The content analysis of three media for a three year period (2017-2019) shows that the media uncover and publish information for a small number of irregularities and fraud with EU funds and the cases, which attract most media attention are not those which affect the most substantial financial interests.
These are the main findings of the study “Media and Criminal Policy: A Content Analysis of Media Reporting about Irregularities and Fraud with Funds of the European Union”, implemented by the Legal Programme of Open Society Institute – Sofia Foundation.
The contents of the newspapers 24 chasa, Sega and the information website Mediapool were studied for the last three years and 548 news items regarding irregularities and fraud with EU funds have been identified altogether. They can be grouped into 63 separate cases. Only 12 of these cases attracted significant media attention and were covered in 9 or more news items of the three monitored media.
The case, which attracted the highest media interest in this period is the repair works of the Graf Ignatiev Street in Sofia (with 82 publications in the three media), followed by the investigation against Minyu Staykov (with 64 publications), the repair works of the Largo in Sofia (which became known as “Hello, this is Banov”) with 50 publications. The cases, which concern irregularities and fraud in large infrastructure projects, attract far less attention. This is due on the one hand, to the deteriorated state of the print media and media freedom in the country and, on the other hand, to the decisions of law enforcement authorities as to whether and when to disclose information about ongoing investigations, the author of the study concludes.
The Prosecutor’s Office classifies cases of fraud with EU funds as “cases of particular public interest” (CPPI) and orders preliminary review or institutes pre-trial proceedings in most of the cases uncovered by the media. However, in the 3 years period covered by the study there are very few media publications about court trials for fraud with EU that were brought to an end.
Only five news items about convicted persons were found, the five of them related to cases of no significant media interest: each of these cases has been covered in just one news item. At the same time investigations and pre-trial proceedings, which have been instituted based on media reporting for fraud with EU funds, have not been followed by a clear institutional response: it is not possible to find out whether the pre-trial proceedings have been brought to an end and what was established as a result.
The study shows that the “cases of particular public interest” according to the Prosecution’s office definition, the range of irregularities and fraud with EU funds that have attracted media attention and the pre-trial proceedings about which the Prosecutor’s Office actively publishes information do not coincide. The concept of “cases of particular public interest” is not adequately reflecting the dynamics in the law enforcement effectiveness in countering fraud with EU funds and therefore should be either abandoned or reconsidered, the study concludes.
This study has been carried out under the project titled “Analysis of the Media Coverage of the Cases for Embezzlement of EU Funds” financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the period September 2019 – April 2020.