Final dissertation for the Master of Arts in Mass Communications by the Center for Mass Communications Research of the University of Leicester
by Clara Gomes
submitted for the degree of MA (Mass Communications), CMCR, University of Leicester
The Portuguese press in Macau during the transition period
Appendix: The Press Ordinance of Macau
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 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).
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).
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
The modern press was introduced to China through
the Macau Jesuits in 1588.
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).
|Jornal Tribuna de Macau||daily||01-06-1998||
|Futuro de Macau||daily||08-01-1994||
|O Clarim||weekly||May 1948||
(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, 1999, p.35).
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, 1999, p.131).
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" (ibidem).
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 be opposition.
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.
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, Va Kio,18/4/97).
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).
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, 1998).
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 (Reis, 1998).
Although it did not always give the best support to the media, GCS was not
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).
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.
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, 10/07/92).
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" (1994, p.4).
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 Cases, 2.8.).
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).
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 job.
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 (my interview)
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 in Macau.
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 interview).
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" (my interview).
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 (ibidem).
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 media.
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).
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, my interview).
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 (my interview).
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 administrators interests.
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 interview).
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 interview).
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 toilet...
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 for slander.
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 Vieira (11/12/92).
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 themselves...
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).
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 press.
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 Final 10/2/95).
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 Court.
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...
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 study.
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 ethics.
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.
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 (Ruan, 1990).
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 sociological researches.
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 deepening perspectives.
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.
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Menezes, J.P. (1997 Jan.10) AI pede alterações à Lei Básica, Ponto Final, p.2
Menezes, J.P. (1999) academic research for a M.A.in Journalism graduation thesis, not published.
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Mok, C. and Chu, A. (1998) "Why are Macau people silent?, audiovisual documentary.
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Note: Some references lack details (page number or article name) because they come from photocopies that are difficult to read.
António, Manuela (former owner of Futuro de Macau) on Dec.1999
Camões, Afonso (head of GCS, the government communication department) on Oct.1999
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. 1999
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