Defamation remains a criminal offence in Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian Criminal Code foresees the following offences:
Insult (Art. 146): Consisting of saying or doing something degrading to the honour and dignity of another in that person’s presence. The penalty is a fine of 1,000 to 3,000 levs . The penalty for insult committed publicly or via printed matter (Art. 148(1)) is increased to a fine of 3,000 to 10,000 levs.
Slander (Art. 147): Making public a disgraceful fact about someone or ascribing to someone a crime. The penalty is a fine of 3,000 to 7,000 levs. The penalty for insult committed publicly or via printed matter (Art. 148(1)) is increased to a fine of 5,000 to 15,000 levs
In several defamation cases involving journalists, Bulgarian courts have applied Art. 78a of the Criminal Code, which, under certain conditions, allows for the substitution of criminal fines with an administrative fine between 1,000 and 5,000 levs. Art. 78a also allows courts to deprive a defendant of the right to practice a particular profession.
Criminal Defamation of Public Officials
According to Art. 148 of the Bulgarian Criminal Code, when insult or slander is directed at a public official during or in connection with the fulfilment of his/her duties or function, the penalty for insult is increased to a fine of 3,000 to 10,000 levs and the punishment for slander is increased to a fine of 5,000 to 15,000 levs. Public censure may also be ordered.
The same article also increases punishment to the same degree, including possible censure, when insult or slander was committed by a public official during or in connection with the fulfilment of his/her duties or function.
Criminal Defamation of the Head of State
Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols
Defaming the coat of arms, the flag or the anthem of the Republic of Bulgaria is an offence under Art. 108(2). The penalty is up to two years in prison or a fine of up to 3,000 levs. Liability also applies to defamation of the flag or anthem of the European Union.
Criminal Defamation of Foreign Heads of State
Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols
Criminal Defamation of the Deceased
Art. 161 of the Bulgarian Criminal Code provides that charges related to defamation – i.e., charges under Arts. 146 to 148a – are to be instituted on the basis of complaint by the victim. Art. 84 requires that such complaints be lodged within six months after the date when the offended party becomes aware of the alleged crime. If the offended party dies within that period, family members may lodge the complaint on that person’s behalf, but only until that six-month window closes.
According to official figures from Bulgaria’s National Statistics Institute, there were 26 criminal convictions for insult and libel in 2014 (publicly available statistics amalgamate insult and libel into a single figure). For 2015, there were 20 convictions .
Criminal Law and Media
In a key judgment dated 26 May 2000 (реш. № 111 от 26 май 2000 г. по н. д. № 23/2000 г., ВКС, II н. о.), the Supreme Court of Cassation ruled that journalists who verified their information in accordance with established journalistic rules and practices, or according to their media outlet’s internal code of conduct, could not be held criminally or civilly liable for defamation. The Court stated that, in such cases, the journalist could not be considered to have acted with intent or negligently.
According to previous studies , the Court stated that in civil cases the usual tort rule that guilt is presumed until proven otherwise could not apply for defamation. The Court also excluded the application of strict liability in defamation cases.
Finally, it confirmed that the limits of acceptable criticism were wider for public officials than for private individuals.
It is also noted that in 1998 the Bulgarian Constitutional Court (реш. № 20 от 14 юли 1998 г. по к. д. № 16 от 1998 г., обн., ДВ, бр. 83 от 21 юли 1998 г.) upheld the constitutionality of Criminal Code Art. 148’s increased punishments for defamation committed against a public official in virtue of his or her function. The Court reportedly stated that “the criminal provision protects not only the individual but also the prestige of the relevant institution ”.
In 1997, the Court of Cassation (Five Member Body Decision No. 340 in civil case no. 178/1997 upheld a lower court ruling that found the editor of a newspaper guilty under Art. 49 of the LOC because of the actions of his journalists, who had damaged MM’s reputation and dignity in their publications. The court of second instance upheld the decision and confirmed that the publications in question harmed MM’s dignity and reputation by spreading negative comments about her professional activity, as she worked as a journalist on the Bulgarian national TV station, and about her moral qualities. The Court of Cassation found that the editor failed to prove that the statements were true, so the appeal was rejected and the decision of the court in the second instance awarding non-pecuniary damages was upheld.
In June 2012, a Bulgarian court found Asya Pencheva, a journalist working for the newspaper Utro, guilty of defaming an employee of a local orphanage, Tsenka Blagoeva. The charges were related to an interview Pencheva published in which an orphanage employee alleged that orphans had been abused at the institution and in which Blagoeva’s name was mentioned. Blagoeva sued for libel, claiming 3,000 levs in damages. The Ruse Regional Court ordered Pencheva to pay a fine of 5,000 levs and awarded 1,000 levs in damages to Blagoeva. The Regional Court also ordered Pencheva to be censured on a local radio station. Pencheva appealed the verdict to the Ruse District Court, which in October 2012 revoked the lower court’s ruling and ordered a new trial, reportedly due to “flawed application of the law.” The Ruse Regional Court then threw out the case against Pencheva, determining the charges to have been filed past the statute of limitations .
In May 2002, a Bulgarian court found Katya Kasabova, a journalist working for the newspaper Compass, guilty of defaming four officials connected to the Ministry of Education in an article she had written alleging corruption in the admissions process to elite secondary schools in the Burgas area. The paper published a reply from the officials concerned, claiming that Kasabova’s allegations were untrue, and Kasabova issued her own response apologising for any information that might turn out to be false. The Burgas District Court absolved Kasabova of criminal liability, but ordered her to pay an administrative fine of 2800 levs, plus 1,000 levs in damages to each of the plaintiffs (each one had sought 5,000 levs) and 512 levs in legal costs. The District Court determined that Kasabova had failed to provide evidence that the allegations were true and that she had not properly fulfilled her journalistic duty in researching the veracity of the allegations. In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights overturned the judgment in Kasabova v. Bulgaria (2011) . While the Court found that the Bulgarian courts’ judgment that Kasabova had not fulfilled her journalistic duty was reasonable under the circumstances, it held that the total financial penalty imposed (7,472 levs) was disproportionate, given that it was more than 35 times Kasabova’s monthly salary.
Bulgaria does not have a specific civil defamation law.. Civil liability under the Bulgarian legal system finds its legal basis in different normative acts. The (LOC) regulates tort liability generally: according to Art. 45, every person must redress the damage he caused by fault.
Also applicable are certain provisions of the , which sets out the liability and rights of audio-visual media services and radio services. Additionally, Art. 17 of the Radio and Television Act prescribes that media service providers shall be held liable for the content of media services
There are no caps on non-pecuniary damages for defamation in Bulgarian law.
The Law of Obligations and Contracts Art. 52 provides that compensation for a personal tort shall be determined ex aequo et bono (i.e., at the court’s discretion based on principles of fairness). Art. 53 states if the damage is caused by several persons, they shall be liable jointly and severally.
There are no specific defences for defamation in the Law of Obligations and Contracts.
However, it is worth mentioning the following sections of the Radio and Television Act:
Art. 16, par. 1 states that media service providers may not create or distribute any content that has information about the private life of individuals without their consent, but in the same article it is stated that media service providers may broadcast information about the private life of citizens exercising powers of state bodies, or of citizens whose decisions have influence on the public, if that information is in the public interest.
Under the Radio and Television Act, it is also stated that “any opinion may be freely expressed in media services” (Art. 11). In Art. 17, par. 6, it states that news consisting of facts shall be differentiated from any comments on such news. Under Art. 17(4), media service providers are not to be held liable for information that has been (i) received through official channels, (ii) quotes official documents or (iii) accurately reproduces public statements.
Recent Legal Changes
No relevant known changes.
Notes and Acknowledgements
Information for Bulgaria was originally collected by IPI as part of the “Out of Balance” report, published in January 2015 with support from the European Commission and incorporating research contributed by Center for Media, Data and Society at Central European University in Budapest and by the SHARE Foundation in Belgrade. This entry was later expanded and updated by IPI as part of a study commissioned by the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Last update: March 2017.
The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at info(at)ipi.media.