Portugal: Government’s media advertising criteria should be more transparent

The Transparency and Integrity association on Thursday asked the Government for more transparency on the institutional advertising purchasing programme to support the media and recommended that the criteria dictating the distribution of funds be made public.

In a letter sent to the Prime Minister, the association also asks the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers to have access to the criteria that dictated the distribution of funds to be invested by the various media, under the law on access to administrative information.

The civic association is concerned that the criteria for the distribution of funds are not public and verifiable.

“This situation is particularly worrying when there are very significant differences in the public support attributable to the different media owners, with no perceptible correspondence in the difference in terms of business size and, more importantly, news reach”.

The association considers “it essential that this support is granted in a totally transparent way and based on objective and fair criteria that safeguard public confidence in the maintenance of editorial independence of the beneficiaries and the duty of exemption of the State’s relationship with the media”.

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government published a list of the 13 companies that will receive public support in the form of direct institutional advertising adjustments, as well as the amount individually allocated to each of the companies.

However, according to the association, “the same diploma does not contain the criteria that were applied in determining the amounts to be attributed to each of the 13 companies, as would be expected and desirable in a subject as sensitive as the direct subsidization of the State to the media – still in the form of institutional advertising”.

On Wednesday, the Observer and the ECO announced that they will reject the support granted by the state, a total of almost €40,000, in the context of the advance purchase of institutional publicity.

“This programme does not meet the minimum criteria of transparency for the Observer to accept being part of it. We will therefore inform the Government that we have waived €19,906.29, just as we would have waived any other amount allocated under these conditions”, said the Observer’s Board of Directors (MB) in a statement.

For his part, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Swipe News, Rui Freitas, the company that owns the ECO, wrote in Wednesday’s editorial that “the ECO will refuse the State’s support to the media”, pointing out that “the value of the support is not in question, but the model followed, of direct subsidization, instead of a mechanism that passes the decision of support to the reader”.

ECO was allocated support of €18,981.

Impresa was allocated €3,491,520 and Media Capital €3,342,532, followed by Cofina €1,691,006 and Global Media €1,064,901.

The Rádio Renascença group counts on €480,258, followed by Trust in News, which has the magazine Visão €406,088, Sociedade Vicra Desportiva, owner of A Bola, (329,187 euros), Público (314,855. euros) and Newsplex, which has Sol e i, (38,645).

The Megafin Group (28,844 euros), owner of Jornal Económico, owner of Porto Canal, Avenida dos Aliados – Sociedade de Comunicação (23,270 euros).

In total, all these 13 national media will receive 11.25 million euros, or 75% of 15 million euros (VAT included).

The remaining 25% of support goes to regional and local media, of which €2 million in acquisitions to be made from holders of regional periodicals and €1.7 million in acquisitions to be made from holders of regional and/or local radio programme services.