PM addresses country about alleged plan to control press

Prime Minister José Sócrates made it clear to the media and the country last Thursday that the government had never tried to control the freedom of the press in Portugal.

Addressing journalists from São Bento, the Prime Minister’s official residence, José Sócrates also said that he intended to “continue in government”.

José Sócrates spoke of “three clear and easy-to-understand truths: firstly, neither I nor the government ever gave instructions to Portugal Telecom, or to any of its directors, to buy TVi or any other media company,” he said.

“Secondly, neither I nor the government ever had, has or will have a plan to control or condition media entities in Portugal. Any allusion to such a measure is entirely false, unfounded and frankly delusional,” he stated.

“Thirdly, we have in Portugal a free media, where the most different and diverse opinions are expressed on a daily basis,” he said.

The statements, televised on all national news channels except SIC, were made on the same day that the Portuguese Attorney General, State Procurator Fernando José Pinto Monteiro stated that after investigating the contents of dozens of recorded telephone conversations, he could find “no evidence of a political attempt by the government or government figures to control the media or subvert the State of Law in Portugal.”

The recorded calls revealed “proceedings between economic and financial agents that may be linked to business leaders and journalists in ways that were not very transparent” but did not “show up eventual political responsibility”.

However, Marques Vidal, the Procurator for Aveiro, saw things differently. “It appears from the conversations intercepted that there are strong indications of the existence of a plan which directly involves the government to interfere with the media,” he said.

“The seriousness of this illicit act consists of carrying out a governmental plan to control the media, by limiting freedom of expression and information with the aim of influencing the opinions of the electorate by using a network of large companies and the banking system.”

In a parliamentary commission set up to examine the allegations, the director of business newspaper Diário Económico, António Costa, said he was “convinced that José Sócrates had been aware of PT projects to buy up TVi before the proposed business deal had become public knowledge.”

Former Secretary of State, media lecturer and PS party member Alberto Arons de Carvalho said that the TVi and Sol newspaper allegations against the Prime Minister were “disgusting” and that Portugal “ranked in the top countries in the world when it came to press freedoms”.

But the outgoing leader of the opposition PSD party, Manuela Ferreira Leite, said in her last major political interview in last week’s Grande Entrevista on RTP that while nothing had proved that the Prime Minister had done anything “criminal”, he had acted in a “politically inappropriate way” and had been “lying”.

By Chris Graeme