Bulgaria: Decisions in Nepal earthquake and ‘Paparazzi’ TV show privacy cases

Rayna Nikolova

In July 2015, the Ethics Commission of Journalism Ethics (the Commission) had to decide upon complaints regarding the infringement of the right to privacy in two separate cases.

One complaint had been filed because of the broadcast of a report in the evening news of the TV channel BTV of 26 April 2015. The report informed viewers in detail about the earthquake in Nepal and the fate of several Bulgarian climbers who were in Nepal at the time of the earthquake. The journalists were able to get in contact with one of the Bulgarian climbers via the social network Facebook. The report showed a minimised and blurred version of the mountaineer’s profile picture which was covered by the inscription "IN THE QUAKE'S EPICENTRE. Our 12 climbers in the area are well". The report showed parts of personal messages from her conversation with the journalist on Facebook as well.

After the broadcast of the report, the mountaineer in question claimed that the publication of her picture and of parts of the messages was an infringement of her right to privacy. In her complaint she stated that her family recognised her in the news report which led to further strong concern and fear by her family.

The Commission found the complaint to be unfounded, because the media used the masculine form of the word "climber" in the explanation of the story which illustrated the establishment of a communication with the Bulgarian climbers in Nepal. The identification of her person could not be proven. The picture in question was minimised and blurred, and was largely covered by the aforementioned inscription. The emphasis was put on the content of the messages she exchanged with the journalist. The text of the messages was enlarged, and did not contain names or other personal data and could belong to anyone who owns a modern mobile device, and a Facebook account.

In a second case, the Commission found two violations of the Code of Ethics in the broadcast of an episode of the TV show "Paparazzi" of the TV channel BTV. The TV show is an entertainment programme which usually focuses on popular performers, athletes and other celebrities. In some cases, the celebrities participate voluntarily in the live broadcast or the recordings, while others are being filmed without their knowledge by employees of the programme who track and record the relevant parties.

In the broadcast in question, which aired on 21 June 2015, about six minutes were devoted to the family of two former Members of Parliament and ministers. The couple had actively expressed their opposition towards interfering with their personal life in the media. Therefore, the footage was taken without their consent. The 6 minutes of the TV show "Paparazzi" devoted to the family of the former Members of Parliament informed as much on their private life, as it informed on their reaction to the shooting of the video, describing the reaction as an unfounded request for censorship.
The Commission found that the report violated the Code of Ethics which allows secret filming only in cases were no other way exists to provide vital information to the public. Another violation of the Code of Ethics lies in the shooting of the footage as such, since it caused an unreasonable and disproportionate interference with private lives— tracking (by car) and covert filming in the absence of public interest — including the fact that the programme does not contribute to significant societal debates.

The Decisions of the Ethics Commission are available in Bulgarian language at

Rayna Nikolova, New Bulgarian University