21 may, 2018 / By Joao Paulo Meneses, macaubusiness.com
Independence is total, without government interference, in the Portuguese language press. Despite hefty subsidies
“Although the Portuguese and English media are more critical of the Macau Government, their readers are so few that their reports can hardly be influential,” is the considered opinion of academic Bill Chou.
In this short sentence, the professor of the University of Macau brings together two of the main ideas that mark the non-Chinese language press in the MSAR: a critical stance, vigilant of power, but with reduced expression and thus influence.
To these two ideas we can add one more: of the five Portuguese language newspapers three are daily and two weekly: the revenues of the three dailies and one weekly depend to a large extent upon subsidies delivered by the government (also available to Chinese-language newspapers). The missing one will have to wait one more year to get its subvention, since the minimum period necessary to gain access to government support is five continuous years.
Still, several sources consulted by Macau Business admit that there is no kind of ‘counterpart’ for the payment of subsidies to newspapers. Independence is total, without government interference.
Local journalist Hugo Pinto presented a Master’s thesis two years ago at a Portuguese university entitled Portuguese-language Journalism in Macau: difficulties and challenges [Jornalismo de língua portuguesa em Macau: dificuldades e desafios]. To Macau Business he explains that “dependence upon a major source of funding always raises concerns and this is, in my view, the case of government subsidies.”
However, according to Hugo Pinto, “there has never been any problem with the Portuguese media, and the government has behaved in an exemplary way. Will it always be like this? I do not know, but I hope so, and that past performance serves as a reference.”
Mr. Pinto has no doubt: “Subsidies were the way they found to sustain media that would otherwise have great difficulties in subsisting” either because of the small target audience or because of the restricted universe of other potential sources of income such as the advertising market.
Another researcher of Portuguese origin, and a professor at Saint Joseph University, José Manuel Simões, is the co-author of Impacts of Public Support and Voices Pluralism in Macao Newspapers(2017), in which he argues that “the fact that the Government finances newspapers in Portuguese also means that there is a greater plurality of opinions and news diversity.”
Professor Simões understands that the subsidies are not reflected in terms of censorship or editorial control.
This is also the understanding of the president of the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association. José Carlos Matias – who is the new editor of the only Portuguese newspaper still without subsidy, Plataforma – tells Macau Business that “the Portuguese press plays a relevant role in enhancing Macau’s ‘Second System’ by giving more airtime to dissenting and critical voices in the community,” reminding that “both Portuguese and Chinese newspapers benefit from direct subsidies from the government.”
Given that the subsidies go back to the Portuguese Administration period and that the Portuguese speaking community has today the same expression as it had 20 years ago, little seems to have changed. Therefore, the director of Macau’s newspaper Tribuna de Macau, José Rocha Dinis, argues that these newspapers now play “the role they have always played – informing the population. A set of communities with different languages and cultures requires a linguistic diversity of publications which is a niche of business.”
Is it easier or harder to do journalism in Portuguese today?
“In Macau there has always been a problem of access to the sources and today it is no different. Newspapers have followed the evolution and today I think they are much better equipped than in the past, but in journalism there were never any facilities anywhere in the world . . .” Mr. Dinis, the dean of the Portuguese press in Macau, told our magazine.
A critical view
“The low number of Portuguese speakers in Macau and the fact that periodicals can only benefit from the support system ‘provided they are general information and are written predominantly in Chinese or Portuguese’ [according to a 2002 Chief Executive’s order] explains the lack of specialised Portuguese-language publications in the Macao SAR, so the contents differ little from one another,” wrote local journalist José Miguel Encarnação in a paper published by the Revista de Administração Pública (Imprensa Portuguesa de Macau – Enquadramento na realidade jurídica e social da RAEM, 2008).
“The Portuguese press plays a relevant role in enhancing Macau’s ‘Second System’ by giving more airtime to dissenting and critical voices in the community” – José Carlos Matias
According to the same author, “if, in the absence of competition, we add other factors, such as government financial aid and the almost exclusive dependence upon official / institutional advertising we conclude that the quality of journalism produced depends only upon communication professionals since the survival of newspapers, radio and television does not depend upon their own activity.”
José Miguel Encarnação – whom Macau Business asked if he held this opinion today but did not get an answer – understood that if “before the transfer of sovereignty most were very sceptical about the future of the media, especially with regard to non-periodical publications published in Portuguese,” eight years after the creation of the Macau Special Administrative Region “fear has given rise to trust, largely due to Government action, which has reinforced the mechanisms of support to Macau-based newspapers and magazines.”
What about the English-language press, the only one that does not receive any government subsidy, existing only on advertising and sales?
“It has been playing an added value role in terms of highlighting the internationalisation of the ‘New Macau’, while meeting the needs of ever-growing communities of expats and migrant workers who use English as their lingua franca. In this sense they do provide a public service to the many thousands of people working and living in Macau who speak neither of the official languages (Portuguese and Chinese). Additionally, the English press is much more market based than Portuguese newspapers and most Chinese papers,” according to the president of Macau Portuguese and English Press Association, José Carlos Matias.
The truth is that local English media “has only truly gained steam” (to use an expression from Mr. Matias) since the liberalisation of the gaming industry. Macau’s first English-language daily was born in August, 2004. Three months before, it appeared in the stands for Macau Business, which at this time marks 14 years.
Last year, DeFicção Multimedia Projects, the owner, launched Macau News Agency, “the first independent English language news agency in the Macau SAR focusing on local content published daily online, seven days per week, and accessible around the clock.”
Since 2004, other publications have appeared, being at this time two daily newspapers and three monthly magazines in English (curiously, of these three, two are Portuguese owners, as is the case with Macau Business), according to the listings of the Government Information Bureau.