Written by Peter Volgin; Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
I very well understand that the title of this text has a wishful character. For many years, not only in private but also in public media what dominates, is the point of view of market fundamentalism. Bulgarian National Television (enormously) and Bulgarian National Radio (less, but also to a significant degree) have long been transformed into places where neoliberalism feels just as good as Hillary Clinton does in the company of the big bosses of Wall Street. With few exceptions, workers at these national broadcasters – starting from the general director, through established journalists and ending with those that just graduated from journalistic universities, have been subjected to deliberate brainwashing. participated and continues to participate in numerous seminars at home and abroad, read through and continues to absorb a huge amount of “papers”, that imply a single postulate – the state is something very terrible and it destroys everything it touches.
According to neo-liberal dogmatists, the state puts the brakes on any fresh idea and destroys in the bud, brilliant and selfless private companies as well as honest entrepreneurs. As we learn from neoliberal fundamentalists, if a society wants to prosper, its citizens have to rely primarily on market forces and to be terrified by any amount of statehood in the same way as any average liberal is terrified of everything connected with Russia. That may sound absurd, but most Bulgarian media people trust this implicitly. Therefore, at the broadcasts of BNT and BNR constantly present are the “experts” from the Center for Market Economics, Center for Liberal Strategies and all sorts of other known and unknown NGOs that have spread the above nonsense for more than two decades. Transnational elites have long understood that if they want to rule the minds of the masses, they must first get to the so called “opinion makers” – intellectuals, writers, journalists, academics. They will do the rest. They will make you believe that the only thing that matters are the highly egoistic desires of the individual, and even the slightest mention of things like common action, solidarity, collective struggle, leads directly to a totalitarian regime and the gulag. The transformation of media content into a commodity is a risk and has invaded not only private but public media.
We recently held a selection of new CEM (Council for Electronic Media) members. During the hearings, a candidate who was subsequently selected to be a member, quite ingenuously said that the budget of State radio and television should be determined by the ratings. That is, you have high ratings – the state gives you more money. You have low ratings – the state cuts your budget. If this principle is actually implemented, it would mean an end to the public mission of BNT and BNR. The ratings of their transmission, are of course important. But no less important is the content. A show dedicated to the music of Igor Stravinsky, will probably not have a particularly high rating, but a public service broadcaster is required to have such broadcasts. Something important must be mentioned. This type of programs dedicated to musicians, writers, scientists, may be presented in an attractive way. Nowhere is it postulated that these programs have to be boring and drive away the audience. In fact, this is one of the main tasks of public media – to create content that is both informational and able to educate an audience, and at the same time not put them to sleep.
Of course, to live up to their mission, those working in both of the public media must first get rid of the neoliberal clichés which have cradled them for many years. How can this happen? First, it is imperative to be able to think. Yes, this is not the strongest part of Bulgarian journalists, both in private and in public media, but they can at least try. Reading helps a lot for the development of independent thinking. It is preferable to read serious books, not things chewed and regurgitated for morons like “The Road to Serfdom”. Second, it be good if journalists left the narrow circle of “experts” from the various liberal centers and institutes that everyone is sick of. Yes, these so-called experts never refuse an invitation to a television or radio part, and are always willing to write an article. They are trained for it – not only to respond to calls, but also to participate in media as much as possible, because this is the only way to perfectly polish the minds of a vast number of people.
It would be nice if journalists, especially those in the public media, started to look for other types of guests, beyond the easiest interlocutors. I mean people whose consciousness is not totally damaged by mantras that praise the market and revile the state. Yes, its difficult to find such interlocutors. They do not live in televisions, and are more difficult to detect than the liberal talking heads. It requires effort to find such people. The third thing colleagues in the public media must do, is to rethink the overall vision of what a well-functioning society looks like. For starters they should try to forget everything taught to them at seminars of “Open Society”, “America for Bulgaria”, “Konrad Adenauer” or “Hanns Seidel”. Question for a moment the dogma that selfishness of individuals is making everyone else happy, and that if a few people try to do something together for the common good, it will immediately lead to a dictatorship. It would also be good if my colleagues don’t accept as a sacred truth, the elementary Manichaeism according to which “light and peace come from Washington and Brussels, and darkness and horror from Moscow”. Maybe this seems like an unattainable super task. As if hoping to hear a Rosen Plevneliev speech devoted to foreign policy, where he doesn’t attack Russia. Or like expecting the “prominent Bulgarian patron” Sasho Donchev, issue not only the works of Ayn Rand, but also the works of Karl Marx, or at least of Toni Negri.
Quite often when watching and listening to broadcasts of BNT and BNR, I get the impression that the purpose of my colleagues is to appeal primarily to that part of society that reads newspaper like “Capital” and “Mediapool”. Of course, the views of these people must be reflected in programs of public media. The problem is that mostly those views are represented. They can be characterized as right-wing, liberal, even libertarian, and necessarily Russophobic. Other ideas rarely find a place in the programs of BNT and BNR. Let’s not forget that not only right-wing people pay the taxes through which both media are supported. Those on the left also do. And therefore they have every right to listen and watch broadcasts in which their ideas are also addressed. Moreover, all the surveys, whatever criticisms we have of them, suggest that Bulgaria is mostly populated by people with left-wing views and those who have a positive view of Russia. Wouldn’t it be right that namely the positions of the majority of the population is reflected in public media? It would be right of course, but that does not depend on the people who watch and listen, but on those who make and manage these media.
The main problem with most colleagues in the public media, is that they think of themselves less as a part of society and more as a part of the elite. They want to sit alongside politicians, businessmen, and bosses of major NGOs. To be adopted in this club of”elites” they must represent its interests and not the interests of most Bulgarians. This brings us to the main division in today’s Bulgarian society – that between the elite and the rest of society. The impression is that although both are Bulgarian citizens, there is almost nothing in common between them. The thoughts, aspirations, concerns and joys of the elite are totally polar with those of other citizens. Even the language is different. “Elites” use Brussels’s newspeak that is totally unintelligible and uninteresting for the rest of the population. Equally uninteresting and incomprehensible to most Bulgarians are Euro-Atlantic topics that excite the elite. It would be normal if those working in the public media are on the side of ordinary people in this elite vs people battle. As most things in Bulgaria are not normal, most of the employees in public broadcasting prefer to identify with the elite. This aspiration is stupid for at least two reasons. First, working in public media is made possible with taxpayers money, not the money of any oligarch. Elementary decency requires us to be on the side of normal people, not the elite. And Secondly, the politicians and businessmen whose proximity some colleagues want so badly, will never accept journalists as equals. Yes, they will use them to push their ideas, but they will always consider them to be nothing more than a servicing staff. The more quickly they realize this, the better for them. Such awareness could be the first step towards the normalization of public service broadcasters and their conversion from mouthpieces of the elite, to a place where the main word belongs to the citizens.
(Report presented at the international conference “Alternatives for left policy”)