journalist protesting
Image: Miguel A. Lopes/ Lusa

Three national newspapers absent from newsstands 

Global Media Group woes interpreted as  “clear sign of instability” of democracy in Portugal

Three of Portugal’s leading national newspapers – Jornal de Notícias and Diário de Notícias and sports daily O Jogo – did not hit the newsstands today, following a 24-hour strike on Wednesday by employees of Global Media Group (GMG) over unpaid salaries and the threat of collective redundancies.

TSF radio, meanwhile – another GMG outlet – has been broadcasting again since midnight last night, after a day with its microphones switched off.

Global Media employees went on strike to demand payment of their December wages and Christmas bonuses, and after GMG’s executive board, led by CEO José Paulo Fafe, announced that it would urgently negotiate terminations with between 150 and 200 workers and go ahead with a restructuring that officials said is necessary to avoid “the more than foreseeable bankruptcy of the group.”

The strike was called by the Union of Journalists (SJ), the Union of Workers in the Manufacturing, Energy and Environmental Industries of the North (SITE-Norte) and the Union of Telecommunications and Audiovisual Communication Workers (STT) – covering all workers, regardless of their position.

In a statement yesterday, Amnesty International’s Portugal branch argued that the fragility of these media outlets in the country is a “clear sign of the instability” of democracy, expressing concern about the situation at GMG.

“The fragility of the press in Portugal is a clear sign of the instability to which democracy in the country is subject,” the statement reads. “The challenges that the press has been facing for years in Portugal, especially in terms of financial sustainability, are as great as their importance for democracy.”

What is behind GMG’s troubles?

This is the big question: principal players are blaming politics, even suggesting President Marcelo has “fomented intrigue” that has resulted in today’s parlous situation.

Essentially, the group purchased by Bahamas-based World Opportunity Fund in September last year, ran into trouble only a couple of months later when the government announced it had decided NOT to buy 47% of the shares held by the group in State news agency Lusa, due to a “lack of broad political consensus”.

According to GMG’s board, this “inexplicable” last-minute cancellation plunged the group into financial trouble, obliging it to “alter all financial planning programmed to the end of the year”, and leaving workers waiting for salaries.

Now, the bottom line is that up to 200 employees will have to go to wrestle the group back from bankruptcy.

Amnesty International Portugal’s concern is that the “events of the last month” are “opaque”, and there is a distinct “lack of clarity about who is behind the fund that acquired and controls the Global Media Group”. The overall lack of transparency in the group’s accounts and financial situation is also “making it impossible to understand the true scale of the financial problem and the justification for the lack of compliance with financial obligations (…)

Amnesty International Portugal also refers to what it perceives as “increased risks of (the press) being instrumentalised by interests that may be contrary to the important mission of the media”. ND

Source material: LUSA/ Correio da Manhã/ Expresso/ Amnesty International Portugal