The Portuguese media system by and large continues to conform to the criteria of media independence. However, as in the 2009 report, there continue to be increasingly worrying signs of alleged and/or attempted government interference with media operations. In September 2009, a popular television news program was cancelled. That news program (Jornal Nacional de 6ª– JN6, of the private TVI channel) had been very critical of the prime minister, and had been leading high-profile investigations on an alleged corruption scandal dating to the time when the prime minister was minister of the environment, in 2001. Moreover, the program had a very polemic style of reporting, which many disliked.
The prime minister publicly expressed criticism of this news program several times in 2009. In April of that year, he accused the program during a prime-time interview of being “a travesty of journalism” and of heading a “manhunt.” In February 2009, during the Socialist Party congress, he alluded to “dark campaigns” against him, in which the media were included. Likewise, he stated that the government was chosen by the people, not the heads of TV channels, a reference widely interpreted even then as being aimed squarely at TVI.
The news program was due to return to the airwaves after the summer break on September 4, 2009, and had been promoted by its anchor heavily in the preceding days. However, it was cancelled on the day before airing (September 3), under circumstances that still today are not entirely clear. The TV channel said it decided to cancel the program to reinforce the homogeneity and consistency of its evening news program throughout the week (the Friday program was a ratings leader in its time slot, but it did also have a very grating and polemic style). However, the decision was not well received amongst the channel’s journalists – the news editorial team resigned, and the channel’s journalists signed a petition repudiating the cancellation. While the prime minister and the Socialist Party denied any involvement in the decision, other parties cried censorship, and argued that the TVI board’s decision was influenced by the government’s opinion.
These allegations gained further traction in early 2010. In June 2009, Portugal Telecom (in which the Portuguese state retains a “golden share” as well as some influence) was involved in a quickly aborted attempt to purchase TVI. At the time, the prime minister stated in parliament that he did not know of this deal, and two days later said the government would veto this purchase through use of its “golden share.” However, a corruption case involving a close ally of Sócrates was to reopen allegations of government interference, giving rise to allegations that Sócrates not only knew of the deal but it was the government that had orchestrated the deal to buy TVI in order to silence its criticism. No case was opened against Sócrates, who has strenuously denied the allegations. However, opposition parties see this as further evidence of attempts to control the media, and a poll carried out in March 2010 showed that the majority of Portuguese citizens thought the prime minister deliberately lied to parliament. In an unprecedented move, the opposition parties voted for the opening of a commission of inquiry to investigate the prime minister’s involvement in the PT/TVI deal. This commission, which began its work in April 2010, was the first in the history of Portuguese democracy to question a sitting prime minister.