Article contributed by the European Journalism Centre
The Portuguese language service of Euronews is facing closure following the decision of the Portuguese government to end its contract with the international news channel.
Due to the economic crisis, the Portuguese government has been forced to make cuts in every sector. “As far as I know, the government’s decision is not against Euronews; it was aimed at saving resources and Euronews was a collateral victim,” explained the Portuguese politician José Ribeiro e Castro, who is also the president of a governmental commission for education and culture. The news was announced by Euronews’ CEO Michael Peters to the Portuguese Parliament on January 18th.
In protest against the decision, Ribeiro e Castro launched an online petition “Let’s save Euronews Portuguese,” which has collected over 1,700 signatures so far. The politician, who is also a Member of the European Parliament for the European People’s Party, sees Euronews Portuguese as a valuable medium to deliver European news to a worldwide audience. The service recognises the “value of Portuguese as an international language, not only within Europe but globally,” he says, noting that “there are more Portuguese speakers outside than inside of Europe.”
Portuguese migrant communities count over five million people spread around the world and Portuguese is the official language in eight members countries of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Euronews added the Portuguese language service in 1999, and has since then offered round-the-clock news and programmes written and spoken in Portuguese. Besides delivering international news, the service produces content related to Portugal’s cultural, political, economic and social scene that is broadcasted in 11 languages, reaching a significant audience of 344 million households in 155 countries.
The international team of 17 permanent journalists and 20 freelancers of the Portuguese service’s bureau based at Euronews’ headquarters in the French city of Lyon, reacted to the news with “deep sadness and frustration,” said Maria Barradas, the team’s spokesperson.
Since the beginning of the partnership, the Portuguese government – through the state-owned channel RTP – has been paying Euronews an annual amount of EUR 1.8 million to produce, broadcast and publish news content in Portuguese.
This sum is much below the EUR 6m any country interested in opening a similar service needs to pay. “Portugal is receiving this high value service at a competitive cost,” argues Ribeiro e Castro.
The EU to the rescue?
Michael Peters presented a set of possible solutions to help Euronews continue its Portuguese service, among which the most likely to be implemented would rely on a participation of the European Commission (EC) in financing the channel’s operations.
After taking up the matter on January 30th with EU Commissioner for Justice, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights, Viviane Reding, Ribeiro e Castro said he felt hopeful for a positive outcome but clarified that the European Commission’s help would be limited in time, in view of the fact in normal circumstances that the responsibility of maintaining the Euronews project belongs to each member state.
Another way in which the Portuguese service of Euronews could appeal to the European Commission would be to apply to a multi-lingual funding scheme, designed to support actions promoting European languages outside of the continent.
Michael Peters also proposed a solution involving cable operators, which have the obligation to broadcast the channel under a must carry policy. Each cable operator has the duty to include a channel of public service to its offer.
In an interview with the Portuguese newspaper Diário de Notícias Ribeiro e Castro explained however that this solution would require a change in the legislation. Each viewer would have to pay an additional EUR 0.50 per year.
More popular than the BBC and CNN
Euronews is the most viewed international news channel in Portugal. It is broadcasted in the country through RTP, reaching 3,487 households. Every day it attracts over 800,000 citizens.
Quoting the 2011 EMS study, Michael Peters said that “Portugal is the only country where Euronews is more recognised than BBC and CNN.”
“It enjoys a reputation score of 97 percent,” he added.
Euronews’ contract with the Portuguese public broadcaster RTP will come to an end on January 31st, 2013. What’s more, the state-owned channel intends to sell its 1.39 percent share in the Euronews capital.
The decision regarding the future funding of Euronews Portuguese must be made by May 2012. In the meantime, the ongoing talks between the European Commission and the Portugal’s representative, Ribeiro e Castro, seem to indicate that European support is the most likely solution to save the Portuguese language service the time being.
This article, written by Filipa Moreno, was originally published by the European Journalism Centre, on February 24, 2012.