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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty returns to Bulgaria, Romania

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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty returns to Bulgaria, Romania

US-owned and operated Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty plans to relaunch its Bulgarian and Romanian news services by the end of the year as to "strengthen the media landscape" and "debunk false news" in both countries that are members of the European Union and NATO.

Having helped topple communism by breaking the information monopoly of totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe, RFE/RL closed its services in Bulgaria in 2004 and Romania in 2008, after the two countries joined the EU and NATO.

RFE/RL decided to relaunch broadcasts after "government officials, civil society representatives and journalists in both countries... expressed concern that disinformation, corruption, and social division are undermining their political systems," according to a statement posted on its website.

According to the latest World Press Freedom Index compiled by journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Bulgaria has by far the worst record on the issue in the EU, coming 111th out of 180 countries worldwide.

A recent report by RSF into challenges facing investigative journalists in Bulgaria said they were "exposed to many forms of pressure and intimidation", adding that they had to contend with "oligarchs exercising a media monopoly and authorities suspected of corruption or organized crime links".

In the case of Romania, ranking 44th on its press freedom index, RSF has warned of "excessive politicisation of the media" and "corrupt financing mechanisms".

It says a bill proposed by ruling party strongman Liviu Dragnea, which would penalize denigration of Romania abroad and reintroduce defamation into the criminal code, has fuelled concern about political censorship of the media.

"We hope in particular that our coverage, carried out by local journalists, will help the growth of a free press, promote democratic values and institutions, and inform discussion in both countries of their place in NATO, the EU and other Western organizations," RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said in the statement.

RFE/RL plans to provide its multi-media reporting and analysis in Bulgarian and Romanian from December 2018, "to amplify existing projects that promote public accountability and debunk false news. RFE/RL has bureaus in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia as well as a Romanian-language service for Moldova.

RFE/RL reaches 23 countries in 26 languages and cooperates with official US international broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) which targets more than 236 million people a week in over 45 languages.

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