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Portugal: Media Sector Struggling in Hard Times

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

On October 18, 2012, workers at the Portuguese news agency Lusa began a four-day strike against the 30% cuts foreseen in the State Budget for 2013. Their action stopped the news distribution service of the agency.

The second day of strikes, October 19, started with a protest near the side door of the parliament with a subsequent shift to the headquarters of the newspaper Público - also striking that day – joining a protest called by a group of former employees and readers of the newspaper.

In Porto, a debate was held to address the situation of the media, organized jointly by Lusa and Público, in the auditorium of the Creative Industries Cluster at the University of Porto.

The protests began with concentrations in the main cities of Portugal; in Lisbon, near the Presidency of the Council of Ministers; in Porto, at the door of the delegation with the presence of the President of the Journalist's Union, Alfredo Maia; and in Coimbra, near the old building of the delegation.

"Destroying Lusa is to attack democracy". Photo shared on the Facebook page Lusa - Serviço Público

“Destroying Lusa is to attack democracy”. Photo shared on the Facebook page Lusa – Serviço Público

The interruption of Lusa's services hindered the work of other Portuguese media, which were forced to resort to the Internet and official sources to get information. Lusa distributes roughly 12,000 news pieces and 30,000 pictures a month.

In a Facebook page [pt] recently created by the workers of the agency, a statement in which workers lament the inconvenience caused by the strike and call for understanding, can be read:

Os Trabalhadores da Agência Lusa lamentam os incómodos que esta greve possa causar aos restantes órgãos de comunicação social, clientes da Agência, mas apelam à sua compreensão e solidariedade e, sobretudo, à cobertura noticiosa destas acções de luta.

The Workers of Lusa regret the inconvenience this strike may cause to other media and costumers of the agency, but call for their understanding and solidarity and, above all, the news coverage of these fighting actions.

"Don't let them block Lusa". Image shared on the Facebook page "Lusa - Serviço Público" created by the workers of Lusa.

“Don't let them block Lusa”. Image shared on the Facebook page “Lusa – Serviço Público” created by the workers of Lusa.

The strike lasted until Sunday, October 21, and was marked by several awareness campaigns conducted by picket lines, amongst other media and costumers of Lusa agency services.

A press conference was scheduled for October 22, at the bureau of the Journalist's Union in Lisbon, with worker's representatives, to make an assessment of the strike and to announce new actions.

Over the past few days, an online public petition In Defense of Lusa News Agency [pt] appeared on the Internet. The petition has already gathered more than 4 thousand subscribers who oppose to the budget cut, claiming that this cut “will severely compromise the functioning and editorial quality of Lusa, and the size of the national and international network”.

Apart from Lusa, the workers of the newspaper Público, a quality daily newspaper, are also on strike against the collective dismissal of 48 workers, announced on October 10.

Publico newspaper. Photo by Amendoas on Flickr (BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Publico newspaper. Photo by Amendoas on Flickr (BY-NC-SA 2.0)

One of the sacked employees, Manuel Jorge Marmelo, a journalist with Público since its inception and also a writer, described [pt] the day he found out he would be fired on his blog Teatro Anatómico:

Nas caixas do correio, quando hoje cheguei a casa, havia prospectos de uma coisa qualquer (não fixei o quê) com a imagem do Snoopy e a pergunta “já sorriu hoje?”. A mesma pergunta repetida não sei quantas vezes. Pensei que sim, que já tinha sorrido hoje, sorrisos amargos, sobretudo, mas que também tinha chorado com os que me são mais próximos, aflitos por me saberem desempregado. Estou desempregado. Ao fim de 23 anos de trabalho estou desempregado e não sei o que vou fazer amanhã. Como as más notícias correm depressa, amigos perguntaram-me, entretanto, se estou interessado em ser ghostwriter, o escritor-fantasma que trabalha por trás dos livros das celebridades. Os espanhóis chamam-lhes “negros”. É um bom resumo do meu dia.

In mailboxes, when I got home today, there was something (I did not notice what) with the image of Snoopy and the question “have you smiled today?”. The same question repeated I don't know how many times. I thought yes, that I had smiled today, bitter smiles, especially, but I also wept with those who are closest to me, afflicted by knowing that I am unemployed. After 23 years of work I'm unemployed and I do not know what I'll do tomorrow. As the bad news travels fast, friends asked me, however, if I am interested in being a ghostwriter, a ghostwriter who works behind the books of celebrities. The Spanish call them “negros”. It is a good summary of my day.

Filipa Melo, a former journalist with Público and promoter of the protest action that the workers of Lusa joined, wrote on the Facebook event [pt] page:

Ao que sabemos, ainda não foi formalizado o processo de despedimento ou rescisão amigável de nenhum dos 48 profissionais a quem a direcção editorial do Público comunicou na semana passada que viriam a ser dispensados. Por isso, a nossa expressão de solidariedade de amanhã assume uma força e uma importância que podem vir a ser decisivas neste processo. Da parte de alguns dos profissionais em vias de serem dispensados, fica aqui já expresso o agradecimento a todos os que nela participarem.

As we know, the process of dismissal or friendly rescission of none of the 48 professionals to whom the editorial direction Público announced last week that they would be dismissed, has not yet been formalized. Therefore, our expression of solidarity tomorrow takes a strength and importance that may be decisive in this process. From some of the professionals in the process of being dismissed, here's expressed our gratitude to all who took part.

In parallel, a public petition ‘In defense of maintaining the quality of the newspaper Público and the professionals that make it a quality newspaper‘ [pt] was launched and delivered on October 19 at the bureau of Sonae (the company that owns the newspaper), in Porto.

Similar to what is happening in other places of the world, after the announcement of dismissals within the Spanish newspaper El País, the end of the print edition of United States magazine Newsweek and the news, although denied, that the British newspaper The Guardian could be considering the end of the print edition of the newspaper, this is a dark month for journalism.

In an attempt to reverse this situation and to find a solution for journalism, a group of 80 Portuguese journalists and academics wrote an open letter titled ‘For Journalism, for democracy', reproduced [pt] on the blog Entre as Brumas da Memória:

A redução de efectivos, a precariedade profissional e o desinvestimento nas redacções podem parecer uma solução no curto prazo, mas não vão garantir a sobrevivência das empresas jornalísticas. Conduzem, pelo contrário, a uma perda de rigor, de qualidade e de fiabilidade, que terá como consequência, numa espiral recessiva de cidadania, a desinformação da sociedade, a falta de exigência cívica e um enfraquecimento da democracia.

The downsizing, the job insecurity and the disinvestment in professional newsrooms may seem like a solution in short term, but will not guarantee the survival of newspaper companies. It will lead, instead, to loss of accuracy, quality and reliability, which will result in a recessive spiral of citizenship, the disinformation of society, the lack of civic demand and a weakening of democracy.

This letter may be the starting point for a broader discussion about the role of journalism in democratic societies, in their various forms of organization, financing and distribution and not just an attempt to rescue some jobs.

This post is part of our special coverage Europe in Crisis.

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