24 November 2004


Romanian journalist charged, BBC reporter under investigation for using concealed camera

Incident details

George Buhnici, Justin Rowlatt



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(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has deplored the threat to investigative journalism posed by Bulgarian authorities' decision to charge Romanian television journalist George Buhnici with "using a concealed camera without permission" and to investigate BBC reporter Justin Rowlatt for the same offence, as well as "inciting corruption".

The decision to press charges against Buhnici, who works for the privately-owned Romanian television station Pro TV, was taken by the prosecutor's office in the northern city of Ruse on 22 November 2004. He faces up to three years in prison. The Sofia prosecutor's office opened a preliminary investigation against Rowlatt on 19 November.

"Article 339 (a) of Bulgaria's Criminal Code, declaring use of a concealed camera to be [an] act of espionage, is absurd and archaic and imposes a disproportionately severe sanction on what is standard practice among investigative journalists," RSF said.

The organisation said it was also "unacceptable" to accuse journalists of inciting corruption when they work undercover to obtain information of public interest.

"These obstacles to investigative journalism are likely to harm Bulgaria's image at a time when negotiations to join the European Union are under way," RSF warned.

In a BBC television programme called "Buying the Games", Rowlatt used a hidden camera and passed himself off as a businessman ready to bribe Ivan Slavkov, a Bulgarian member of the International Olympic Committee, in return for support for London's bid to host the 2012 games. Slavkov took a great interest in Rowlatt's offers.

According to Pro TV, Buhnici used a concealed camera to film cigarette trafficking in a duty-free shop on the border between Romania and Bulgaria. He was arrested by Bulgarian authorities on 16 November and released on bail three days later. Bulgarian customs officials seized the camera and film.

Announcing on 22 November that charges were to be pressed against Buhnici, Ruse regional prosecutor Ognyan Basarboliev said no further details would be given about the case until it came to trial. Buhnici is to remain in Bulgaria until the trial is over.


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