final do mestrado em comunicação social pelo Centre for
Mass Communications Research da University of Leicester,
Reino Unido, elaborada entre 1997-2000 sobre o tema «Liberdade de imprensa em Macau durante o período de transição
Freedom of the Portuguese
Press in Macau
during the transition period (1987-99)
by Clara Gomes
Submitted for the degree of MA (Mass Communications), CMCR,
After 450 years of Portuguese rule, Macau was handed
over to the People's Republic of China (PRC) on December 20, 1999. With
the unique statute of "Chinese territory under Portuguese administration"
since the Joint Declaration, signed in 1987, the city was always a sort
of colony with an unrepresentative system expressed in the Estatuto Orgânico
(a sort of Constitution) and liberally administered. Chinese pressures
were always felt throughout history and through the transition years,
Xinhua, The New China News Agency, functioning as a diplomatic representation,
was said to be a shadow government.
There are two 'presses' in Macau: one in Chinese language and another
of Portuguese expression. They have totally different characteristics
and very seldom the interests of their professionals touch.
The Chinese newspapers are controlled by the PRC in various degrees, be
it directly by companies owned by the government or by businessmen with
interests in China. Most newspapers feature daily columns that used to
criticize the Macau Portuguese government measures, usually in tune with
the Chinese side of the Joint Liaison Group or with certain business interests.
Portuguese newspapers were, and are, owned by the church, businessmen
and lawyers and the pressures resulting from ownership vary from paper
to paper. During the transition there were newspapers that were directly
connected with the government and others that could be considered opposition.
The government tried to exert pressure over the press through personnel
contacts, official advertising and by obstructing access to official sources.
The difference between Chinese and Portuguese press is also reflected
in the number of cases against journalists for accusations of abuse of
Press Freedom investigated by the Public Prosecutor's Office (PPO) of
Macau. During four years (1991-1995) 24 cases were against Portuguese
newspapers, only two against Chinese newspapers and one against a newspaper
from Hong Kong (Reis, 1998). This discrepancy between the number of cases
- many resulting from government officials judicial complaints - concerning
the two 'presses' is related to the fact that Portuguese newspapers had
more credibility (they were freer, in a Western way) and had influence
in Portugal, where the criticized officials political careers would continue,
after Macau's transition. This difference between the way the government
treated the two 'presses' also had to do with its caution to avoid creating
conflict with the Chinese population and, above all, conflict with the
PRC government for which most Chinese newspapers are but mouth pieces.
Studying freedom of the press in Macau is a task as much interesting as
difficult. The traditional friendship and balance in Luso-Chinese relations
was at stake when matters that had been on the agenda for years needed
to finally be solved. The latest political games showed a radicalization
of positions. The social unrest motivated by the rise in triad crime and
the Asian economic crisis, added to the picture. In this scenario, there
may have been a greater tendency of both government and private interests
to influence the press.
In terms of press laws, the existing legislation was, and is, scarce and
vague and was used very effectively against the Portuguese journalists,
together with a justice system that depended directly from the executive
political power, the governor.
As for the Portuguese press, it was taken for granted by the journalists
themselves that most newspapers would close before or soon after the handover.
A single newspaper was considered enough after the Portuguese political
interests in the territory ceased. A group close to the government even
formed the "only newspaper that will remain after the hand-over"
as the editor in chief of Jornal Tribuna de Macau, put it. An assumption
that irritated the competition. When the researcher wrote this lines,
in the end of 2000, there were still four Portuguese newspapers in Macau:
Clarim, Ponto Final, Macau Hoje and Jornal Tribuna de Macau.
From what was said before it is clear there are two different presses
in Macau. I focused on the Portuguese press since it would be very difficult
to undertake a thorough research concerning the Chinese press. The first
reason for this is that it would be quite difficult to find someone who
revealed who the real owners are. Second, the majority of the editors
and other staff does not speak other language than Cantonese, which would
have meant hiring a translator, for which the researcher did not have
the funds. Third, being freedom of speech such a delicate topic and knowing
the local mentality, most of the interviewees would not accept an interview.
Therefore, the aim of this project was to investigate only into the existing
press freedom and controls over the Portuguese newspapers during the late
transition period in Macau. However, because both 'presses' exist in the
same space and time and may influence each other in terms of news values
and ethics, I tried to find as much information about the Chinese press
as possible. This allowed me to make some comparisons that may shed light
into the main focus, the constraints on the Portuguese press.
In this study there are few references to the audiovisual media since
these are 50.5 % governmentally owned, which creates limits to their freedom.
Both the professionals and the public do not expect Teledifusão
de Macau (TDM) to air dissonant voices or to be a space for investigative
journalism. TV and radio were, however, used to establish some comparisons.
1: Defining press freedom
There is a large body of work on the concept of
press freedom as applied to Western societies (McQuail 1991; Demac and
Downing, 1995; Barendt, 1995). As for Macau, the concept is found in the
Press Ordinance (1990) and, vaguely, in some historical research of Manuel
Teixeira and in Rola da Silva (1991,1992). There is no academic research
into this topic in the territory, which may be explained by the fact all
academic institutions are governmentally owned. However, there is a course
thesis presented in Portugal by the correspondent of the local paper Ponto
Final. It was not published but I had access to it (Menezes, 1999).
Although there is almost no research in Macau, since the Hong Kong transition
to China created similar concerns in terms of freedom of the press, it
was useful to consult those studies. The press in the two territories
has quite different characteristics, but the analysis of the constraints
of the press in an Asian setting with a Western law (British law) shed
some light in understanding the constraints of a Western press under Portuguese
law in an Asian setting.
1.1. The concept
The concept of press freedom emanated from Europe,
where, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was already a public matter.
It was a distinct organising concern of the European and North American
worlds that did not develop from within any other civilisation (Keane,
1991, p.7). In these, printing was either banned (Ottoman Empire, Arabic
countries), apolitical and tightly censored by the state (Japan) or just
a tool to enhance the power of bureaucrats (China, where the first newssheets
in the world appeared in the early 18th century).
Revolutions, both in France and North America, but also in other countries
(e.g. Liberal Revolution in Portugal, in 1820) brought a climate of greater
political participation that was attained through the existing publications,
and so, in a complementary way, it brought a greater demand for press
freedom. From these times comes the close connection between politics
and the fights for democracy and press freedom.
The political ideals of the French Revolution influenced most European
countries, especially those that where invaded by Napoleon and, throughout
the 19th century, claims for press freedom spread in a context of demands
for wider liberties in general.
These demands came with the fact that only in that century publication
began to be a mass media and their power recognised by both political
leaders and the people in search for more democracy. Before that lay a
period in which the press was irregular, distributed in a small scale
and usually written by and to an elite. In Europe, the first flyers with
news appeared in Venice, and were sold by one gazeta (coin of that time
that gave name to the later newspapers). The first form of the modern
newspaper appeared in Germany in the beginning of the 17th century. In
1626 the first Portuguese gazette was formed and in 1631 the first French
one was published (Crato, 1992, p.32). The English 'currants' came only
later and were strongly controlled by the government. In the societies
that had a strong centralised government the non-controlled press appeared
quite slowly. It progressed faster in societies were the central authority
was weaker (De Fleur cited by Crato, 1992, p.30.)
In general the appearance of gazettes is related with the appearance of
a class well connected with power in those days: the bourgeoisie and its
capitalist ideals. Later, especially with the French revolution, the ideals
of democracy and, concomitantly, of public opinion and press freedom,
were developed. In Portugal, after the French invasions in between 1799
and 1816, 91 periodicals appeared. With the liberal revolutions and the
introduction of universal suffrage in 1820, circulation doubled and censorship
decreased and was even abolished by decree. It was also in those times
(1839) that the first workers' newspapers, carrying socialist ideas, were
born in that country (Crato, 1992, p.35)
In England, during the 19th century, the introduction of advertising seemed
to bring independence from the press in relation to the government and
parties. It would depend less on political subsidies and bribes and it
could spend more money on news gathering instead of relying mainly on
official sources. Nevertheless, the press did not become a fourth estate
of society. On the contrary: with the creation of parties in England there
was an inter-penetration between these and commercial journalism: proprietors
where often members of parliament and national newspapers where subsidised
by party loyalists (Curran and Seaton, 1995, p.12).
Instead of being a watchdog of government and politicians, the press became
inextricably tied to both. As Boyce pointed out, the credibility of the
press "lay in its apparent independence from the party machine, although
its natural position was that of being part of the political machine",
just like a politically committed and attached organ (Negrine, 1989, p.25).
Government control and censorship remained a constant in England on the
ground that freedom of the press was a threat to security and stability
of the state. A position that was contested by several theorist's since
Milton's Areopagitica (1644). Milton's view that the press should be free
from the state was based on the idea that censorship and control resulted
in the loss of Truth. To choose between truth and falsehood, individuals
had to have access to both (Negrine, 1989, p.24). He affirmed that the
virtues of individuals must be developed and tested by engaging contrary
opinions: "that which purifies us is trial and trial is by what is
contrary" (Keane, 1991, p.12).
Other writers expanded on these theories, creating an image of the press
as an educational medium, with the role of a watch dog and the power of
a fourth estate representing public opinion and defending the public interest.
Yet, there was a gap between the utopian ideals of freedom of the press
and a limited circulation, harassed and corrupt press. (Keane, 1991, p.35).
The standard interpretation of freedom of the press, harbours a nostalgia
for the early ideal of a modern public sphere as defined in Habermas'
Structurwandel der Offentlichkeit. The early defenders of the concept
assumed that political power is the main 'external' threat confronting
individuals who are otherwise naturally capable of expressing their opinions,
ignoring in this way the existence of self-censorship. (Keane, 1991 p.35-6).
Under pressures like stamp laws and press taxes, seizing and state censorship
it is understandable that "the freedom of speech or of the press"
(as stated in the USA's First Amendment) developed as a negative concept.
Its defenders fought for a press free of prior external restraint and
subject only to government enforced laws that ensured the same freedom
to all individuals.
To clarify, let's define first this negative concept and distinguish it
from a positive definition.
Negative conceptions of the right to freedom of expressions (or of the
press) prohibit state intervention/censorship in public communication
processes. All that this does, however, is ensure that public communication
is free from state interference. It does nothing to ensure that the existing
opportunities to communicate are then evenly available to all members
of that public (such as the 'public sphere' idea would require).
In contrast, a positive approach to freedom of expression like wise encapsulates
the idea of freedom from state censorship or public communication, but
also goes beyond this to include, as and where necessary, some form of
state (regulatory) activity that will create conditions in which the means
and opportunities for public communication are made more evenly available
to all members of the public.
Within the negative concept, the media are viewed as a passive or neutral
conduct of information failing to represent the ways in which they pre-structure
or bias the receptions of opinions by the individuals. Thus, this concept
failed to recognise that information is not an ideal Truth, but a series
of codes subject to interpretation by subjects that are themselves shaped
by this codes. This 'information flow' paradigm did not acknowledge that
media's story telling is shaped by institutional routines, technological
tricks, recipe knowledge and that individuals themselves, acting within
this context voluntarily restrict and confine their expressions (Keane,
1991, p. 37-8).
The early modern view of freedom of the press did not consider the censorship
that comes from within, neither that self-censorship is not a characteristic
of dictatorships but of any political system when our jobs, careers, security
or family are at stake we zip our lips.
Another critique to be made to modern negative theories of the press freedom
is the lack of consideration to the question of access. Habermas' theory
of the public sphere based on the Greek agora, where everyone could communicate
face to face and peacefully deliberate about matters of general concern,
Jacques Necker likening of opinion publique to a high law giving tribunal
or Thomas Paine's idea that licentiousness should be defined not by government
but by the public at large, forget that, at least, time, space, geography
and different levels of literacy do not allow an equal access to the mass
Therefore, only some have access to the media; which brings us to the
question of representativity. The early defenders of press freedom failed
to see that the media could never act as transmission belts of opinion
and that they, as intermediaries, would always be threatened by irresponsible
and unaccountable communication. The problem of how to render (non-elected)
media representatives accountable was ignored by those in favour of a
free press because they transferred the belief in a face to face communication
to a market based media model. In the days of small scale enterprise media
the decentralised market competition seemed the right antidote against
political despotism. They failed to see that communications markets do
not ensure universal access to the press. Otherwise, they restrict liberty
since there is a tension between the free choices of citizens expressed
in the public good, and the free choices of the private property investors
seeking to out compete the others in the production of a commodity called
The classical views about a free press based on a negative concept failed
to see that the 19th century struggles did not inaugurate a new era of
press freedom; rather they introduced a new system of press censorship
more effective than anything that existed before. "Market forces
succeeded where legal repression had failed in conscripting the press
to the social order" (Curran and Seaton, 1995, p.9).
An assertion that applies to nowadays press freedom. Or lack of it.
Press freedom nowadays:
conglomeration and self-censorship
The First Amendment of the USA, states that "congress
shall make no law ( ) abridging the freedom of speech or of the press".
This Amendment, of which Americans are so proud, is said to be a constitutional
guarantee for freedom of the press, allowing, through the free market,
"a formidable check on official power" (Barendt, 1993, p.6).
Yet, that seems to show too much credulity on a constitutional law that
is so vague, leaving freedom for the good intentions of politicians and
the forces of the market. And still, as Downing and Demac demonstrate,
it does not ensure protection from governments interference and censorship
(1995, p.112-27). Neither does it ensure the existence of a press free
from internal controls, self-censorship and promiscuity resulting from
a too close contact between journalists and politicians, as Herman showed
Not more than seven years after the publication of the Constitutional
Amendment (1791) the Congress passed a sedition act permitting prison
sentences and fines to anyone criticising the government. In this last
decades governments have used similar forms to control the media. Reagan
and Bush administrations gave authorisation for federal agencies, such
as the FBI and CIA, to classify information retroactively, violating the
spirit of the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, (1966) that allowed for
such checks on government as the Watergate scandal.
Leaving aside the negative concept of freedom of the press we can find
other constraints on the American media that limit actions and words of
the press agents and the form, focus and content of the news. Herman analysed
these constraints and defined them as the political economic filters of
mass media messages.
The size and ownership constitute the first filter. Basically this means
that since the 1980's there was a tendency for deregulation and media
concentration, with acquisitions by corporations with interests in other
fields. The media began to work as profit-making machines integrated in
market strategies and away from responsibility to the democratic process.
The pressures coming from concentration are a world wide reality nowadays.
The example of the battle between the British newspaper The Observer and
the multinational conglomerate Lohnro, illustrates this point. In 1984,
the chief executive of the corporation told the editor of the publication
not to run a story on atrocities committed by the Zimbabwe army, country
from which the company derived 15 million pounds in profits. The printing
of such article threatened to damage the already strained relationship
between Lohnro and the government of that country. The editor run the
story anyway but the corporation withdrew advertising from its own newspaper
and if it did not fire the editor was only because The Observer would
loose credibility and it would be bad publicity for the corporation. (Curran,
This is a story with a good ending since usually the results are not so
positive for the newspapers. However, it is also a story that illustrates
Herman's second filter: the advertising license to do business. Last century,
advertising seemed to be the insurance for newspapers independence and
so, to freedom. But is it nowadays?
In the USA newspapers derive 75% of their revenues from advertisers, magazines
50% and broadcasters 100%. In that country, advertisers, which often are
big corporations, usually select among specific media on the basis of
criteria that are politically and culturally conservative. On television
that is obvious: The Day After (1983), a TV fiction about the impact of
a nuclear war, had all the advertisers cancelling their options of spots
around the broadcasting time of the program. (Herman, 1995, p.84-5)
Herman analysed another filter: sourcing. In the American press, 60 percent
of the news result from public relations releases.
The mass media have an intimate relationship with the power structure,
both local and national and with business corporations and trade groups
because of cost factors and mutual interests. Their stories are usually
deemed newsworthy and they are considered to be credible sources, which
reduces investigative expense on the part of the media. Thus, government
and corporations shower the media with stories carrying their own perspectives.
They have a privileged access to the media and, through personal relationships,
threats and rewards, can coerce and influence journalists (Herman, 1995,
From the context of sourcing we can understand how the close relationship
between power, big business and the media influences the process of news
making and the mentality of the journalist. America Rodriguez analysed
the control mechanism of news making in Canada, the USA, Britain and Mexico,
coming to the conclusion that promiscuity with power and self-censorship
are the biggest threats to freedom of the press nowadays. As journalists
covering Washington socialise with their sources, the politicians, they
also tend to share their views. The same happens with journalists that
cover a certain beat, be it police or a political party. Thus, self-censorship
resulting from the newsmakers own comfort with the status quo, desire
of career advancement or just the wish to keep their jobs, is one of the
factors that contributes the most to keep journalists in line nowadays.
(Rodriguez, 1995,p.128 and p.146)
Government and business propaganda is another way to ensure the attention
of the media and a way to sell their perspectives. A government propaganda
system is far more credible and effective in putting over a patriotic
agenda than a censorship system would be. The US government is an expert
in this, but nowadays you find such technique in many other countries,
including European democracies (e.g. Britain during the attacks on Iraq
in December 1998).
passage on the history of press freedom in Macau
The modern press was introduced to China through
the Macau Jesuits in 1588.
It was destined to the printing of religious publications. However, the
first newspaper only saw the light of day on September 12, 1822 after
the Liberal Revolution in Portugal. The Abelha da China was the first
modern newspaper not only of Macau but of all the Far East. "Until
the beginning of the century, besides the Beijing Gazette there wasn't
another periodic publication in China. The newspaper, as an informative
and public opinion orientation medium, as we know it today, only appeared
in 1822", says the sinologist Ramon Lay Mazo (1990, p.39-40).
Abelha da China was founded by Liberals but when the Conservatives assumed
power again, a year later, it was closed and its editor, Friar António
São Gonçalo de Amarante had to leave Macau becoming the
first victim of repression and lack of press freedom in Macau (Pinto,
Dozens of newspapers appeared and disappeared throughout the 19th century,
usually with a short but polemic life and through their pages both liberals
and conservatives, monarchic and republicans, priests and anti-clerical
men fought for their ideas. Many ended by the wish of the governors of
Macau, others just by lack of stamina of their editors (Fernandes, 1999,
One of those newspapers, the Echo Macaense, was the first bilingual newspaper
of Macau. It was founded and edited by Francisco Hermenegildo Fernandes
on July 18,1893 . Its pages in the language of Confucius where used by
a friend of the editor, Sun Yat Sen, the man responsible for the creation
of the Chinese Republic, to criticise the archaic regime of the emperors.
Some months later with the separation of its newsrooms, the first Chinese
newspaper of Macau would be born, in line with its Portuguese version
(Pinto, 1993, p.12).
Many newspapers were published in Portuguese across the Far East. In his
work The Portuguese press in the Far East, Monsenhor Manuel Teixeira states
that there where 25 titles in Hong Kong , one in Canton, five in Shangai,
two in Singapore, one in Malaca, one in Japan and 14 in Hawai. In the
beginnings of Hong Kong, in the middle 19th century, the newspapers of
the British colony where printed in Macau. (quoted in Oriente Impresso,
1999, p. 5). During tougher censorship times, Hong Kong would be used
as the printing place for opposition newspapers that then would be sent
The first Macau daily, A Voz de Macau, headed by Domingos Rosa Duque,
began publication in 1931 and went on until the death of its founder.
It was the first newspaper with such continuity: it was only closed during
seven months, in 1945, because of three bombs the Japanese blasted at
the door of the daily (they never occupied Macau but had a strong presence
there) - a threat against the editorial line of A Voz.
Censorship was an institution as old as the press itself and it was accepted
by this. Newspapers would even publish the news of the appointment of
new officials of the Censorship Commission. According to Jack Braga in
his book "Primórdios da Imprensa em Macau", the territory
was only free from censorship between August 11, 1843, when it was abolished
by the government, and 1844, when it was reintroduced by the governor,
according to instructions from Portugal. It was abolished again for a
brief period of time after the implementation of the Republic in Portugal
in 1910. (Pinto 1993, p.10)
During some periods, censors did not have to act because there simply
weren't any newspapers in the territory.
One of the most well known acts of censorship in Macau was not related
to the press but to a book, "Historic Macau", by Montalto de
Jesus. In 1926 the governor ordered all the second edition copies to be
recalled and the police went to do it door by door. Many people refused
to give the books in and hid them. In those days China's nationalism was
becoming stronger and, because the book proposed the internationalisation
of Macau under the Society of Nations, it was considered a threat to the
sovereignty of Portugal by the local government. More than that, the book
had quite an independent and researched view of the history of Macau -
for instance of the way the British often betrayed the Portuguese in these
corner of the world - that was probably not welcomed by officials. It
was so undesirable that its Portuguese re-edition only saw the light in
1990 (Montalto de Jesus, 1990).
In terms of the press, the first victim of the Portuguese fascist regime
(1926-1974) in Macau was the newspaper O Petardo. When Tamagnini Barbosa,
the first governor of the dictatorship arrived in December 1926 there
was only one newspaper, tamed by the regime. So, as it had happened before,
an irreverent voice, O Petardo, appeared in Hong Kong. However, in February
1929, the head of Victoria Printing Press, which printed the biweekly,
informed the editor that "for secret motives" his company could
not go on printing the publication. Later, the house of the editor was
raided by the Hong Kong police, and documents from Macau where found,
giving rise to a series of persecutions there. The editor of another newspaper,
O Diário de Macau, that had been closed by the new governor and
had been involved in the creation of O Petardo, was taken by the police
during Christmas Eve and sent to exile in Timor (Pinto, 1993, p.14).
During most of the fascist decades censorship in Macau was guided by a
legal document of 1937, regulating freedom of the press in the colonies.
It stated that all publications should be subject to previous censorship
to avoid the perversion of public opinion in its function as a social
force and to defend it against all the factors that would confuse the
public in terms of the truth, justice, morals, good administration and
common good and to avoid the fundamental principles of society from being
It also forbade detailed narration of certain social and political crimes
like the ones committed by people under 18 years of age, abortion, homicide,
The governor had the power to suspend the publications if this rules were
In 1946 a new law made it even more difficult for the press: if a publication
crossed the line the government could nominate a representative to censor
within that journalistic enterprise - and, on top, this would have to
pay his salary (Pinto, 1993, p.10).
The blue pencil men (the colour used by the Censorship Commission to cut
the articles) were people without much education and they would cut anything,
what took the journalists to be very careful, so they would avoid having
to remake pages in the late hours of the night.
The Chinese press tried to denounce the cutting of certain articles by
leaving blank spaces in the pages, like some newspapers used to do in
Portugal. Yet, that practice was soon forbidden. However, after the "1,2,3"
in 1966 - a communist campaign in Macau during the Cultural Revolution
that almost overthrew the Portuguese government - the Chinese newspapers
stopped being censored although they would show the pages to the Censorship
Commission every day, as the law stipulated.
Since those days a differentiation was felt in the government's attitude
towards the Chinese and Portuguese press. While the first wasn't censored,
the second was. Leonel Borralho, the editor of Gazeta Macaense, was banned
for three days to the island of Taipa by governor Silvério Marques
because of an article criticising the government.
One week after the Revolution that brought down the fascist regime in
Portugal (25/4/74) censorship was officially abolished in Macau.
Still, it was precisely after the end of the kingdom of the blue pencil,
that censorship made one of its most notorious victims.
In August 1974 the Censorship Commission gave place to an ad-hoc commission
to control the press, radio, theatre and cinema which objective was to
care for the principles of the new order. The Notícias de Macau
was given a heavy fine by this commission for publishing an erroneous
information about the wife of the governor, putting an abrupt end to the
30 year old newspaper that had been facing a severe financial situation.
The days after the 25th of April or Carnation Revolution were of political
turmoil. The Macanese society was divided in two different groups: Centro
Democrático de Macau (CDM) and Associação para a
Defesa dos Interesses de Macau (ADIM). The first, close to the Portuguese
Socialist Party, was headed by Neto Valente and the second, dedicated
to right wing ideals, was headed by Carlos Assumpção. They
were both lawyers and both founded newspapers to spread their ideologies:
CDM opened Democracia em Marcha in November 1974 and ADIM began Confluência
in March 1975. Later both groups would give rise to professional projects,
respectively Tribuna de Macau and Jornal de Macau, both in October 1982.
Soon the two newspapers would stop being enemies to fight on the same
side against governor Almeida e Costa, maybe the most unpopular governor
with the press during this last decades.
The 1980's brought political controversies and scandal: governor Carlos
Melancia was dismissed after an accusation of corruption resulting from
an investigation of a newspaper from Portugal, O Independente. During
this decade there was also an economic surge and, with this, the professionalisation
of the existing newspapers, with the import of journalists from Portugal.
LUSA, de Portuguese news agency, opened a delegation in Macau (heavily
supported by the local government) and TDM-television began broadcasting
on May 1984.
In 1987, when the Joint Declaration between China and Portugal was signed,
marking the handover of Macau to December 1999, the transition period
began. By then, there were many Chinese newspapers, several Portuguese
ones, TDM comprising a radio and a television station with both Portuguese
and a Chinese channels and delegations of LUSA and the New China News
Note on Hong Kong
In Macau, although apparently there isn't as much
press freedom as in Hong Kong, fears of tougher control by the incoming
Special Administrative Region (SAR) government arose during the transition
period. "The status of freedom of expression is not ideal in Hong
Kong, but in Macau it may become even worst", wrote Man Kuo, colonist
of the Macau daily Si Man (30/8/98).
In Hong Kong, however, faith in media's future was placed in China's need
to set a good example if it is to bring in Taiwan later (Chan, Lee and
Lee, 1992). The same feeling existed in Macau: since the eyes of the world
were focused on the territory just recently, and Taiwan is on the horizon,
the PRC may just keep the same level of control it already has over the
Chinese press and avoid interfering with the Portuguese press. To aid
to the confidence of the journalists in Macau, Hong Kong is going through
a post hand-over period with apparently no big pressures from the government
on the press (although there may have been an increase in self-censorship
and the focus of editorial agendas moved from politics to economics and
Safeguards for media freedom may only be possible if people stand up for
it. This idea was examined in a preliminary survey looking at Hong Kong
audience's attitudes towards freedom of speech and control (Martin, Wilson
and Cheang, 1994). Its results show one in four did not believe journalists
should always be protected from the latter, even if they ranked freedom
highly. In Macau the results of a similar survey would probably show an
even more conformed public, as Catarina Mok and Albert Chu discovered
in a documentary on why Macau people don't express their opinions or fight
for their rights (1998).
Another study that sheds some light on the relationship between government
and newspapers and how that affects media freedom, is Lee and Chan's investigation
into Hong Kong government management of the news (1990). They found that
the government kept a liberal policy towards media due to its own close
and wide ranging control through the Government Information Service (GIS).
During the transition period the Gabinete de Comunição Social
de Macau (GCS) had the same task as the GIS. It supplied a large proportion
of news items - resulting from press releases from the government departments
- to the media and it had a sophisticated lobbying system to enlist journalists'
help with publicising policies and influence public opinion. However,
it did not interfere with editorial decision making, so media seemed to
be in control of themselves (we will analyse GCS's actions further on).
Many of the draconian Hong Kong colonial media laws, where brought to
the public's and researcher's attention during the run up to the hand-over
with the fear they might be resuscitated by the communists (Clarke and
Hamlett, 1996, Li, 1995, Moriarty, 1994). In Macau, the press law, inspired
in the Portuguese one, assures freedom and independence. However, newspapers
seldom invoked it and even when they did, the lack of independence of
the justice system did not allow for those guaranties to be put in practice.
The same may go on happening after the hand-over.
A comparison with the media system of Hong Kong would be of some interest
to a broader study that focused also on the Chinese media of Macau. After
all the Hong Kong Chinese newspapers and magazines sell more in the territory
than the local ones. But that would be a subject for a different research
The Portuguese press in Macau during the transition period
Table 1 - Portuguese Press in Macau, March 1998
NAME PERIODICITY OPENED CIRCULATION (1)
Jornal Tribuna de Macau daily 01-06-1998 1.300
Macau Hoje daily 02-07-1990 2.000
Futuro de Macau daily 08-01-1994 2.000
O Clarim weekly May 1948 1.500
Ponto Final weekly 30-09-1992 1.500
Revista Macau monthly 1988 5.000
(1) The information is from the media themselves. There is no organised
control (Menezes, 1999)
In the beginning of 1999 there were three Portuguese
dailies, seven Chinese dailies, two Portuguese weeklies, nine Chinese
weeklies; TDM comprising a TV channel in Portuguese, one in Chinese and
a radio station with two channels in both languages; Revista de Cultura,
publication dedicated to sinology, publishing academic studies edited
by the Cultural Institute of Macau; Revista Macau, with more generalist
topics about the territory and the Portuguese presence in Asia, a private
publication commissioned by the government; and a delegation of LUSA,
the Portuguese news agency, that since 1991 received 16 million patacas
(around 1.250 million pounds) per year from the government, that also
paid its rent, in exchange for a free service to all Macau media.
As we saw previously, after the economic boom of the middle eighties and
the attention of Portugal towards Macau - due to the polemic governance
of Almeida e Costa and the scandal surrounding governor Carlos Melancia
in 1990 - local Portuguese businessmen, lawyers and politicians, began
investing in the press. Thus, the creation of Portuguese publications
did not arise from the forces of the market but from other personal, economic
or political interests.
"Already included in the Guinness Book of Records as the most densely
populated territory of the world, Macau could also be included as the
city where the highest numbers of newspapers is published for the lowest
number of readers", wrote João Fernandes (1999, p.35)
In a population of around 450'000, there were never, at any given time,
more than 10'000 people speaking the language of Fernando Pessoa (Fernandes,
In 1993, when there was a rising number of civil servants arriving in
the territory, there were five dailies, four weeklies and three magazines
in Portuguese language for a universe of six thousand probable readers
(Gomes, Ponto Final, 22/10/93).
However their individual circulation numbers would never go beyond three
thousand copies (Macau Hoje 20/5/93).
According to the official statistics, no more than 2.8 percent of the
population spoke Portuguese in 1999. They were served by a TV channel,
a radio channel, five newspapers, two magazines and a delegation from
the news agency LUSA.
Gabinete de Comunicação Social (GCS), the government information
department, recognised - for its own sake - that "this singular multiplicity
that translates in one of the higher reading rates in Asia and the world,
signifies a big dynamism by the private entrepreneurs but also an open
policy for the support and stimulation of the media (by the government)"
(GCS, 1997, p.7).
Nevertheless, the director of GCS is known to have said to some journalists
that "the newspapers in Macau do not correspond to forms of public
opinion but to private interests without economical viability" (Menezes,
The same went for Chinese newspapers. Vitor Chan (the head of the Journalists
Club then and the GCS director after the handover) said that "there
are too many titles in the Portuguese and Chinese press for such a small
market. I think it would be better to invest on the quality not the quantity"
The circulation of the Portuguese media revealed the same artificial existence.
Even the two English language newspapers edited in Hong Kong, the South
China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Standard, had more readership in
Macau then the total of the Portuguese press: 20.000 newspapers arrived
from Hong Kong every day (Camões, 1997).
In fact, the real circulation numbers (see table) where never controlled
by the government information department and even the numbers their editors
revealed are known not to be exact - although advertising was never dependent
on circulation, they would never reveal they sold less than the competition.
Advertising came mostly from the government departments and judicial announcements
that, in most cases, would not cover the total expenses of publication.
There were few private Portuguese companies in Macau, and so, few advertised
in the press. The owners always had to support the part advertising did
not cover (see 2.4).
In 1999 the cost of a newspaper (in between dailies and weeklies) varied
between 200 and 300 thousand patacas (15'500 and 23'250 pounds) a month
depending on the number of journalists (Futuro de Macau,19/5/93). Newspaper
owners admitted a loss of between one to two million patacas (77'525 to
155'000 pounds) a year (Pinto, 1993).
The Portuguese newspaper had some specific characteristics: usually it
had a small newsroom with in between two to five journalists (expatriates,
earning more than their Chinese counterparts because of that factor);
a small number of pages, many of them dedicated to opinion and gossip
columns (often a row with other newspaper); most of its news came from
LUSA; it had reduced circulation and few advertisements (most coming from
official government departments); most of them were property of lawyers,
a class that enriched with the economic boom (most of their clients were
land buyers or speculators) and it had a readership that was comprised
of the administrative and political elite.
The content of Portuguese newspapers derived in great part from administration
services and officials, having the journalists and these a close interpersonal
contact. The Portuguese press had a tradition of critique towards the
political power although during most of the transition period some newspapers
would align with the government or a faction of it while others would
As for the Chinese press, it was close to Beijing and would seldom listen
to administration officials due to language barriers. In this last years
the Chinese opinion makers would criticise all the government policies
they did not understand and praise the approach of the handover that would
apparently solve everything.
The press laws
In legal terms there was- and there still is - freedom
of the press in the territory, as all the interviewees of this research
admitted. As in other aspects, Macau is press wise a non-regulated society
and anyone is allowed to create a newspaper as long as it complies with
the basic requirements established in the Press Ordinance which was published
It resembles the Portuguese one and assures freedom of the press, freedom
of access to sources of information and guarantees professional secrecy.
It defines that anyone aggrieved by a written text has the right to response,
denial, rectification or explanation in the same newspaper.
It also makes a reference to crimes of abuse of press freedom and remits
them to the common law (a similar law for broadcasting was published in
1989). It can be considered quite an advanced law for Asia (see Appendix).
Besides, Macau underwrote several United Nations Pacts connected with
Political and Civil Rights.
However, what the law previews does not correspond to the day-to-day reality
of the Macau mass media. Several of those Press Ordinance rights are not
in fact assured. In terms of access to information, as we will see in
more detail in 2.4, and according to our investigation, there was never
a single journalist using the Ordinance to demand this right.
The Press Ordinance previews the creation of a Press Council, that would
be important to enforce some of the proposals of the former, and in general
guarantee to both the citizens and the journalists that complaints would
be heard, as well as being a mediator in disputes. However, after a decade
of discussions, the Council has not come to existence. The Journalists
Club (which members are mainly Chinese, although there are some Portuguese)
opposed the composition of the Council in which a political elite, close
to power, would be over-represented (Chan, Futuro de Macau 9/8/96).
In its 1997 report about the territory, Amnesty International feared that
"freedom of expression could be at risk" since the governor
proposed "the Council should be presided by a judge and should include
three members of the Legislative Assembly, elected members, as well as
members designated by himself " (Menezes, Ponto Final, 10/1/97).
There should be exactly "two members designated by the governor"
and "three members of society, from the cultural or communications
fields, of recognised merit, elected by the other members" of the
Council, according to the last draft of the proposal, from 1996.
The Journalists Club elaborated a Code of Ethics and a Statute of the
Journalist and created a section inside the Club that receives complaints
from the public. They considered that the initiative for the formation
of a Council should come from the civil society not the government ( Mok,
The Press Council was never approved by Macau's Legislative Assembly.
Another law concerning the press that was quite polemic was one that,
in fact, should have been quite welcomed: a decree from 1987 that sets
a subsidy, for every newspaper, of 12 thousand patacas (930 pounds), for
production costs. However the two last Portuguese newspapers that demanded
the so called "paper subsidy" did not get it due to a very special
interpretation of the law by the government, that ended up in a complaint
to the ACCCIA - the high commissioner against corruption and administrative
illegal acts (see 2.5).
2.3. Propaganda and patriotic
GCS, the government information department, was
the public institution in charge of giving technical support and advice
to the government, for instance, when draft proposals concerning press
maters are being prepared (Decreto-Lei nº 20/88/M). It also has the
responsibility to give support to local and foreigner journalists in accessing
sources, for instance through daily faxing the translation of the Chinese
press or the articles published in Portugal about Macau to local Portuguese
This last attribution gave rise to complaints in the local press some
years ago. Local newspapers complained they were not receiving the clippings
that were critical to the Macau administration published in Portugal (Reis,
Afonso Camões, the director of GCS, explained that it was up to
the Missão de Macau (the representation of the local government
in Lisbon) to select that information and sent it to GCS, that would then
photocopy it and fax it to the local press, excluding his department from
responsibility (Camões, my interview).
Visits from foreigner journalists or journalists from Portugal were also
a sensitive topic. They were not given many chances to contact local press
people. For instances, in 1994, when a group of journalists from Porto
visited the territory, their schedule, organised by GCS, was so heavy
they did not have the time to meet with former colleagues working in Macau.
Also, the government information department did not allow free-lance journalists
to register: either they presented a letter from an editor confirming
they were journalists or correspondents of a specific publication or they
had no legal way of getting a press card to enabled them to work in Macau
Although it did not always give the best support to the media, GCS was
considered by the editors and journalists to exert direct censorship over
the newspapers ( according to my interviews). However, it incarnated the
official policy for the press.
Because there wasn't in the territory a competitive media market, the
role of government support was more important than in other places (e.g.
Hong Kong). Television and radio would not have been viable and LUSA -
which received 16 million patacas a year plus rent from the government
- would have had a much smaller delegation, without that support. This
allowed for government interference in the affairs of these media (see
examples in 2.5).
However, as the press was private, such control had to be exercised otherwise.
Thus, while the Press Ordinance and official discourse proclaimed the
importance of press freedom, the government practices were quite different
from those good intentions.
More than GCS, the governor himself was an example of the contradiction
between official statements and actions. " I want to affirm to you
my agreement and solidarity towards these values (the promotion of freedom
of the press through free access to information, of the free transmission
of news, the free publication of newspapers, the free expression and the
exchange of view points and information) and I can assure you that you
will find in Macau all the conditions for their fulfilment", said
the governor during a lunch with the press in 1996 (Menezes, 1999, p.153).
Good intentions contradicted by actions since the governor never gave
an interview to the local newspapers.
"An authority that for over six years refuses to give interviews
institutes an absolutely anti-democratic and authoritarian practice",
said Carlos Alberto Fernandes, vice-president of the Journalists International
Federation (quoted by Pinto, Ponto Final, 3/1/98).
It is true he gave some interviews to foreign and Portugal media, but
the journalists that made them had usually a more general and less focused
knowledge of the realities of the territory. " It would be unimaginable
for a public figure in any democratic country to refuse to expose himself
to the population's democratic scrutiny through the press. What happens
with the governor ( ) creates a serious threat to the democratic
scrutiny of the population of Macau" (ibidem).
Millions spent in propaganda
This lack of democracy openness was shown not only
in actions taken towards the press but in other areas of local politics.
However the image of Macau projected in the media of Portugal was quite
innocent and optimistic. The editors of these were directly contacted
by GCS or the governor's press adviser, jumping through the local correspondents.
These editors were also frequently invited by the government to come to
Macau to cover certain events (e.g.airport opening) or just for a visit
(in between some days and several months) with paid expenses (accommodation,
flights). This information the researcher knows from her own experience
as the correspondent, for over six years, of the Portuguese weekly magazine
The fact several correspondents themselves worked for the governmentally
owned TDM - radio and television stations, did not help. These would not
voice criticisms since they had their jobs at stake.
With all this constraints, few correspondents working for the local press
sent news to Portugal about the real Macau. The optimistic version was
sold to Portugal by the government's propaganda organ, GCS, sometimes
at a higher price than just a trip to the territory.
That is what happened when five special supplements about Macau (paid
for!) appeared in the higher circulation Portuguese weekly, Expresso,
after what the Legislative Assembly demanded to know the amount of the
investment. The figure that came out outraged public opinion: over six
million patacas (465'000 pounds). The articles in the supplements were
quite passive and only journalists working for governmentally controlled
institutions (e.g. TDM, GCS) were invited to write them.
The 'good Portuguese'
Those journalists were between what Salavessa da
Costa, the under-secretary for Tourism and Information considered 'good
Portuguese'. "More than journalists Macau needs patriots", heard
a journalist from him. In the same line Afonso Camões, head of
GCS, declared to the newspaper Comércio de Macau that "the
Portuguese journalists in Macau should not dissociate the fact that before
they are journalists they are Portuguese" (February 1992).
To Tribuna de Macau he said it in a different way: "more than journalists
we need militants of the national design" (Lopes, Tribuna de Macau,
This idea of a patriotic journalism that goes against the pure idea of
journalism itself (the truth has no nationality) was always present in
this last governor's administration.
Some journalists, like Rocha Dinis, editor in chief of Tribuna, admitted
the difficulties of being a journalist in Macau and the intermingling
of this condition with that of being a Portuguese citizen: "I assume
there are real constraints to the activity of a Portuguese journalist
( ). Each Portuguese in Macau is thus transformed in a kind of 'permanent
ambassador', a 'cultural agent' of the Portuguese existence in the world,
which may be a stimulating challenge but also a constraint since there
is a national dimension that contends with the pure journalistic reality"
Some journalists would succumb to the appeals of the government officials
about a patriotic necessity and submit their journalistic skills and ethics.
Specially those in the government media, like TV and radio, constantly
threatened and pressed from above.
However, others would not do so. During the transition period several
newspapers kept being critical. During Melancia's governance, Carmona
e Silva created three newspapers with the sole objective of attacking
the socialist governors. There were even two attempts against the editor's
life, which did not stop him (see 2.6).
Through out transition some journalist and newspapers, in between constraints
and appeals to their patriotism, kept a free speech. These motivated some
well talked about comments like the one an under-secretary made, referring
to reporters: "there are Portuguese that do not deserve to be in
Macau" (Menezes, 1999, p.143).
Some representatives of the power structures in the territory went even
further. It was the case of Farinha Ribeiras, president of the High Court
of Macau that, in 1995, after being the origin of several lawsuits against
the press, wrote a text called "The Press of Macau and the Courts"
which fell in hands of the press and was widely quoted. In it he wrote:
"Some of the Portuguese media in Macau, with its readers, seem to
be made of small ' associations of criminals' of bigger or smaller dimension,
depending on the universe of receivers of each newspaper and on the group
or economical lobby that supports them" (Reis, Gazeta Macaense, 10/7/95).
This comment was made despite most Portuguese newspapers identified with
the Portuguese administration. It was directed specially at one of them,
Gazeta Macaense, that the judge managed to sink, in co-ordination with
the governor, using the undemocratic legal system of Macau (see Libel
This patriotic feeling, used by power in its policy of media constraint
and castigation also had its reverse: close to the handover, in times
of much visibility of the territory, it was considered better to hide
confrontations between government and press. That is what took the last
under-secretary for Security, Manuel Monge, to withdraw a court complaint
against Macau Hoje. According to João Severino, editor of that
daily "In the final phase of the transition it would give a bad image
to have Portuguese against Portuguese" (my interview).
access and advertising
The fear of talking and limitations
This patriotic stance that distinguished the bad
from the good Portuguese served often to condemn all those that disagreed
with government policies. And I do not mean journalists only, but many
in the Portuguese community, especially civil servants. In their jobs
they felt pressures from above and some were even fired.
As the journalist Carlos Morais José put it: "The people in
the community themselves exert self-censorship since any criticism may
cost them their jobs" (my interview). He is one of those that know
what he is talking about: in 1992, when working for the Cultural Institute
he criticized the government's cultural policy in the pages of Ponto Final.
He was fired (Ponto Final, 22/05/92).
Like him, several other people that worked for the Rocha Vieira administration
and dared to criticize it, specially if they did it in the open or through
the press, suffered pressures and ended up not having their contracts
renewed (e.g. Isabel Morais, a teacher and representative of Amnisty International
and another teacher that wrote editorials for Comércio de Macau)
In 1994 a worker of the government Finance Department wrote a complain
letter to Ponto Final, were I worked at the time, denying what she had
told me on a telephone interview, conversation from which I had taken
very careful and complete notes. I ended up knowing from a source of that
department that her superior did not like her affirmations and she had
been 'scolded'. Putting the journalist's ethics in doubt was easier and
less dangerous than assuming her own words and loosing favor or even her
Other journalists in Macau had similar experiences.
In 1991, in the beginning of Rocha Vieira's administration, Ponto Final,
then a daily, dedicated an issue to the 'fear' that ruled the civil servants
world. This 'fear' made access to information an hard task for those trying
an investigative, honest journalism. However, access was easier for those
journalists working for media with editorial policies closer to the government's
propaganda, like TDM and some newspapers.
"The administration does not allow access to information. It is a
way to centralize power: even the under-secretaries received orders not
to give interviews" (Ricardo Pinto, my interview).
According to the editor of Ponto Final obstructing or screening access
to sources was the best way for the government to control the press: "Journalism
is only possible because journalists have personal contacts with administration
members" (Pinto, my interview).
Rocha Dinis opposed this criticism, considering it was newspapers fault
if they never used the Press Ordinance to take government sources to court.
He threatened once one of them with the law and it worked - he got the
information he wanted (my interview).
João Severino, editor of Macau Hoje once complained to the Public
Prosecutor's Office, (Ministério Público) about not being
given information by the Health Department, but his complaint was filed
However, taking the government to court would have been expensive and
time consuming for the newspaper. Would the revelation of the withdrawn
information, in the public's interest, compensate? And was not the civil
servant allowed, as a citizen in his own right, to refuse an interview?
"Invoking access to information would be falling in the hell of hierarchic
appeals. Even if the appeal passed in the local administrative court it
would be sent to the Administrative Court in Portugal were it would take
three to four years to be answered" (Reis, my interview).
The right to information law was not an effective weapon for the press
A dependency on advertising
According to Frederico Rato owner of Ponto Final,
"The press in Macau rarely survived by its own means. That is why
it was so easy for the political power to strangle some journalistic projects"
Advertising was and is scarce and usually not enough to support the newspapers,
specially the Portuguese ones.
In these we found three kinds of advertising: the government one (the
most important in terms of revenue), the official court's announcements
and some private business advertisements.
As Rocha Dinis put it, "Those ads are prestige advertising, not consume
one, just a way for those businessmen to help the newspaper" (my
The last newspaper this editor headed, Jornal Tribuna de Macau, published,
in 1999, a series of monthly thematic supplements paid by several government
services. This rose criticism in the rest of the press and reinforced
the belief that that daily was just a voice of the government.
Rocha Dinis denied any inequalities in the way the government distributed
its advertisements through the Portuguese press and said that his newspaper
saw a way to be economically viable and, so, independent, through the
supplements, and just took it (my interview).
However Ricardo Pinto counterpoints: "Some newspapers that are supported
by the administration end up loosing credit in the eyes of the public"
Several years ago, an official governmental dispatch was issued determining
that advertisements should be distributed equally by all the press. Nevertheless,
this did not seem to happen. Several editors revealed that advertisements
from certain departments were withdrawn, after their newspapers published
articles about those departments.
An example is a fax that was received by mistake in Ponto Final: it was
an information from a superior officer in a certain government department
explaining that advertising would only be sent to that weekly if there
were superior orders to do so. All the other newspapers received their
ads as usual (Ricardo Pinto, my interview).
The editor of Macau Hoje faxed six government services asking how much
they spent on the advertisements sent to each newspaper in Macau. He never
got an answer (Severino, my interview).
When Meira Burguete was editor of Macau Hoje he was told by the under-secretary
for communication, Salavessa da Costa, in the presence of witnesses, that
many Chinese businessmen asked him which newspapers they should announce
in - an obvious message to the editor of the daily about the advantages
of complying to government views (Reis, my interview).
Besides the fact the Chinese press was never sued, in terms of advertising
there was also discrimination between the two presses. João Severino
gives the example of Ou Mun (the largest circulation Chinese newspaper,
pro-Beijing) that was paid 50 thousand patacas (3'876 pounds) for every
quarter page advert - much more than any other publication and high above
the Portuguese ones. According to this editor Ou Mun was also given a
propriety by the government in 1993, in quite an obscure deal (my interview).
Although there are very few big companies in Macau
some newspapers had contracts with these, which announced regularly on
Macau Hoje had - and still has - a contract with Stanley Ho's STDM - the
company that has the gambling monopoly. "Once I reproduced some news
published by the Hong Kong magazine Next, stating that Stanley Ho had
connections with the illegal casino boats in the former British colony.
After, I received a very angry call from someone connected with him and
almost saw his adverts withdrawn. Also, as announcers, privates are even
more dangerous than the government because sometimes they have connections
with the underworld" (Severino, my interview).
Ponto Final had an advertising agreement with Fundação Oriente
(a foundation that received one percent of the gambling revenues), but
after one of the paper columnists, Carlos Morais José, wrote an
editorial criticising that institution the adverts were suspended and
the journalist prosecuted (see 2.8). According to Frederico Rato one of
the owners of the weekly, "Fundação Oriente liked us
because we are an independent newspaper, but then they got angry at us
precisely because of the exercise of that independence" (my interview).
Ponto Final had similar problems with the bank BNU and the Cultural Centre
of Macau, after publishing articles that accused the institutions of irregularities
or, even, in the case of the Centre, of corruption (Rato, my interview).
Although access and advertising were control instruments
in the hands of the government - as they still may be - they were not
the only ones. Censorship in the governmentally dependent media (TDM radio
and TV and LUSA), a more generalised self-censorship resulting from the
climate of fear referred in 2.4 and different kinds of pressures were
also present in the everyday life of the media in Macau during the transition
period. Pressures were exerted in different forms, from a convincing or
complaining talk on the telephone, a threat to withdraw advertising or,
even, a life threat.
In 1993 Tribuna de Macau published an article on freedom of the press.
In this Júlio Pereira, assistant of the ACCCIA (the commission
against corruption) referred that he would not like to be a journalist
in Macau, "a small environment were pressures are felt much more
than in Lisbon, for instance". He also affirmed that "the formal
mechanisms permit freedom of the press but I doubt that it exists in all
the newspapers or for every people that have the necessity to express
themselves" (Lopes, Tribuna de Macau 10/7/93).
"The administration has an absolute control over radio and television,
exerting also an enormous pressure in LUSA", stated in the same article
Ribeiro Cardoso, former head of the Portuguese Journalists Union and,
by then, journalist of Comércio de Macau.
"Some members of the government, like Salavessa da Costa, the under-secretary
for Communication, treat the journalists of Radio Macau as their civil
servants", affirmed João Paulo Menezes, assistant to the editor
in that station (ibidem).
In the same line Jorge Silva, editor of TDM television news declared that,
"professionals know exactly how far they can go" and also that
"there are warnings from the governmental area and the under-secretaries
about what we do" (ibidem).
According to the referred Tribuna article, journalists from LUSA would
accompany the members of the government, with expenses paid, every time
they went on a mission abroad. This happened, although the news agency
had correspondents in those countries.
Comparing the administrations of Carlos Melancia with that of Rocha Vieira,
Ribeiro Cardoso declared that journalists had easy access to the first
one, which had a better understanding of the journalists work, while the
second one exerted a centralised control over the governmental media,
under the idea that if the government paid, those media should be at its
service. Nevertheless, in the same 1993 article, the under-secretary for
Communication denied any interference in the journalists work in general
The censorship inside TDM and subservience of LUSA continued through out
the years with constant episodes coming out of the newsrooms.
Although radio and TV are not the object of this research what was said
previously serves to illustrate the ambience and the government's attitude
towards the media in general.
However, censorship was not only felt in the governmentally controlled
In the referred 1993 Tribuna article, Ribeiro Cardoso revealed that the
under-secretary for communication had told him he felt very irritated
when negative news about Macau were published in Portugal.
Although some correspondents were working for TDM and so under control,
the others were approached in an attempt to influence or criticise their
news. More devious them that: the responsible for the official communication
channels tried to influence the editors in Portugal so not to accept certain
topics or to demand only passive news from the correspondents. The government
paid flights and accommodation to editors and journalists from Portugal
to write about Macau. In those reports often there was not a single line
written by their correspondents, the ones who knew the depths of Macau'
s realities (information I got from my own experience as a correspondent).
In an editorial Rocha Dinis wrote "( ) correspondents of the
media from Portugal receive frequent warnings, many times not even about
what they wrote but about the meaning they (the government agents) put
into it" (Tribuna de Macau 10/7/93).
The journalists and specially the editors of the newspapers were also
subject to regular pressures from the government through the telephone
(Severino, my interview)
According to Severo Portela, editor of Futuro de Macau the pressure came
from the environment itself, "an authoritarian ambience set up by
the Rocha Vieira's administration in which government officials would
say 'if you give a negative perspective in your article, next time I will
not talk to you'" (my interview).
There were also pressures exerted on to the families of journalists, like
threats concerning the renewal of the contract of their wives when they
worked for the administration. This threats, in some cases, were executed
(Portela, my interview).
In terms of financial pressures, besides the referred advertising unequal
distribution and bans, there was also a case concerning a "paper
subsidy" that revealed the government discriminatory policy.
A under-secretary for Communication ruling (Despacho 122/GM/91) introduced
some changes on the rules for the official subsidy for production costs
or "paper subsidy", attributed to all newspapers since 1987.
From these, only the ones that had existed for at least three years "at
the date of publication of the ruling" would receive 12 thousand
patacas (930 pounds) every month.
The principle was good: it meant newspapers had to prove they had the
means and public support to last. However, the problem was that GCS interpreted
the text quoted above as meaning that only the newspapers that had been
published for over three years in 1991 would receive a subsidy. Which
meant that the ones who later got to be published for over three years
would not get it.
When Ponto Final and Futuro de Macau (included in the inconvenient, opposition
newspapers), which only got to their third anniversaries several years
after 1991, asked for the subsidy, GCS denied it to them. After a complaint
to the ACCCIA, the anti-corruption commission, this gave reason to the
newspapers and denounced the dubious writing of the text of the ruling
and the misinterpretation of the law by GCS, which violated point 58 of
the Press Ordinance. That point forbids the discrimination on any support
given to the press of the territory. The anti-corruption organ also advised
GCS to pay the subsidy to the two newspapers (Ponto Final 4/12/98).
Even after the ACCCIA report, the government refused to give the subsidy
to the two newspapers. An attitude Ricardo Pinto explains this way: "Since
government officials had a difficulty in accepting any kind of criticism,
they had a resentment towards Ponto Final" (my interview).
For several years the USA State Depart Human Rights
Report has been referring that, although the law in Macau provides for
freedom of the speech and of the press, journalists practice self-censorship
In a comparative study João Paulo Menezes prepared about the Macau
and Hong Kong press, he came to the conclusion there is self-censorship
in the, then, territory under Portuguese administration.
He came to this conclusion after finding seven factors in Macau's society:
an excessive weight of the public sector; a tendency of power stuctures
to control information; a Portuguese community too economically dependent
on the local powers; a Portuguese press in economical deficit; the defense
of a 'patriotic journalism' or of a contention journalism; a Chinese press
reverent to the People's Republic of China and the admission of self-censorship
by the journalists in a survey conducted by the author (1999, p.166)
For the survey Menezes sent questionnaires to 45 Portuguese journalists
in ten newsrooms and decided he would have to receive 50 percent of answers
for the questionnaire to be valid. Since only 30 percent of the journalists
answered, he considered the study not valid but, still, an interesting
indicator. Of the professionals that responded 77 percent answered that,
as it happened in Hong Kong, self-censorship was also a problem in Macau
and 84.5 percent answered that they thought their colleagues practiced
some kind of self-censorship (1999, ps.165-166).
Some journalists even admited they exert some kind of self-constraint.
João Fernandes, editor of Jornal de Macau and later of JTM - Jornal
Tribuna de Macau, besides being a member of the government's Consultation
Council (that gave advice to the governor) said: "I voluntarily self
limit myself because, even when you disagree with the government's positions,
you should disagree in a Portuguese perspective" (my interview).
"I do not always write what I want in terms of the timing or the
strength of the words (it is the only thing where I commit self-censorship)
but I think there is no reason for journalists to practice self-censorship
in Macau", admitted Rocha Dinis, editor of Tribuna de Macau and later
of JTM (my interview).
João Severino comments these admissions of self-constraint in the
following way: "Journalists and newspapers that were never inconvenient
received a lot of money from the government" (my interview).
2.6 Life threats
Although during the transition years there were
no death victims in any case relating to freedom of the press, there were
threats, assaults and even attempted assassinations.
Some years before the signature of the Joint Declaration (1987), in 1983,
Tribuna published an 'open letter to the governor' by the editor of Correio
de Macau a pro-government newspaper, denouncing the "daily interference"
of the under-secretary Roque Martins in that publication. The next day
the car of the editor of Tribuna was blown up. A week later Correio de
Macau was closed and its equipment seized.
During the governance of Almeida e Costa, the Judiciary Police spied and
filmed a dinner of the supporters of the president of the Legislative
Assembly, with which the governor had a disagreement. Father Albino Pais,
the editor of the church owned O Clarim, was questioned for hours on the
Judiciary headquarters after publishing the news about that dinner (Reis,
Carmona e Silva is involved in another example of how violence was used
to restrain the press. During three years the lawyer, that wrote and published
critical texts against governor Carlos Melancia, was assaulted twice,
with a knife, escaping from death in extremis the second time. Carmona
e Silva did not relate this attempts to his professional life as a lawyer,
insisting that their cause could only be his opposition to the governor
(Macau Hoje, 30/7/90).
In the same way, João Severino suspects that a fire that broke
out in is home was of criminal origin and due to some articles he wrote
sponsorship or lobbying
As said previously newspapers in Macau depend on their owners. Advertising
only covers part of the expenses and most Portuguese newspapers live on
their owners sponsorship.
This fact always gave Macau newspaper owners a larger possibility of interference
in their destinies, if compared with publications somewhere else, like
Portugal, for instance.
Most of them were lawyers and represented certain businessmen or groups
with specific economic and social interests.
This said, it does not seem strange that, as we saw previously, newspapers
were several times accused of being at the service of those owners and
Carmona e Silva, lawyer and journalist, admitted he created three newspapers
(Oriente, Comércio de Macau and Macau Hoje) with the purpose of
opposing the socialist governors (they were appointed by the socialist
President, Mário Soares) since he was a Social Democrat. However,
after he sold the publications, that partidary purpose was less clear
in their pages. The same went for other newspapers. They may have defended
some interests, but these were not directly connected with the party politics
of Portugal. Nevertheless, most were connected with local pressure groups
(Macau Hoje, 30/07/90).
As expected, all owners and administrators I talked with denied their
interference in the making of the news. This can only be known through
the words of the editors and journalists that worked in their newspapers.
Sometimes pressures were not coming directly from the owner. Since there
was a consonance of opinion with the editor, it would be this one himself,
in an act of censorship inside the newspaper, to convince the journalist
to drop a topic that might hinder the owner's businesses or to order the
journalist to cover a story connected with the administrator's interests
(both happened to me in one of the newspapers where I worked in).
On the other side, an extreme example of interference coming directly
from the owner is the case of Gazeta Macaense, one of the oldest newspapers
during the transition period, connected with the Macanese community and
very critical of the government in its last days (see 2.8).
Its administrator, José Manuel Rodrigues fired the journalists
in July 1995 and tried to close the newspaper invoking it had lost quality
and its initial propose. However, the editor, Paulo Reis, stated that
the administrator had always agreed with the publication's editorial line,
but recently had tried to save a certain member of the government from
criticisms in the newspaper. Condition to which the editor did not agree
and that originated the lay off (Futuro de Macau 24/11/95).
According to Paulo Reis, "the owner asked me to stop criticising
the under-secretary Jorge Rangel because he was working on a deal with
him that, if it came out right, would also be 'good' for me" (my
Some time after closing the publication, Rodrigues was invited by the
governor to be one of the appointed members to the Legislative Assembly...
The facts speak for themselves.
However, not only political interests moved the owners. Creating a publication
that could voice the opinions of the public and could be a forum of discussion
was the objective of at least some of them.
Frederico Rato and Francisco Gonçalves Pereira, lawyers and partners,
picked up the daily Ponto Final and transformed it in a weekly. "The
daily did not have much financial possibilities so it was easy for the
power structures, not used to be put at stake, to strangle it", stated
Rato. The daily had been sued by the director of the government's Finance
Department in 1992 (see 2.8) and, shortly after, it closed. Rato and Gonçalves
decided then to use the same name and, in a slightly different line, to
create a newspaper that was independent from the local lobbies of STDM
(Stanley Ho's - the casino magnate - company), the church, the opus dei,
the triads and any economical pressure groups. They also wanted a publication
that had objective information, was critical, and a vehicle for the local
public opinion. "A publication that allowed a contention of the exercise
of power", as defined one of its owners (Rato, my interview).
Ricardo Pinto, the editor, says he was never subject to any censorship
by Ponto Final owners and that, often, the newspaper published topics
that some how interfered with the interests of the lawyers office, although
he was never told off by them (my interview).
Manuela António and Rui Afonso, owners of Futuro de Macau, were
two lawyers that represented several business interests. He was also a
member of the Legislative Assembly. Manuela António stated she
supported the newspaper because of the interest it had for the Portuguese
community and the important role the press plays in any society (my interview).
Severo Portela, the former editor of Futuro de Macau, admited to have
had conversations with the owners about the topics in the newspaper, but
stated it was his decision whether it would cover a subject or not (my
Comércio de Macau a weekly that closed in 1993 was owned by an
economical industrial group, Interfina, that in those years had strong
interests in the territory, specially in the construction sector. When
those interests were over so was the publication, which shows that, in
some way, Comércio was a front for Interfina.
In some cases the journalists bought the newspapers. Thus, whatever censorship
there was, it was exerted by them. Tribuna de Macau that belonged to Neto
Valente and Jornal de Macau that belonged to a group of Macanese businessmen
were joined by Rocha Dinis and João Fernandes (the respective editors)
in a sole publication, Jornal Tribuna de Macau. Both journalists state
they were never pressured by the owners previously, since their views
were the same.
After being sold by Carmona e Silva, the daily Macau Hoje was owned by
its editor, Meira Burguete, and his family. Nowadays it is owned by its
editor João Severino but in between there was a period when it
belonged to a retired colonel owner of a security company and former director
of police. "Then, I had great difficulties since I could not offend
the people connected with the interests of the colonel", admitted
João Severino (my interview).
It may be abusive to say that libel cases were
typical of the transition period in Macau. As said previously, they were
present through out the history of the local press. However, during this
period, maybe because of its political significance, the cases were more
polemic than ever.
During the governance of Almeida e Costa there were several libel cases,
many against Tribuna de Macau, whose owner, the lawyer Neto Valente and
the editor, Rocha Dinis, assumed themselves as opposition to this governor.
The newspaper even published a cartoon of the governor sitting in the
However, most of the cases would be solved by extra-judicial agreements.
It is interesting to notice that during the governance of Rocha Vieira,
that appointed the owner as a member of the Legislative Assembly, Tribuna
would be considered a pro-government publication.
During the governments of Pinto Machado and Carlos Melancia, the ones
that finally brought the spirit of the 1974 Portuguese Revolution to the
territory, there was freedom of the press. There were rare libel complaints
and if there were any pressures inside the government media (TV and radio),
they did not seem to come from a government strategy but from specific
editors or administrators (Reis, my interview)
However, in 1991 the number of libel cases began to rise, which coincided
with the arrival of governor Rocha Vieira.
In between 1991 and 1995 there were 24 lawsuits for abuse of press freedom.
In nine of them, the judge-president of the High Court, Farinha Ribeiras,
was the plaintive. Besides the judge, most of the other cases were connected
with administration officials. It was the most disturbing period in terms
of freedom of the press in Macau's history (Correia, Ponto Final 17/3/95).
Some of the most polemic cases in this period happened after a High Court
(Tribunal Superior) was installed in the territory (previously the appeals
were sent to the high instance courts in Portugal).This court, that had
the last word in the processes, tended to condemn the journalists.
This fact cannot be disconnected from the justice system of Macau in which
the judges were appointed by the governor.
A letter signed by 17 Portuguese journalists was sent to president Mário
Soares in June 1994, alerting for the necessity to maintain the justice
system of the territory bound to Portugal. In this text it was said that
breeches in the system allowed for confrontation between agents of the
judicial system and journalists. It also emphasised that the judges were
designated by the governor, that, by refusing to nominate of the "less
favourable" magistrates, could propose others that gave guaranties
of "a better adaptation". According to the journalists letter,
what in Portugal was a mere exercise of freedom of expression, in Macau
was considered systematically as "a crime of abuse of press freedom
and a motive for defamation, libel and slander suits" (1994).
One of the cases that showed the differences in the treatment of libel
cases by the Macau courts and the Portugal ones, was a case against Ponto
Final, when it was still a daily in 1992. In the article "Millions
flying" the newspaper accused João Roberto, director of the
administration's Finance Department, of causing the government to loose
three million patacas (232'575 pounds) (Ponto Final, 26/6/92).
The director of the Finance Department accused Paulo Aido, the editor,
of libel. On March 1994, this one was condemned by the local court to
a two year suspended prison sentence and to give to the plaintive a compensation
of 80 thousand patacas (6'202 pounds).
The editor's lawyer lodged an appeal to the High Court, and in December
of the same year this admitted that all that the journalist had written
about the Finance Department was true! Still the court considered the
journalist guilty of offending the honour and good name of the civil servant
and condemned Aido to a compensation of 15 thousand patacas (1'162 pounds).
Then, in the opinion of many journalists and jurists, if this case had
happened in Portugal, an article that said the truth would not have been
the subject of a complaint and its author would surely never be sentenced
Another exemplary case happened later when Ponto Final was a weekly. In
1993, the newspaper published a letter from a reader criticising the activities
of several members of the security forces, military man like general Rocha
Lages Ribeiro, the under-secretary for Security sued the publication and
the editor, Pedro Correia. The Public Prosecution Office, tried to make
the journalist reveal the name of the reader since the letter was signed
"from an identified reader". This happened, even though, better
then the journalists, the public prosecutors knew the Press Ordinance
allows the journalists to keep the identification of their sources to
Although Pedro Correia did not agree with the opinion of that reader,
he resisted all pressures from the PPO. In December 1993, Macau's court
condemned him to four months suspended prison for two years and to a compensation
of 15 thousand patacas (1'162 pounds) to the under-secretary that complained.
Correia's lawyer appealed of this decision to the High Court, but this
just confirmed it. The lawyer's appeal to the Constitutional Court in
Portugal did not pass in the High Court. A protest sent directly to the
Constitutional Court still awaits an answer (Correia, Ponto Final 17/3/95).
After the president of the High Court, the under-secretary for Communication,
Salavessa da Costa, was the second champion of the legal complaints against
the press during this troubled period.
However, three court cases involving Salavessa da Costa against Macau
Hoje ended up being solved with extra judicial agreements implying the
publication of rectification and excuses in the pages of that daily.
Another member of the administration that sued several publications was
the director of GCS, the government information bureau. In January 1993
Afonso Camões acted judicially against Ponto Final, Gazeta Macaense
and a daily from Portugal, Público, contesting the way an investigation
to his department, done by the ACCCIA ( the anti-corruption institution)
was reported in those newspapers (Correia, Ponto Final 17/3/95).
Gazeta Macaense: an exemplary
Most of the court cases involving libel cannot be
disconnected from the lack of independence of the courts in Macau. And
in none of them was it as obvious as in the case of Gazeta Macaense versus
the judge-president of the High Court, Farinha Ribeiras.
It all began with an article, "This judge is amazing!", published
May 17, 1994 in Tal & Qual, a weekly from Portugal. In this article
the journalist Ribeiro Cardoso wrote about several professional attitudes
of Farinha Ribeiras that had been polemic amid his pairs and the local
In between the contested acts of the judge president was a Provision number
9 in which he forbade Macau judges to talk to the press without his consent.
Another criticism was connected with a letter he wrote to the governor,
demanding a grandiose palace of justice be built. In the same letter he
made very undemocratic considerations about the Chinese government. However,
some time latter he seemed to have changed his opinion about Beijing,
the article went on, since his vote in a collective of judges was decisive
to extradite suspected criminals to China - a very polemic decision that
according to several jurists violated the Constitution of Portugal (Ribeiro
Cardoso, Tal e Qual 13/5/94).
Some days later, after Gazeta Macaense re-printed this article, Farinha
Ribeiras sued this newspaper. He also complained judicially against Tal
& Qual but the Macau court refused the accusation from the Public
Prosecution Office because it did not have the legal capacity to prosecute
a newspaper in Portugal. Although the plaintive could have sued in that
country, he did not do so. Probably because the public prosecution in
Portugal would not find substance to charge the journalist...
Note that this judge-president was the same that wrote a document denouncing
the Macau journalists as a "group of criminals" (see 2.3).
In the end, Paulo Reis, the editor of the newspaper that simply reproduced
that article, was asked by the court to pay a bail of 15 thousand patacas
(1'162 pounds) to wait the trial in freedom - a situation without precedent
in Macau's press history.
In 1995 he was sentenced to sixty days in jail, suspended for two years,
and to a compensation of 30 thousand patacas (2'325 pounds) to the judge.
His lawyer appealed to the High Court, which decided, in May 1996, the
previous sentence should be kept. It is interesting to notice that in
those days, the plaintive, Farinha Ribeiras was the president of that
precise court (the High Court had only five judges and any three would
be in charge of any case).
An appeal to the Constitutional Court, in Portugal, followed. In 1999
that court considered the decision of the Macau court constitutional,
thus, the initial sentence was not changed (Pinto, Ponto Final 28/2/99).
Gazeta Macaense was the object of 38 complaints by the judge Farinha Ribeiras,
related to as many texts written by Paulo Reis and Ramos André
and published between May 4 and June 1, 1994. From those, seven texts
were considered to "wound the judge's name" by the PPO (Ponto
In its 1997 Macau report, Amnisty International (AI) considered the possibility
of adopting conscience prisoners related with freedom of the press. If
Paulo Reis' sentence for reproducing the article of Tal & Qual was
confirmed and carried out, AI would consider his adoption as a conscience
prisoner (Menezes, Ponto Final 10/1/97).
The same report denounced that if the composition of the Press Council
went as proposed by the government, AI feared that freedom of expression
would be at risk. Another section of that report considered that the basic
law did not guarantee the conditions for judges to exercise their job
in conformity with the United Nations basic principles, since they could
be exonerated before their mandates and before their retirement. This
dependency of the judges is intimately connected with many of the libel
cases that took place in Macau during the transition period (Menezes,
Ponto Final 10/1/97).
Amnisty International itself would be the object of a libel complaint
by Farinha Ribeiras, the first ever such case against this institution.
In a 1994 interview to Futuro de Macau, Pierre Robert, investigator of
AI, criticised the High Court of Macau (presided by Ribeiras) for authorising
the extradition of three alleged Chinese criminals caught in Macau, referring
that the court would have fallen to Chinese pressures and questioning
its independence. The newspaper also published an AI report about the
same subject. Extradition to China, in cases that could be sentenced with
a death penalty or life sentence, was considered illegal and unconstitutional
by many Portuguese jurists and penologists and, in the end of all this
polemic, the decision of the High Court would be quashed by the Constitutional
Severo Portela, editor of that newspaper, and Pierre Robert were accused
of libel only in January 1999, three months before the case prescribed,
although Farinha Ribeiras had announced in 1994 his intention to proceed
legally. Many analysts thought the Public Prosecution Office would not
accept such a case, classified by the president of the Portuguese section
of AI as "grotesque and laughable" (Reis, O Independente, 26/2/99).
However, knowing the Macau justice system, everything seems possible...
2.9 The future
What future can there be for the Portuguese Press
of Macau? With such a politically dependent justice system, freedom of
the press will probably have the same obstacles as before, although during
the year of 2000 there was no major interference of the power structures
with the press. The Chinese press kept being a mouth piece of Beijing
and, while during the transition period it criticized harshly the government,
nowadays it just tends to praise the new executive.
As for the Portuguese press, it will have serious difficulties surviving
although in the end of 2000 there were still four newspapers.
Previously to the handover it was generally admitted that the permanence
of Portuguese press was important for the survival of that culture and
language in the Asian enclave. However two aspects may hinder this objective:
the lack of economical resources and the lack of a Portuguese audience
that can also be translated in a lack of advertising.
The fact that in the end of 1999 the Joint Liaison Group failed a proposal
from the Portuguese side determining that judiciary announcements should
be published in both official languages - as it happened before - cut
a big source of revenue for the Portuguese newspapers, since those announcements
may be published in Chinese newspapers only.
Throughout the transition, the lack of support by the government to the
Portuguese investors and the creation of incentives for the Portuguese
to leave instead of creating conditions for their presence in the territory
diminished the number of readers and announcers. "In 1992 there were
3500 Portuguese students em Macau. In 1999 there were 800. In the face
of this the Portuguese press is finished" (Reis, my interview).
In 1999, GCS proposed the creation of a newspaper with government support
- "I do not think there should be four or five newspapers but only
one. Journalists should negotiate with government and come together to
form only one newspaper" (Camões, my interview).
Due to their political and editorial differences this idea of joining
the Portuguese newspapers did not happen. Besides, who would determine
the editorial criteria for this single publication? Rocha Vieira's administration?
"There should have been a big newspaper with over ten journalists
spread all over Asia, where there are Portuguese communities, like Japan,
Malaca, Goa... it did not happen because owners invested in provincial
newspapers defending their small interests, while the government invested
millions in only one medium, the state news agency, LUSA" (Morais
José, my interview).
The government policies as well as the cultural, social, economic and
political constraints of the transition period determined what will become
of the Macau press in the next years. That can be the object of a future
Can we say there was freedom of the press during
the transition period in the sense defined previously? Considering the
documentary research and all the interviewees of this study, in a legal
way, there was. However, most of them report constraints from several
sources that reveal that, in practice, freedom of the press was quite
relative - a condition resulting from the economical and political context
that characterised that period.
The government was responsible for most of those constraints, through
the control of its own civil servants creating a climate of fear, through
restricting access to sources and the distribution of advertising and
last but not least, through a patriotic stance that presupposed journalists
would be defenders of the national design, even against their professional
The control on freedom of the press resulted in a great deal from the
politic and administrative choices of the governor(s) that were given
extensive powers by the Estatuto Orgânico (Macau´s mini constitution).
Rocha Vieira, the last governor, maintained a strained relation with the
local press, never giving an interview and supporting his cabinet members'
legal actions against the press, while investing public funds in propaganda
in Portugal and internationally.
Although the Portuguese government left a quite advanced law to protect
press freedom, they did not leave the example - an example of a non interventive
democratic government that not only protects the press freedom by law
but also respects its importance as a constructive critic.
This democratic deficit was also present in the lack of independence of
the justice system, with judges being appointed by the governor and defending
the government policies. The numerous libel cases - and convictions -
during Rocha Vieira's administration, specially in the times when Farinha
Ribeiras was president of the High Court, are an example of that.
However, constraints on the press where also a consequence of the lack
of economical independence of the Portuguese press, with a substantial
part of newspapers' advertising coming from the government and a dependency
on its owners, (ownership) which interests were not always coincident
with the public interest (representativity).
Last but not least, the journalists own cultivation of sources and intimacy
with power members (sourcing), due in part to a difficulty in accessing
sources through a clear administrative process, may have taken them to
share politicians views and save them from criticisms in certain cases.
Through out the history of the press we saw how politics and the press
have a close connection. In a non-representative system where there is
no judicial independence it would be difficult to find a free press.
Note: Theoretical perspective and
Political economy was the theoretical framework
adopted to research this topic since it allows an holistic approach in
examining media organizations in their role as economic forces and relating
them to other structures in society (Mosco, 1996, p.142).
Political economy is concerned with the historical process that leads
to the present and the role of state invention, and so is applicable to
the investigation of press freedom in Macau. Its interest in social change
makes it the more suited to the historical context of the territory.
It is also able to show the link between the economic-political structure
and media content and the effect of that on discourse in the public domain
(Golding and Murdock, 1997). However this is problematic in Macau given
the different outlooks on public interest. As we will see, the government's
defense of a patriotic journalism collides with the local press agents'
idea that they should work as a watchdog of power.
In Western theory, press freedom is accepted as in the public interest
and studies are focused on exposing its limits through the analysis of
media structures, policies and practices (McQuail 1997, Curran, 1997).
However, in Asia, where many authoritarian regimes have developed successful
economies, press freedom is not always seen as in the public interest.
In certain regimes, like Singapore or China, press freedom may be seen
as a tool used by opposition to government and a threat to political order
The press in Macau must be seen in this context, especially if we consider
the proximity of the hand-over during the period studied. The question
is whether press freedom is a universal concept, as seen by most western
countries and United Nations bodies, or a concept that changes from society
to society, like Asian governments argue.
In Macau, although the Press Ordinance is based on the Portuguese one,
the Portuguese government acted in a similar way to many Asian governments
defending a different press freedom concept for the territory in the name
of patriotic values.
Political economy can offer insight into this relativist-universalist
debate through its analysis of international relations. Nevertheless,
its tendency to focus on power relations within capitalist societies may
mean it needs a push from cultural studies in order to better understand
the dynamics of identity and nationality divisions in social organization
(Mosco, 1995, p.161). However this would require another study of the
Portuguese press in Macau, maybe focusing more on the audience and applying
theory of reception. That was left for another occasion, but there are
references in this work to the identity of the population of Macau, especially
about the Portuguese speaking community, taken from anthropological and
To approach this topic I used two research methods:
a communication policy research supported by a critical political economy
perspective, and interviews.
To find data for this topic it was necessary to research the recent history
of media legislation in Macau, to analyse some recent cases of press restriction,
e.g. libel cases, to analyse journalism practices and newspaper policies
and the effects of the changing political and social framework in Macau.
Communication policy analysis examines how policies in the field of mass
communications are generated and implemented as well as their repercussions
and implications in the field of communication (Negrine, 1998).
Communication policy research opens a wider field for exploration. Instead
of merely using a content analysis study or a single survey, policy research
allows us to draw conclusions from the findings of many. In the case of
Macau, since there is few research, some Hong Kong studies developed around
the 1997 handover were also used for theoretical comparison.
However, this method has its limits: using previous research data limits
the material to questions asked before (Wimmer and Dominick, 1995, p.21)
Thus, what the researcher decided was to go further and ask her own questions
through interviews with agents involved in the media process and research
of primary documents.
However such proposal could not be taken further without the conscience
of some limitations and difficulties.
To begin with, research for basic information was bound to be a difficult
task, since Macau is a non-representative system, where the accountability
of public officials is low and public documents are not always accessible.
Second, it was predictable that, in such a period, many people would be
reluctant to commit themselves publicly to such a sensitive topic.
As referred before in relation to the Chinese press, it would also be
difficult to convince Portuguese media staff and specially government
officials to give information about such a sensitive topic.
There was also another shortcoming in relation to policy analysis: although
it is supposed to be the exploration of a coherent package of ideas and
strategies, these policies are usually not a comprehensive well thought
set of statements but a disperse one. Policies are often not easy to identify,
they may have unintended consequences and sometimes they are contradictory
in themselves (Negrine, 1998, p.98).
To overcome these difficulties it seemed necessary to triangulate the
findings, by using different sources to cross-check stories and to question
the material. This was done by interviewing different sources and/or by
finding documentation that backed up a claim.
With their shortcomings and their strengths, these two methods, policy
research and interviews, complement each other through corroboration and
Nevertheless, the material on itself might lack perspective. So, conclusions
from information obtained in this way were drawn using a political economy
theoretical framework. The fact this is concerned with the real world
means theory and empirical research can work together.
One example of this is Chan, Lee and Lee studies of the impact of the
Hong Kong transition on journalists (1992, 1996). They combined a survey
of journalists' attitudes with a political economic perspective on China's
position on media after the handover to draw their conclusions.
Investigating press freedom in the Portuguese press of Macau required
an historical perspective to gain insight into the present. This involved
the examination of economic, political and cultural forces at work not
only in the present but also in the recent past.
Barendt, E. (1987) Freedom of Speech, Oxford University
Barendt, E. (1993) Media Law, Darthmouth: Aldershot
Camões, A. (1997 Jul.) A liberdade de morder no cão, Revista
Chan, J. and Lee C.C. (1991) Mass Media and Political Transition: The
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Note: Some references lack details (page number
or article name) because they come from photocopies that are difficult
António, Manuela (former owner of Futuro
de Macau) on Dec.1999
Camões, Afonso (head of GCS, the government communication department)
Fernandes, João (editor of Jornal Tribuna de Macau) on Oct. 1999
Morais José, Carlos (journalist) on Nov. 1999
Pinto, Ricardo (former TDM-TV journalist, editor of Ponto Final) on Aug.
Rato, Frederico (owner of Ponto Final) on Jan. 2000
Reis, Paulo (former editor of Gazeta Macaense) on Dec.1999
Rocha Dinis, José (editor of Jornal Tribuna de Macau) on Oct. 1999
Severino, João (editor of Macau Hoje) on Nov. 1999
Portela, Severo (former editor of Futuro de Macau) on Jan. 2000