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Population: 6.9 million
Internet penetration: 70%
14th June 2023

The election of the centrist pro-Western government of Kiril Petkov’s ‘We continue the Change’ party in November 2021 had seemed to herald a definitive end to the often corrupt 12-year rule of authoritarian Boyko Borisov. But the Ukraine war has polarised politics between pro-Western and pro-Russian groups.

Petkov’s government collapsed after less than eight months and was succeeded by multiple caretaker governments. In the 2 April elections – the fifth in two years – Borisov’s centre-right party emerged ahead of the pro-Western coalition and he may be set to return to power.  Bulgaria has been an EU member for over 15 years but remains among the poorest and most corrupt countries in the Union and the Ukraine war has exacerbated the sometimes ambivalent relations between the two.

As the EU became more hostile to Russia and vocal in its support for Ukraine, pro-Russian elements in Bulgaria voiced their concerns. The Ukraine war and successive election campaigns have also fuelled internal divisions. Young and urban Bulgarians have reaffirmed their pro-Western stance and demanded increased Bulgarian support for Ukraine. Meanwhile, pro-Russian sentiment among largely elderly and rural Bulgarians has deepened. 

Economically, Bulgaria is unusual in the EU in having benefited from the war – with 3% growth in 2022. Growth has largely been driven by massive arms sales for Ukraine – but initially this was not officially acknowledged – and the weapons and Soviet-era ammunition were sold via intermediaries in Poland and Romania rather than being sent direct to Ukraine.1

Economic growth has not addressed the long-standing fragility of the media sector, now made worse by increased paper costs. Over the past year, a couple of smaller newspapers have closed, unable to adapt to digital. Most domestic media feel the need to stay close to power. The public broadcasters BNR and BNT had long been accustomed to doing so. Commercial firms often want to secure state-supported advertising. The two leading offline brands, NovaTV and BTV, are foreign owned by United Group and Central European Media Enterprises (CME) respectively. Nova has benefited from the greater editorial independence made possible by foreign ownership while BTV prioritises maintaining good relations with whichever government is in power. RSF reports that investigative journalists are regularly victims of abusive legal procedures, and corporate pressures persist. A recent court case brought by a major insurance company against the site claimed record damages for an article criticising its business practices.  The €510,000 sought – more than double the firm’s annual revenue –is likely to deter others from similar investigations.

Most media outlets have adopted largely pro-EU and pro-Western positions in the past year. But polls suggest that public opinion is quite balanced. Whereas an autumn 2022 Eurobarometer poll found that 74% of all EU citizens approved of EU support for Ukraine, in Bulgaria the figure was only 48%, placing the country equal lowest with Greece. Opinion on Bulgaria joining the euro seems quite volatile. In April 2021 Eurobarometer recorded 54% in favour and 44% against but this had switched to 44% in favour and 54% against by April 2022. A more recent November 2022 poll on the issue2 for the Ministry of Finance showed Bulgarians polarised, with support from 33% of the population (compared with two-thirds of businesses) and opposed by 50%, but the policy is supported by most media and will be accompanied by a €5m government advertising campaign.

Bulgarians seem reluctant to pay for online news. But there are plenty of other digital innovations. Legacy media have recognised the interest from viewers and advertisers in user-generated content created by YouTubers, podcasters, and TikTokers and several newspapers, news sites, and radio stations are playing catch-up, launching their own virtual studios. The most significant digital moves are from TV stations. BTV launched podcasts hosted by its most popular journalists together with a business news platform. Nova is developing its own platform Vbox7 – a Bulgarian alternative to YouTube – providing a platform and tools for multiple individual creators and then selling advertisements against the content and traffic they generate.

Direct messaging social media networks such as Viber and Telegram have been growing in popularity, in part because they facilitate avoiding legal restrictions or Facebook’s community standards. For example, while it is illegal in Bulgaria to publish exit poll results on election day, communicating them via direct messaging is allowed. But many have also voiced concerns about the role of social media – as the preferred Russian medium for influence – in the spread of disinformation in Bulgaria.3

Stefan Antonov
Business Journalist and former Reuters Institute Journalist Fellow 

Methodology change

We introduced education quotas for the first time in Bulgaria as part of our efforts to make data as representative as possible of national populations. As a result, 2023 data will be more accurate but not always directly comparable with previous years.

Pay for online news



Trust in news overall


(=) 41/46

Trust in news I use


Overall trust in news is low, with Bulgaria now equal 41st out of 46 markets. TV and radio brands – including both the public service and top two commercial stations – are the most trusted. Euronews Bulgaria TV was surveyed for the first time this year and its high-quality journalism and brand value may explain its relatively high trust rating (50%).

RSF World Press Freedom Index


Score 62.98

Measure of press freedom from NGO Reporters Without Borders based on expert assessment. More at

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