally" during the Cold War period
quoted in Ognaianova, 1981). Today, Bulgarians talk of "The Change,"
referring to the period beginning with the removal of long-time communist
leader Todor Zhivkov who had ruled Bulgaria from 1954 to 1989. Unlike
Romania, where Nicolae Ceausescu was executed, Bulgaria's change from a
communist system was relatively smooth and free of bloodshed. As one
citizen described the course of events, "We got our revolution free"
(Gryovah, 1994). With the communist system falling all over Eastern Europe
and with tens of thousands of Bulgarians braving sub-freezing weather
demonstrate for democracy in the streets of capital-city Sophia, the
Bulgarian Communist Party voted itself out of power in November, 1989.
Thus, Bulgaria became the last Soviet bloc country in Eastern Europe to
depose the Communist Party control (Bulgaria, 1990).
Later, in January, 1990, Zhivkov was arrested and imprisoned as the
government announced both the disbanding of the secret police and the
transfer of military control away from the Communist Party. Bulgaria, the
last East European country to depose official communist rule, became
first to try its communist leader in open court. There, Zhivkov was
sentenced to seven years in prison for embezzling government funds and
abusing power (Bulgarian ex-leader, 1992).
Early changes in the government included a guarantee that Bulgarians could
choose their own names and religion, an attempt to reverse discriminatory
laws that forced members of the Turkish minority to give up their
names in exchange for Slavic ones. Hundreds of thousands of Turks
emigrating to Turkey immediately after the change of government
hardships associated with their ancestry (Bulgaria, 1990).
The parliament approved a new constitution which went into effect in July,
1991, despite opposition from the Union of Democratic forces who worried
that some of the language would allow the former communists to
control. The concerns proved to be valid. Although Bulgaria had
removed the communist party from power without violence, the new
actually kept the former communists in power for a time as members of
new socialist party. In other East European countries where the
government was not so peaceful, the transfer of power was more
October, 1991, elections the Union of Democratic Forces managed to take a
narrow majority in the Parliament and allied itself with the minority
Turkish party to gain strength. The UDF incorporates approximately 20
pro-Democratic parties; the minority Turkish party is similar in size to
the UDF (U.S., 1990). Filip Dimitrov became head of UDF and was
prime minister, but his government only remained in power until
1992. Following a no-confidence vote in parliament, Dimitrov resigned.
the first direct presidential elections of January, 1992, Bulgarians
Zhelyu Zhelev as the first non-Communist leader since World War II.
President Zhelev retains his mandate as president until 1996 (Bulgaria,
Democratic forces have not been able to hold power in Bulgaria. In
December, 1994 elections, the socialist party regained its parliamentary
power with a solid 51 percent majority and chose a young member of its
party as the country's sixth prime minister since 1990 (Kinzer, 1995).
Surprisingly, the former communists managed to point to the poor
and gain support from the Bulgarian people, who fail to connect the
hardships with the former state control. Instead, citizens seem to have
blamed the democratic politicians who held power for less than a year
worsening economic conditions (Perlez, 1994).
By all accounts, Bulgaria is faring much worse than other East European
nations. Unemployment is high and inflation reached 122 percent in
Although most politicians among both the Socialists and the Union of
Democratic Forces espouse support of privatization, the government still
owns almost everything. The government has rejected offers by foreign
investors to buy Balkan Airlines and the state trucking company.
to Raymond Bonner,
"There is also a personal reason that many of the former Communists worry
about foreign investment: they want to buy the businesses, with
they made during the Communist days, but they do not have enough to
compete with foreign investors" (1994).
Bulgaria appears to be suffering the "growing pains of new democracies in
countries without democratic traditions" ("The Balkans..." 1995).
According President Zhelev, the economic failures threaten the success of
democracy as people look fondly on the old days of stability and
-- even if the security was on a primitive level (Longworth, 1994).
Bulgarians see a gripping connection between free enterprise and
Until the government operates without illegal influence, citizens do not
believe that free enterprise can succeed. A grapple for money and
those who are in control and allow their power and influence to be sold is
disabling efforts to build a strong private enterprise system. The
prospects of a strong economy have seemed so bleak that Zhelev once called
for an "economic dictator" to push Bulgaria into the future (Pomfret,
Some observers believe that Bulgaria's move toward democracy is more than
stalled -- it is sliding backward, "caught halfway between
and a normal democratic country" (Longworth, 1994).
Everybody knows about the corruption. Bulgarians generally recognize that
anyone who attempts to set up a business is forced to pay organized
criminal syndicates for the privilege of staying in business, or for
"protection." Even street vendors pay criminal groups or face the
possibility of being put out of business, perhaps violently. On a larger
scale of corruption, "Most of the small class of rich businessmen
mob money or drain the assets from state-owned businesses while most
population lives below the poverty line" (Longworth. 1994). One alliance
of bureaucrats and managers of state-run business, known as G-13
Corporation, blocks reform, "sometimes through stalling and political
pressure, sometimes through outright bribery" (Longworth, 1994).
According to one television moderator, the corruption is so accepted that
journalists do not hesitate to ask politicians about it --they just
the answers will be lies. As a result of policy making by self-serving
politicians, retirees live on the equivalent of $24.00 a month. Prior
December, 1994, elections, residents of Sophia had running water only
out of three days, and water was rationed throughout the country. The
water problems were partly caused by rotting water pipes (Perlez, 1994).
In sum, Bulgarians are living with crime, corruption, high inflation, high
unemployment, and high levels of frustration and disillusionment. The
country is sharply divided still -- between the former communists who
call themselves socialists, and the supporters of democracy. Life in
Bulgaria seems to be going from bad to worse.
As of May, 1990, 20 AM, 15 FM, and 29 TV television stations were on the
air in Bulgaria (U.S., 1990). Today, there are dozens of new private
stations, and one new private television station, but government radio and
television continue to dominate. Most viewers tune in to Channel 1, the
primary government station. Channel 2, also a government station, is
popular, but attracts more viewers than the private station.
For a small country, Bulgarians have a large choice among newspapers.
Major daily newspapers include:
A weekly paper, called 168 Hours, is also a major Bulgarian newspaper.
There is no longer a single, state-owned newspaper although private
newspapers are sometimes allied with political parties, slanting news
according to party biases and getting financial support from the
party. For example, Duma is the paper of the socialist party;
and Standard are democratic papers. Standard, with a less sensational
style than other papers is owned by Tron Corporation. 24 Hours, with
largest circulation of approximately 400,000, is a private newspaper,
its owners are former communists. Trud is also owned by former
(Gryovah and Staeva, 1994, and Kopandanova, 1995).
Several private newspapers have been started with the goal of presenting
neutral, objective information, but have failed. One independent,
democratic paper, Fatherland, was bought by Tron Corporation in early 1994
when it began having financial difficulties, but the company closed
paper after a few months. Former employees are puzzled as to why a
would invest millions of dollars in a paper and close it so quickly.
Because Tron also owns Standard, competition could be a factor. Even
though Standard is considered a democratic paper, there are charges that
Tron is run by former communists who exported enormous amounts of
money before 1989 and now operate from capital stashed in foreign
(Kopandanova, 1995). One neutral paper failed within three weeks.
publishing a few articles on corruption in Bulgarian banks, financing
stopped and the publishers were kicked out of the building they were
leasing. Editors were threatened and one person was beaten (Staeva,
Government television remains tightly controlled. The head of Bulgarian
National Television is replaced regularly with shifting governments
those who criticize politicians or government policy may quickly find
themselves without their jobs. For example, after The Change, Neri
Terzieva took control of BNT's Channel 2. The station quickly began
increasing in popularity with vitalized programming and objective reports
about life in Bulgaria by popular newscasters. Despite the success of
Channel 2, the Director of Bulgarian Television, Hacho Boyadzhiev, did
support Terzieva's success. In February, 1993, Boyadzhiev was elected
Parliament, with the largest support from communists, and immediately
cleaned house, firing Neri Terzieva and taking many popular programs off
the air (Milev and Gotovska-Popova, 1993). The firing inspired
protests and a number of journalists quit their jobs at BNT in support
Terzieva. Some international organizations attempted to influence
to reinstate Terzieva, but the efforts failed (Gotovska-Popova, 1993). In
June, 1993, Boyadzhiev actually ordered armed forces to occupy the
national television building, citing a possible invasion by demonstrators
Meanwhile, companies that might want to establish private television to
compete with the national television network must work through the
Council for Radio Frequencies and Television Channels, set up in late
Hundreds of applicants have come forward, but the Council has established
requirements that are very expensive and difficult to meet (Terzieva,
1994). According to a Bulgarian Embassy spokesman, it remains to be seen
whether the new parliament will favor speedy granting of private
(Dimitrov, 1995), but even casual observers of Bulgarian media
that the socialists are unlikely to favor independent media voices.
The Parliamentary Committee on Radio and Television holds responsibility
for the appointment of BNT's director-generals. These politicians
"openly clashed over the way anti-government protests during June and
1993, had been reported in the state-owned media (Gotovska-Popova, 1993).
The Bulgarian Telegraph Agency remains as the sole state news agency.
Another private news agency has never gained the status to compete with
BTA, even though it was financed by the enormous Multi-Group
One Bulgarian Telegraph Agency director was fired for having "openly
expressed a negative attitude toward a state institution"
Even though private television which can compete with state television
seems to be a distant hope, private radio in Bulgaria is booming. At
10 private stations broadcast from Sophia. Ten more operate in the
second largest city, Plovdiv, and several more have studios in Varna, a
city on the northeast coast (Dimitrov, 1995). One government/state
station covers entire country from various transmitters and retains
regard and ratings, despite competition from the private sector.
The American University in Bulgaria operates a commercial station which
broadcasts 24 hours a day from Blagoevgrad, including eight hours of
programming combined with Voice of America and BBC programs to
schedule. A 1993 survey recognized Radio AURA as the highest rated station
in the city and the university hopes to increase local broadcasting time
to 12 hours a day. The station supports itself entirely by
Even though the local economy does not allow profit for the station,
income does cover the station's basic expenses. Administrators are
looking into possibilities for sending the station's signal to Sophia,
perhaps by microwave or land lines (Who We Are, 1994).
Government policies toward media continue to resemble the tight control
under communists (Milev 1993). BNT directors have issued orders
prohibiting any criticism of government policy. Another order directed
television employees to be "loyal to the state" (Journalist, 1994).
Journalists from both state and private media are regularly censored when
they try to report on corruption, such as that within the banking or
gasoline industries. They recognize that politicians are corrupt, that
bribery is required for doing business, and they believe that only when
business depends on just laws will there be adequate demand for fair
information. In the meantime, lawmakers enjoying the spoils of power lack
the will to pass laws that could clean up the system.
"Editors ask us to write lies," reporters say, "or not to write about
important truths" (Gryovah, 1994). The things journalists can't write
about include corruption in banking, gasoline, and cigarettes and
investment in these areas is discouraged by business dealers as well.
Journalists try to be philosophical. They believe that politicians
mistakenly believe that democracy means the freedom to do whatever you
without consequence. They hope the platitude that "weeds grow first,
before the fruit" means that the weeds will eventually be choked out.
A seventy-question telephone survey was conducted in coordination with
faculty and student assistants at the University of Sophia during the
summer of 1994. The random sample was drawn from a list of approximately
1,500 journalists working in Sophia, including journalists from radio,
television, newspaper and news agencies. From a list of approximately
hundred, 152 surveys were completed.
The Likert scale survey was supplemented by a series of extended personal
interviews with five Bulgarian journalists in Sophia during June,
Interviews included representatives of state television private
The survey is based on research conducted by MORI Research, Inc. of
Minneapolis for the Associated Press Managing Editors Association in
September, 1993, which confirms that job satisfaction among American
newspaper journalists has been declining (McGrath, 1993).
There were 152 respondents including 32 radio and 16 television
journalists, 83 newspaper reporters and editors, and 13 news agency
employees. 95 respondents work for private employers; 50 are employees of
the government. Most respondents, 124, worked for state-owned media
the fall of communism in 1989, but only 10 work for the same employer
they had before 1989. The average age of those surveyed was 33 years
respondents had worked in journalism an average of eight and a half
Slightly more than half (52 percent) of Sophia's journalists report that
they are satisfied with their jobs, and government employees are
significantly more satisfied with their jobs than those who work for
private media. Interestingly, even though government journalists are more
satisfied with their jobs, none reported being "very satisfied,"
with 6.32 percent of privately employed journalists who say they are
satisfied." Since all television journalists are government
is not a surprise that 62 percent of them report job satisfaction
to 50 percent of radio journalists, 53 percent of newspaper
46 percent of agency reporters.
Satisfaction levels are similar among males and females, but age appears
to be more important than gender in determining job satisfaction.
and younger journalists tend to be more satisfied than middle-aged
For example, 75 percent of those who are age 45 or older report being
satisfied with their jobs, and 57 percent of the 18-34 year olds are
satisfied with their work. However, less than half (46 percent) of the
35-44 year olds report job satisfaction.
Journalists with less education say they are more satisfied with their
jobs than those with university degrees. Seventy-five percent of
journalists with only a high school education are satisfied with their jobs
although they represent a very small portion of the sample. Fifty-three
percent with a university degree are satisfied, and only 44 percent of
journalists who have graduate-level education are satisfied with their
jobs. (See Job Satisfaction Groups Chart)
What determines job satisfaction levels among Bulgarian journalists?
There is strong agreement among Bulgarian journalists that the chance to
help people, the freedom to make your own decisions, freedom from
supervision, and knowing that your work is significant are very important
for job satisfaction.
There were several statistically significant predictors of job
1. The more important journalists feel their work is, the less satisfied
they are with their jobs.
2. The greater the use of their talents, the more satisfied they are.
3. The more satisfied with the organization for which they work, the more
satisfied they are with their jobs.
4. Those with the most voice in management decisions are the least
satisfied with their jobs.
5. The more pay, the more satisfaction.
6. The more qualified their co-workers, the more satisfaction.
Major Problems Facing Bulgarian Media
Journalists were asked to list the most significant problems facing the
Bulgarian media. The most often cited problem was money. Journalists
relate a lack of money to lack of independence in carrying out their
responsibilities. They are also concerned about the effect of inflation
the already-expensive cost of printing. Problems with print, paper, and
print technology were also frequently mentioned among the most
problems facing Bulgarian media today.
Other major concerns do not break down into neat categories, but relate to
freedom and independence, truth, and professional competence. When
combined, these areas far outweigh concerns about finances. For example,
journalists are concerned that information is not true, objective, and
accurate and they want more freedom and independence to pursue
They seem to blame many problems on their colleagues and bosses.
Examples of comments illustrating problems in relationships among
colleagues include, "People who work here are not intelligent enough."
"Bosses are incapable." "There is a lack of professional criteria."
"Intelligence is a major problem." "Bad professional skills." They
mention sensationalism as a problem. Bulgarian journalists are very
critical of each other.
Journalists in Sophia are very concerned about distribution of newspapers.
According to one respondent, "Distribution is controlled by the mafia."
Others were not so specific about why distribution was so bad, but it
one of the most often mentioned areas of concern. Political
legislation, and general chaos also cause concern for Bulgarian
Concerns about pay and lack of interest in journalism by the Bulgarian
public show up in the survey responses but are minor in comparison to
issues. Several persons mentioned loyalty as a concern: bosses who are
not loyal, loyalty among colleagues, or just loyalty.
More than half of journalists who work for government media report being
satisfied with their jobs. Even though government employees are more
satisfied than employees of private media as a whole, not one government
journalist reported being "very satisfied" with the job. This result
not easily explained, especially considering that government employees
generally paid less than their private counterparts and are subject to
control of what they say and write.
A reporter for the largest socialist newspaper in the country may reveal
the attitude that allows government journalists to be generally more
satisfied than their private counterparts. "I am completely in agreement
with the values of my paper, " he says of the formerly communist party
paper where he has worked for the past eight years. He insists that the
editors control the content of his writing merely for the sake of
improvement. This writer's comment suggests that some journalists don't
view content control in a negative way.
Most of the journalists in this study had worked in their field before the
fall of communism, suggesting they may not expect total freedom to
criticize government or business. On the other hand, many of the best
journalists left government media to work for private media after the
of communism. These reporters may have taken high expectations of a
press, autonomy, and the ability to provide information that would
an improved society with them to their new jobs. The failure of the
te media to achieve these ideals may lead them to higher levels of
frustration and dissatisfaction than the survey shows among those who
continue to pick up paychecks from the government.
This explanation of why government journalists indicate more satisfaction
than privately employed ones may correspond with the indication that
more important the journalists believe their work is, the less
they are with their jobs. One political interviewer for Bulgarian
television exemplifies the dissatisfaction that comes with recognizing the
important role that journalists play in society. He believes that
journalists are respected by the public and that they have more power than
ever before to influence the direction the country will take. He
these beliefs despite several "official punishments" for criticizing
government policy including being removed from the air for three months
without pay (Journalist, 1994). In short, when journalists believe
role is important in society and also believe they are not succeeding
their responsibility, they are dissatisfied with their inability to
A parliamentary reporter compares reporters to watchdogs. The dog is
barking, but cannot catch the thief. Similarly, reporters are now free
report on the failures of politicians and the government, but nothing
happens when corruption is revealed. The exposed politician retains
position and influence (Mietko, 1994).
Another television reporter who studied the American press for a year in
the United States says she is just tired of fighting to make the
better. After her return to Bulgaria, she attempted to implement the
ideals she had learned about accuracy and fairness in a report on
corruption in the gasoline industry. After the first broadcast in her
three-part series, she was
instructed to cancel the remaining parts of the series. "How can I go on
working like this? What is the point?" she asks (Staeva, 1994).
A reporter for a private newspaper with one of the largest circulations
explains that some journalists know they must continue a lonely,
fight for truth and free press because they work at a moment in
where the future is determined. "Today, journalists in Bulgaria are
wild animals -- like vultures who eat dead animals. We live in filth
dirt, but continue to see the possibility for good" (Gryovah, 1994).
Others are losing hope: "I'm usually an optimist, but the situation in
Bulgaria just gets worse and worse" (Kopandanova 1995).
The statistical prediction that the more journalists believe they use
their talents, the more satisfied they are with their jobs is not
surprising. People everywhere like to believe they have talents which are
useful and appreciated. Neither is it surprising that people who are
satisfied with their organizations are more satisfied with their jobs.
surprising result is that journalists indicate the more voice they have in
management, the least satisfied they are with their jobs. This statistica
l significance might indicate that some managers participate in making
decisions, but feel compelled to insure outcomes that please
outside the medium, such as politicians, party representatives, or
financial supporters. This dissatisfaction may reflect journalists'
unhappiness with the inability to be true to themselves.
One parliamentary reporter complains that journalists are good liars who
cover up one lie by writing additional ones. He jokes that reporting
events he has witnessed by competing papers is often so distorted, he
wonders if the other reporters attended the same event. Bulgarian
reporters readily agree that the bulgarian press is replete with yellow
A closer look at often-cited problems facing Bulgarian media
The lack of money is the most-cited problem facing Bulgarian media today.
The lack of money is seen in salaries, equipment, supplies, and
technology. Reporters do not have access to the computers they need.
Television technology generally resembles the 1950s although some
advancements have recently been made at studios in Sophia. Pay is minimal.
Although most reporters cannot afford cars, one tank of gas could take
one-tenth of a monthly salary from one of the better-paid journalists.
One of the most significant problems journalists cited that face the
Bulgarian media today is distribution and circulation of newspapers.
aspect of media operations is generally recognized as being controlled
organized crime. The problem begins because there is one government-
printing plant for all newspapers in the country, opening the system up to
corrupt political influence regarding the numbers of papers that are
allowed to be printed. This problem surfaced in early negotiations for
new government when the UDF demanded its own newspaper and printing press,
but was granted permission to publish a newspaper with a cap of 70,000 on
the circulation (Bulgaria, 1990). After the papers are printed,
large distribution companies, all owned by former communists, take
of delivering papers throughout the country. Initially, there were
hundreds of companies in business to distribute the papers, but only a few
have survived, again most likely because of political/criminal
As a result, some papers, most likely the democratically oriented ones,
simply don't get distributed. On a smaller scale, the small-time
entrepreneur who stands at tables in the streets and sells papers may be
allowed to sell only certain papers -- and perhaps bribed or
to sell others.
On a larger scale, big businesses give advertising money to the papers
whose philosophies they support. As one journalist says, "Everything
owned by communists" (Kopandanova,1995). Abuse of political
legislation, and general chaos abound in Bulgaria, but journalists seem
helpless to make positive changes. "The dog is barking, but it can't
the thief" (Mietko, 1994).
A notable number of respondents mentioned loyalty as a problem. These
comments appear to refer to the general corruption of some journalists
of those in positions of control. One reporter says that his
"sell themselves." The situation resembles the media in Russia where
journalists have drafted an ethics code to try to stem the tide of
bribe-taking and hidden advertising. The problems are the same: "poorly
paid reporters, corrupt capitalism, and little experience with a free
press" (Industry News, 1994).
Slightly more than half of Bulgarian journalists say they are satisfied
with their jobs, and government workers are generally more satisfied
journalists from private media. However, not a single state-employed
journalist reports being "very satisfied." The journalists who responded
to this survey strongly agree that helping people, making decisions
independently, and knowing their work is significant are important for job
Bulgarian journalists are generally very frustrated at the lack of
freedom, independence, truth, and professional competence in the media. It
is no secret that democracy is floundering in the country, that corruption
is rampant, and that life for Bulgarians is becoming more and more
difficult--far from the new hopes and dreams and promises of a better life
that grabbed hold in the heady days after the fall of communism.
Journalists find themselves in the uncomfortable position of feeling a
responsibility for the direction the country is taking, yet having no
power to influence positive change. They are frustrated with corrupt
politicians, with an apathetic public, and with each other. While some
be giving up hope, others continue to struggle, believing in the
possibility of a better future. As reporter Nevenuh Gryovah indicated, the
struggle for journalists remains difficult: "We live in filth and dirt,
but continue to see the possibility for good."
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