RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service journalist Polina Paunova, together with two other respected Bulgarian journalists, has received the Human of the Year Grand Prix award given by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, an independent non-governmental organization for the protection of human rights. The award recognizes exemplary work in the defense of human rights. The journalists received their honors on World Human Rights Day on December 10, 2019.
Paunova was also awarded the grand prize in the annual Valya Krushkina Journalism for People competition. The awards were created after the untimely demise of Bulgarian National Television reporter Valya Krushkina to distinguish Bulgarian journalists who demonstrate the highest ethical standards and active citizenship.
“It is symbolic that this year the Helsinki Committee jury has decided to treat the right to information as a human right. This is a signal to society in Bulgaria where media freedom is in decline,” said RFE/RL Bulgarian Service Director Ivan Bedrov in a comment about Paunova’s award. “The Valya Krushkina Journalism for People competition is the most respected one among journalists in Bulgaria, and again, the jury has decided that our investigative work deserves the Grand Prix.”
Both awards cited Paunova’s work in the Bulgarian Service’s series of reports known as “Apartmentgate,” an investigation of numerous public officials and political figures who obtained apartments at dubiously low prices in Bulgaria. The investigation led to the resignation of GERB Deputy Chairman Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva, and other representatives of the Bulgarian legislative and executive branches.
RFE/RL relaunched its Bulgarian Service in January 2019 in response to declining media freedom and independence inside the country. Operating out of Sofia, the Service is entirely digital, providing balanced and objective news reporting via its website and Facebook page. In its first year, its website garnered more than 8.4 million page views and its Facebook videos received 14.7 million views. RFE/RL’s original Bulgarian Service operated throughout the Cold War, and was closed in 2004.