Bulgaria’s Central Election Commission (CEC) is expected to face a challenge in the Supreme Administrative Court over its controversial decision to allow state-subidised advertising in the November referendum and presidential elections only to television and radio stations and newspapers with “national coverage” but not to regional media or online news websites. The decision has been slammed by the Union of Publishers in Bulgaria and the association of regional publishers has signalled that it will ask the Supreme Administrative Court to overturn the decision by the CEC. Bulgaria’s Electoral Code says that a newly-registered entity, such as an initiative committee, or one that does not already get a state subsidy, is entitled to a subsidy of 40 000 leva (about 20 480 euro) to place advertising to put their position in a referendum or promote their presidential candidate. Parties, coalitions or committees conclude contracts with a media outlet, and the payment for the advertising is made directly by the CEC.
During Bulgaria’s autumn 2015 campaign ahead of the national referendum on electronic voting, it was alleged that the system was abused by committees directing their adspend to websites that were obscure, but closely linked to individuals on the committees. The allegation was that this was an abuse of the system, to drain state funds.
The CEC’s decision, co-ordinated with Bulgaria’s Finance Ministry, was to limit the awarding of advertising contracts only to national television and radio stations and newspapers with national circulation.
The CEC previously had been reported as saying that there was no way for it to monitor advertising in publications to establish whether the budget was being abused.