Portugal: State Radio Silenced after Angola Opinion Piece

[All links lead to Portuguese language pages, except when otherwise noted.]

A week after the broadcast of an opinion piece by the journalist and renowned writer Pedro Rosa Mendes, on public radio Antena 1, the RDP (Portuguese Radio Broadcast) [en] announced the end of the show “Este Tempo” (This Time). The piece in question criticized the “coarse exercise of propaganda and mystification” which was broadcast live from Angola in a public TV (RTP) show with the participation of several politicians, governors and business men, including Minister Miguel Relvas.

A new report published on January 24, points to the reason for the end of the program according to Rosa Mendes, “the administration didn't like the last piece about RTP and Angola”. In the blogosphere and on social networks it did not take long for reactions to the “axing of freedom of expression in Portugal”.

Journalist Helena Ferro de Gouveia, on her blog Domadora de Camaleões, sums up the content of the piece:

Informação livre. Foto de stencil em Lisboa por Graffiti Land no Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Free information. Photo of a stencil in Lisbon by Graffiti Land on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

um retrato em que ninguém fica bem ao espelho, nem a elite portuguesa, nem os engravatados angolanos – incomodaram o “baton da ditadura” e alguns serviçais lusos que vendem princípios a preço de saldo. (…)

A verdade sobre a “oleocracia” angolana, país onde a cornucópia da riqueza é restrita a alguns e mais de metade da população vive na mais abjecta pobreza, é uma fronteira que não se atravessa.

A portrait in which nobody looks too good in the mirror, neither the Portuguese elite nor the suit-and-tie wearing Angolans – [the show] disturbed the “lipstick of the dictatorship” as well as some servile Portuguese who sell their principles for the price of their salary.

The truth about the Angolan “petroligarchy”, in a country where the cornucopia of riches is restricted to some and more than half of the population lives in the most abject poverty, is a line which one simply does not cross.

Mozambican blog Ma-schamba describes the episode as a “detailing of the cue-taking by Portuguese power from Angolan capital”. Angola is better known in Portugal as a destination for those who cannot find jobs in face of the economic crisis, than for the political, economical and social ins and outs pointed out by Rosa Mendes. Moreover, in December 2011, the Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho recommended the unemployed to migrate to Angola (among other Portuguese speaking destinations).

A week before the news, the politician and scholar José Pacheco Pereira revealed his worries with “the progressive control over the Portuguese media by Angolan economic groups who, wherever they touch and enter, end the possibility of saying what was said before.” Even before the announcement on the radio program was made, on his blog Abrupto, he wondered “what is the ‘Information’ of RTP for?”:

o que leva a RTP em aperto financeiro a enviar uma equipa à cidade mais cara do mundo, gastar tempo de satélite, deslocar pessoas e bens para acabar por fazer um pífio exercício de propaganda centrado nos estereótipos sobre a relação entre Portugal e Angola, bem longe de qualquer realidade? O que leva a tão deprimente e caro exercício de banalidade absoluta, a não ser dar tempo de antena a um ministro, por singular coincidência o mesmo que tutela a RTP, acolitado pelos mesmos de sempre (…)?

What leads RTP, in tight financial times, to send a team to the most expensive city in the world, spend satellite time, move people and goods to end up undertaking an insignificant exercise of propaganda centered around the stereotypes of the relation between Portugal and Angola, far from any kind of reality? What leads to this ever-so depressing and expensive exercise in absolute banality, if not to give broadcast time to a minister, who by unique coincidence is the same one who takes care of RTP, followed faithfully by the usual suspects (…)?

More questions about the current state of public broadcasting services were also raised by Raquel Freire, another journalist from “Este Tempo”, who stated in her farewell piece (transcribed on Facebook):

Numa democracia o serviço público serve para ser a voz das pessoas. Numa ditadura serve para ser a voz do dono, ou seja do governo. Na nossa situação actual, temos um governo que nos manda a nós portugueses emigrar, e ataca os nossos direitos fundamentais. Por isso, a rádio pública ser a voz do governo, não é sequer ser a voz daqueles senhores que alguns de nós elegeram, porque este governo é a voz da chaceler alemã, é a voz dos banqueiros alemães.

In a democracy the public broadcasters serve to give voice to the people. In a dictatorship they serve to give voice to the owner, in other words the government. In our current situation, we have a government that tells us Portuguese to emigrate, and attacks our fundamental rights. For this reason, if the public radio is the voice of the government, then it is not even the voice of those gentlemen who some of us elected, because this government is the voice of the German chancellor, it is the voice of German bankers.
Jornalistas de "Este Tempo": António Granado, Gonçalo Cadilhe, Raquel Freire, Rita Matos e Pedro Rosa Mendes. Cartaz de Art.21º partilhado no Facebook juntamente com transcrição da Constituição da República Portuguesa sobre a Liberdade de Informação e Expressão.

"Censored" journalists from "Este Tempo": António Granado, Gonçalo Cadilhe, Raquel Freire, Rita Matos and Pedro Rosa Mendes. Poster by Art.21º shared on Facebook together with the transcription of the Portuguese Constitution on Freedom of Information and Expression.

The news came out one day before the publication of Reporters Without Borders’ ranking [en] on international press freedom, 2011-2012. Portugal is in the 33th place, 7 places higher than in the last report published by the end of 2010.

While analyzing the report, journalist and researcher on Angolan issues, Orlando Castro, said on his blog Alto Hama in an ironic tone “this year Portugal and Angola will climb up a few more places, thanks to – especially but not only – the RTP show made in Luanda and RDP's decision to cut off those who don't want to be the voice of the owner”, and added:

Creio que o relatório não refere mas, quanto a mim, tudo se deve ao contributo decisivo dado pelo ministro Miguel Relvas e, é claro, a Fernando Lima, consultor político do Presidente da República de Portugal, e seu ex-assessor de imprensa, para quem “uma informação não domesticada constitui uma ameaça com a qual nem sempre se sabe lidar” [Nota GV: declarações noticiadas a 4 de Janeiro].

I believe that the report does not refer to it, but in my opinion, everything is owed to the decisive contribution of Miguel Relvas, and of course, Fernando Lima, public consultant to the Presidency of the Republic of Portugal, his ex-press secretary, for whom “untamed information constitutes a threat which one does not always know how to deal with” [GV notes: this quote was reported on January 4].

“The truth is a poison”, said Rosa Mendes in his last piece, broadcast on January 25. The journalist closed with harsh critiques of an “a  society asphyxiated by the values of silence, cowardice and fawning” after 40 years of democracy in Portugal:

Podemos sempre pensar que apenas em cenários limite – genocídio, a guerra, extermínio – acontecem escolhas-limite; e que é a violência absoluta ou é a humilhação ou o sofrimento absoluto que impõem a revolta, o inconformismo, a coragem; ou não. Tenho para mim que as escolhas-limite se fazem todos os dias, no nosso quotidiano; e duvido muito que quem vive de espinha dobrada em tempo de paz , em tempo feliz (como é já nos esquecemos o tempo democrático) seja capaz de endireitar a espinha em tempos difíceis.

We can always think that only in extreme scenarios – genocide, the war, eradication – do extreme choices take place; and that it is absolute violence or humiliation or absolute suffering that force revolt, non-conformity, courage; or not. I myself believe that extreme choices are made everyday, in our daily lives; and I truly doubt that the ones who live with a crooked spine in times of peace, in happy times (as it is, we have forgotten democratic times) are able to straighten the spine in hard times.

The Regulatory Authority for the Media (ERC) is already investigating the case, concerning the possible “violation of rights, liberties and warranties  in media activities”.


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