Prime Minister accused of attacks on press freedom

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Prime Minister José Sócrates came under renewed attack last week over allegations that his government has been trying to gag the freedom of the press in Portugal.

The accusation forms part of a wider raft of criticisms into what has been called the Prime Minister’s authoritarian style of leadership in recent months and includes an assault on a State of Law, trying to control the media, using money from public companies to finance ruling PS party interests and trying to restrict the role and actions of the President of the Republic, Cavaco Silva.

Dubbed ‘The Hidden Face Scandal’ (Face Oculta), after it was alleged by a former Presidential aide that President Cavaco Silva’s office and telephone calls were being “bugged” by the secret services at the behest of the Prime Minister, the latest allegations now centre round a conspiracy to silence the President who is said to be extremely critical of José Sócrates’ style of government.

Over the weekend, it was reported in Portuguese national daily newspaper Correio da Manhã that illegal phone tapping had revealed that José Sócrates and Armando Vara, a leading BCP banking consultant, had cooked up a plan to force legislative elections in 2011 and use money from public companies to finance the election campaign and control the media.

According to various media sources, based on information gathered from Public Ministry State Procurator magistrates from telephone calls between the Prime Minister and Armando Vara, José Sócrates is allegedly involved in a “conspiracy at the highest level” and an “extreme complicity in political objectives” to “create the conditions to return to government with an absolute majority” by “encouraging political crises that would favour (the present) government”.

The phone call recordings, which have been transcribed and examined by a judge, show that the Prime Minister “insulted the President various times” while the leader of the PSD opposition, Manuela Ferreira Leite, was subjected to insults of “a sexist nature”.

One of the media targets is private television station TVI, which has been consistently critical of the government’s style and performance, while it has been alleged that its former evening news anchor, Manuela Moura Guedes, was forced out, under political pressure, from her post last year.

In June last year, a respected judicial expert signed a document in which he stated that he had “no doubts that the business negotiation process for the purchase of TVI by (part state-owned) Portugal Telecom revealed a serious attack on the principal elements that should govern democratic states”.

Another media target is the political analyst and commentator Mário Crespo, who together with the outspoken economist Medina Carreira, have been particularly critical of government policies such as expensive public works projects like the TGV high-speed rail link.

At a private lunch in Lisbon’s Hotel Tivoli, the Prime Minister is supposed to have told rival television station SIC’s Director Nuno Santos and presenter Bárbara Guimarães that Mário Crespo was “a problem to sort out” while Medina Carreira should be “locked up in a mental asylum”.

Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]