Ana Pinto Martinho, Miguel Paisana, and Gustavo Cardoso
ISCTE-IUL University Institute of Lisbon
In an election year, the fight against fake news has gone mainstream with the Portuguese parliament giving draft approval to moves to tackle disinformation. Nevertheless, trust in news remains among the highest in the countries surveyed.
The challenges of fake news and disinformation have been highlighted by elections at national, local, and European levels. Legislation is being considered in parliament and the media regulator, the ERC, has produced an evidence-based report to inform the debate. There have already been several initiatives to address the issue, including a conference hosted by the Portuguese news agency LUSA, and the launch of a website dedicated to fighting disinformation.1 Additionally, investigative journalist Paulo Pena undertook an in-depth investigation for leading paper Diário de Notícias, which revealed the connections of some fake news and disinformation sites to social media platforms, as well as their methods and backers.
In June 2018 Diário de Notícias, which is one of the oldest Portuguese papers and part of the Global Media group, abandoned its daily print edition, instead investing heavily in its online edition. It still prints an edition on Saturday, but Executive Editor-in-Chief Catarina Carvalho said this approach does not mean that the paper will become a weekly. The aim, she said, was to consolidate the brand as a daily source of news in a renewed digital environment. There were no job losses as a result for now, even if some staff have been transferred to other brands within the Global Media Group. It also owns the daily Jornal de Notícias and legacy radio broadcaster TSF.
Printed paid circulation continues its steady annual decline across the sector and at the same time there has been little progress in getting users to pay online. The proportion paying for any online news including subscription, membership, and one-off payment is just 7%, one of the lowest in our survey.
The Media Capital Group, owner of the TVI news channels as well as radio channels like Rádio Comercial, hit the headlines in 2018. The group, considered highly profitable and currently owned by Spanish media giant PRISA, became a takeover target by telecom multinational Altice. The acquisition didn’t go through, though there have been hints that other media companies might be interested. Telecoms regulator ANACOM has insisted that talks about media and telecom mergers and acquisitions should be closely watched because of the risks to competition and the dangers of market concentration. The move towards digital and the social impact of online has been encouraged by investment from telecoms providers in new forms of data contracts. Most of these offers target the key 18–35 demographic and rely heavily on zero-rating tariffs on selected apps, a situation that strongly benefits international players such as Google and Facebook.
The sustainability of media groups and outlets continues to be difficult, with funding for innovation often coming from initiatives like Google’s Digital News Initiative (DNI). In 2018 it financed five Portuguese projects to a total of €1.4m (Media Capital, Cofina, Diário de Notícias, Observador, and a pilot project from a start-up called ‘The Mosted’ which plans to offer journalists real-time metrics as they write). Most of these projects came from established media groups, but there was also funding for Fumaça, a podcast produced by an independent journalism group which also received funding from the Open Society Foundations, and which is making an impact in the media landscape.
Meanwhile leading Portuguese publishers have continued to push ahead with their innovative data-sharing platform Nónio, which aims to provide an alternative login system to Facebook and Google. Users only need to log in once to be recognised across the hundreds of news websites, including magazine and news brands, as well as TV and radio on-demand services.
Portugal has been consistently at the top of the rankings for trust in the news, according to this survey. Nevertheless, it has witnessed the birth of its first standalone fact-checking platform.2 Polígrafo launched in November 2018, with an experienced journalist as director and major backer. Funded by private investors, the platform has seen interesting growth rates in its first months. In 2019 several universities developed partnerships with media outlets, journalists’ professional bodies, and lifelong learning organisations to fight fake news and propaganda.
Television is increasingly challenged by online and social media as the most important source of news. WhatsApp now reaches almost half of our sample (47%) and is used by five times more people for news than in 2015. Instagram is growing fast with the young.
This year trust overall has come down to 58% (-4), perhaps due to heightened concern about misinformation, but still leaves Portugal in second position across 38 countries. Public broadcaster RTP remains the most trusted brand with tabloid Correio da Manhã least trusted – but widely read in both print and online.