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Portugal: Digital TV Controversy

The process of implementing Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) in Portugal, which has replaced the traditional television transmission signal since April 2012, has brought the population countless problems and has, in many cases, deprived it of access to the four general free-to-air channels.

A PhD thesis on the process of implementing DTT, presented on 30 October, 2012, at the University of Minho, indicated that the National Communications Authority ANACOM favoured private company Portugal Telecom (PT) in the DTT tender and did not take action in some cases which exploited the population.

Screenshot da página TDT da Portugal Telecom.

Screenshot of Portugal Telecom's DTT page: “From now on, if you don't have DTT, you don't watch TV”.

Thesis researcher and author Sergio Denicoli, former journalist at Rede Globo, published a short article on his blog Televisão Digital em Portugal (Digital Television in Portugal) which summarises [Pt] his research work:

Analisei detalhadamente mais de 70 documentos, li centenas de livros e artigos científicos, entrevistei especialistas e, por fim, pude constatar que a TDT portuguesa parece ter sido influenciada pelo que os teóricos chamam de “captura regulatória”. Ou seja, há indícios de que a ANACOM, órgão regulador das comunicações, teria trabalhado de forma a favorecer a Portugal Telecom, que foi muito beneficiada com a implementação do sistema televisivo digital.

I analysed more than 70 documents in detail, read hundreds of books and scientific articles, interviewed specialists and, finally, I found that Portuguese DTT seems to have been influenced by what academics call “regulatory capture”. In other words, there is evidence that ANACOM, the communications regulatory body, worked in such a way as to favour Portugal Telecom, which benefited greatly from implementing the digital broadcasting system.

In the same article, Sergio Denicoli asserted that:

É preciso passar Portugal a limpo. O país merece ter à frente das suas instituições pessoas íntegras que trabalhem em favor da população e não o contrário.

Acredito que cumpri o meu papel enquanto cidadão, aliás, enquanto ser humano. Não podemos ficar calados quando estamos do lado da verdade e vemos pessoas simples, humildes, idosos, enfim, pessoas que necessitam da nossa atenção, serem usadas como meios de garantir lucro para grupos poderosos.

Portugal needs to be cleaned up. The country deserves to have institutions headed by people with integrity who work to benefit the population rather than undermine it.

I think I have fulfilled my role as a citizen, indeed, as a human being. We cannot remain silent when we are faced with the truth and see people who are simple, humble, elderly, in short, people who need our attention, being used as a means to guarantee profit for powerful groups.

Image shared on the Facebook page Eu apoio Sergio Denicoli contra o lobbie PT/Anacom (I support Sergio Denicoli against the PT/Anacom lobby): "500 on one page, millions in Portugal, supporting Sergio Denicoli against the PT/Anacom lobby".

Image shared on the Facebook page Eu apoio Sergio Denicoli contra o lobbie PT/Anacom (I support Sergio Denicoli against the PT/Anacom lobby): “500 on one page, millions in Portugal, supporting Sergio Denicoli against the PT/Anacom lobby”.

In response, PT and ANACOM announced [Pt] that they will take the researcher to court for defamation. The news has generated a wave of indignation among those who have come together in the creation of the Facebook page [Pt] supporting Sergio Denicoli.

The University of Minho, the institution where the thesis was defended, has disassociated itself from the investigation, claiming that work is the exclusive responsibility of researchers. The news, reported by the newspaper Público, has generated a second surge of indignation and led to a group of researchers creating a petition for freedom of academic research, which already has more than 7,500 signatories [Pt - all links]. Above all, the signatories advocate no limitations on academic research.

Os abaixo-assinados entendem ser seu dever afirmar que seria da maior gravidade que os académicos fossem condicionados ou amordaçados na sua liberdade de investigação, como se tivessem de ser avaliados por critérios outros que não os científicos.

The undersigned consider it their duty to state that it would be of the utmost seriousness if academics were limited or threatened in their freedom of research, as if they had to be evaluated by criteria other than that which is scientific.

The thesis defended by Sergio Denicoli has come to strengthen the population's indignation and outrage at the process of implementing DTT in Portugal which, in contrast to what has happened in other countries, has not demonstrated the claimed benefits [Pt], especially with respect to improving image and sound quality. To receive the new digital signal, viewers who did not previously have TVs equipped with a digital decoder have been obliged to buy a decoder to be able to receive it. The same four free-to-air channels have remained, but in many cases with worse reception than when the signal was analogue.

Televisão abandonada. Foto de Therealdigitalkiwi no Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Abandoned TV. Photo from Therealdigitalkiwi on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A good example of DTT's poor operation in some parts of the country is ironically shared [Pt] on the blog Aventar:

Há dias estive pelo Baixo Mondego onde vi in loco a nova televisão digital. Uma miséria. Com a TDT, todos nas aldeias para os lados do Pranto se queixam do mesmo: a imagem fica parada aos quadradinhos. Ainda bem que com a TDT, como diziam na publicidade, o som e a imagem ficam com maior qualidade. E posso confirmar. De cada vez que esses quadrados aparecem, posso comprovar que têm as arestas perfeitamente definidas. E a falta de som decorre maravilhosamente ausente de interferências. Viva o progresso.

A few days ago I was in Baixo Mondego where I saw the new digital television broadcast in loco. Woeful. With DTT, all the villagers near the Pranto River complain about the same thing: the image breaks up into little squares. Just as well that with DTT, as they said in the advertising, the sound and image are higher quality. And I can confirm this. Each time these squares appear, I can vouch that they have perfectly defined edges. And the lack of sound is wonderfully free of interference. Hooray for progress.

In an article [Pt, pdf] published on 5 November, 2012, in a free newspaper, Luis António Santos, a university lecturer, presented the case of an elderly lady who, plainly and simply, did not have television:

Na pequena localidade onde costumo passar parte dos meus tempos de descanso, numa zona interior do distrito de Braga, há uma senhora de idade que, nos últimos meses, adotou uma nova rotina de vida. Depois de jantar, todas as noites, a Srª Augusta, lá arruma a cozinha, veste um agasalho, fecha a porta e percorre a pé umas quantas dezenas de metros a caminho da casa da vizinha para ver televisão.

In the small town where I usually spend some of my free time in the Braga district countryside, there is an elderly lady who, over the past few months, has adopted a new routine. Every night after dinner, Mrs Augusta tidies the kitchen, puts on a coat, closes the door and walks a few dozen metres on the way to her neighbour's house to watch TV.

As early as May 2012, an article [Pt] on the blog TDT em Portugal warned about situations of exclusion and inconsistency in the process of implementing DTT:

A forma como a Televisão Digital Terrestre foi introduzida em Portugal não permitia esperar outro resultado. Os cidadãos em geral e as populações mais desfavorecidas em particular foram altamente lesados com a migração para a TDT. O processo de migração português foi concebido e implementado com quase total desrespeito pelos cidadãos, ignorando por completo as experiências de outros países, as recomendações de especialistas e as graves dificuldades económicas da maioria da população.

The way that Digital Terrestrial Television was introduced in Portugal did not allow any other outcome to be hoped for. Citizens in general, and the most disadvantaged populations in particular, have been seriously aggrieved by the move to DTT. The change-over process in Portugal was designed and implemented with almost total disrespect for the citizens, completely ignoring experiences from other countries, specialists’ recommendations and the serious economic difficulties faced by most of the population.

In June 2012, a public radio programme [Pt] reported a number of serious cases where people were advised by PT to buy a decoder that did not work and ended up buying a satellite reception set.

Thanks to the controversy generated by Sergio Denicoli's PhD thesis, the population seems to be more mindful of the whole process of implementing DTT and is united in pursuing and demanding improvements to a service which it would like to see free and universal.

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