The long-running Operation Marquês investigation – which sees former prime minister José Sócrates suspected of all kinds of corruption – moved into new territory on Thursday as the public ministry (MP) announced it will be putting 13 journalists and directors from three media organisations on trial for violation of Portugal’s “secrecy of justice” ruling.
The news comes as lawyers representing Sócrates have accused the MP of “corporate protection” of the media men and women, writes Público.
It has long been suspected that stories appearing in the press about Marquês since Sócrates was arrested at Lisbon airport in November 2014 have been leaked by the MP.
In the main, the most ‘scurrilous’ in terms of the degree to which they flout(ed) Portugal’s judicial secrecy law forbidding publication of information on open investigations have been national tabloid Correio da Manhã, Sol and Sábado – all owned by the Cofina group.
It is these three that now see their reporters and directors under fire, although the communiqué issued by the MP “does not reveal who the accused journalists are”, explains Diário de Notícias.
Looking at the situation from afar, the Washington Post adds that: “Under Portuguese law, a magistrate will review the public prosecutor’s evidence and decide if a trial should be held.
“The suspects (…) can argue against a trial”, it stresses – which is almost certainly what will happen.
Writing in CM today, Tânia Laranjo – one of the journalists involved – maintains that the accusation “ignores the understanding that has already been expressed in various dispatches by the MP that public interest overrules the secrecy of Justice, and that the right to inform is a superior right that underpins democratic regimes”.
Laranjo adds that the European Court of Human Rights has already “condemned the Portuguese state for limiting journalists’ right to inform, when it is in the public interest”.
Thus what happens next remains to be seen, but it certainly does not look like the newspapers are running scared.
Sócrates’ meantime, as well as all the other Operation Marquês defendants, have yet to be charged with any of the crimes for which they are said to be under suspicion.