Portuguese journalist threatened by Deputy Minister

Minister Miguel Relvas

Summary of the events, so far, concerning a Minister's threats to a journalist in an attempt to stop an "inconvenient" article from being published in Portuguese daily newspaper Público.

On the 19th of May the Conselho de Redacção (Editorial Council) of the daily newspaper Público published a unanimously approved statement denouncing the Deputy Minister’s threats to one of its journalists of filing a complaint with the ERC (Entidade Reguladora para a Comunicação Social – Regulatory Entity for the Media), promoting a blackout of the newspaper and publishing, on the internet, information regarding the journalist’s personal life.

Conselho de Redacção wrote:
The journalist Maria José Oliveira asked the Conselho de Redacção to analyze a series of episodes that had ocurred last Wednesday in which the Deputy Minister, and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Miguel Relvas complained to the newspaper of being persecuted; threatening consequences to the journalists and Público if a certain article regarding the “secretas” was published. The article was not published.

The CR listened to the journalist, the editor of Política (the Politics section of the newspaper) and the Directors, Bárbara Reis and Miguel Gaspar, from this it was understood that it was necessary to consider two aspects of the affair: Miguel Relvas’ threats and the fact that the article was not published.

The threats
The threats were confirmed by the editor of Política, as she had received a phone call from Relvas after Maria José Oliveira had sent questions to the minister for a follow-up news regarding inconsistencies in his declarations to Parliament the day before. Relvas supposedly said that if the newspaper published the article he would file a complaint with the ERC, promote a blackout on Público, conducted by all Ministers, and to publish, on the internet, data regarding the journalist’s private life. These threats were repeated in a second phone call.

The editor of Política says that throughout the years she has always received threats from rulers and that she has always treated them the same way, ignoring them. Still, the journalist was informed by the editor of the content of her conversation with the minister and both of them, by request of the journalist, took the case to the Director Bárbara Reis, that did not give importance to the threats since she also deals with situations of that kind frequently. Afterwards, Miguel Relvas talked with Bárbara Reis in order to contest the content of an article printed that day, the one on which the journalist wished to conduct a follow up. The Director did not talk to the Minister about the threats made on the phone against the editor. Until yesterday, Thursday, the editorial management hadn’t taken any position, or taken any action, regarding the threats. According to Reis it is a case that needs to be handled with clam, and not with a “hot head”. Director Miguel Gaspar considered it a serious case and that it would be handled by the management.

The Conselho de Redacção is of the opinion that such threats, coming from one of the most important Ministers in the Government that is responsible for the Media, should not be treated as a normal episode. On the contrary, the CR considers the threats, whose purpose was to control the publication of articles inconvenient to the Minister, are intolerable and reveal an inadmissible disrespect for journalistic activity, the newspaper Público and journalist Maria José Oliveira. They also show a member of government’s gruesome distortion of his supposed duties as instead of safeguarding the Freedom of Press he uses threats – an essentially cowardly act – in order to attempt to stop a member of the Press of following its inalienable role against the powers that be.

PÚBLICO had three opportunities to deal with the threats: in the phone call to the editor of Política, in the phone call to the Director and in the next day’s newspaper, thru an article, an editorial, a statement or any other format thru which PÚBLICO manifested its attitude towards the actions of the Minister; which is in obvious public interest to publish. The Portuguese people have the right to know how their Deputy Minister, and of Parliamentary Affairs, acts and the PÚBLICO has the duty of revealing this sad episode, within the coverage that has been conducted of the “secretas”.

Yet, nothing was done in the day that the threats were made, nor in the next day. Editors and Directors have full legitimacy of handling cases with their own judgment and in their own way. But in this case the newspaper failed to immediately and publicly comment on the unacceptable attitude of pressure of the one that is considered the Republic’s “number 2”. PÚBLICO cannot accept, quietly, such pressures and it is regrettable that it has done so.

The elements of the CR will study the case with the newspapers lawyer and with the Sindicato dos Jornalistas (Journalists Union) in order to define future actions with the relevant authorities.

The non-publishing of the article
The article that wasn't published was a follow-up on the article, printed on Wednesday, that pointed towards inconsistencies in Relvas’ deposition in Parliament. Maria José Oliveira sent the Minister questions that had not been made or responded to in Parliament. The resulting article would one whose lead would be the Minister’s refusal to answer the PÚBLICO on the inconsistencies, adding further details on the case.

The editor of Política, before receiving the phone call from the Minister, had said that the article wasn’t worth publishing as it wasn’t bringing anything new to the table. The editor repeated several times to the CR that she had decided not to publish the article in print before Miguel Relvas’ threats over the phone. She was not opposed to having the article published on the newspaper’s website, since the article in the newspaper’s printed edition (were the Minister’s inconsistencies were already mentioned) wasn’t available online.
According to the Director Bárbara Reis, the veracity of the article had been questioned since the middle of the afternoon with the editors of the online version of the newspaper. The journalist was questioned several times in the afternoon regarding the article for the online and of the article that had been printed that same day had been the target of reconfirmation, as Miguel Relvas called claiming that the article was false. The management confirmed the article published in the printed edition to be correct.

In the evening, Director Miguel Gaspar, to whom the case had been handed over after being discussed by the editors and the other Director, decided not to publish the article. Miguel Gaspar told the CR that the decision was solely based in his interpretation that just saying that the Minister refused to answer the PÚBLICO was not news worthy – in accordance to the already expressed opinions of the other Director and the substitute-editor of the online edition. The editor of Política, as stated before, was not opposed to the article being published in the online edition. Miguel Gaspar stated that he also advised the journalist to keep pursuing the case, eventually resulting in a more systematized, detailed, article regarding Miguel Relvas’ inconsistencies.

The members of the Conselho de Redacção consider that there was news worthy content in Maria José Oliveira’s article and that she did what a journalist is supposed to do: not let the news fall into oblivion and work on it, seeking answers from the Minister.
CR is of the opinion that even if the Minister’s phone calls hadn’t had any influence the lack of publishing of the article would give the image, when the case became public, that, and this was exactly what happened, PÚBLICO was backing down to the threats of the Government’s “number 2”. Regardless of the value of waiting for a deeper follow up, publishing an article with the Minister’s pressures included would have certainly avoided this possible damage to PÚBLICO’s image of independence, an image that the newspaper has the duty to protect.

The newspaper’s Management answered saying that they were “surprised” by the statement and that it was “an intolerable misrepresentation of the facts”, but that the Minister’s pressures were unacceptable.

The Management wrote:
The Management of PÚBLICO was today surprised by the publishing of a statement by the elcted members of the Conselho de Redacção, which the Management considers unacceptable and that it is an intolerable misrepresentation of the facts.

The Statement hints that the PÚBLICO didn’t publish the news article on the case of the secretas due to pressures from Minister Miguel Relvas. Up until today no article regarding the secretas wasn’t published and no relevant fact on the matter was kept from the readers.

The day following Minister Miguel Relvas’ parliamentary hearing journalist Maria José Oliveira sent a series of questions to the Minister regarding the declarations, which had already been covered in a previous article, to which the Minister did not answer. As such, the Management concluded that there was no publish worthy material.

That was also the assessment of the three editors, of both the printed and online editions, without having communicated amongst each other and before Minister Miguel Relvas’ phone call to the editor of Política. Three editors and the Director decided that it wasn’t news worthy before knowing about the phone call.

PÚBLICO’s position, throughout the years, has been to not react or publicly denounce threats made to journalists. It is not about not giving importance to those pressures. This practice has been followed under severe pressures, such as recently with the case of Sporting.

The exceptions to this rule of not publishing pressures should only happen when there’s a breach of the law. The Management consulted the newspaper’s lawyer, Francisco Teixeira Mota, which considered it not to be the case. After this consultation, the newspaper’s Director, Bárbara Reis, protested to Minister Miguel Relvas for exercising pressure that the whole Management considers unacceptable.

Afterwards, the Minister issued a statement saying that accusations lacked “any foundation” and that the decision to publish, or not, was exclusively of the Management.

Office of the Deputy Minister and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs wrote:
In regards to articles published today authored by the newspaper PÚBLICO’s Conselho de Redacção involving threats or pressures by the Deputy Minister, and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, to a member of that newspaper’s – a private Media institution - writing staff, this Office considers them to be completely destitute of foundation, and categorically repudiates them.

It is obvious that the decision to publish or not a certain article is exclusively a matter for the members of that Media institution’s editorial management. Considering that all legal measures that can be used to defend the Deputy Minister’s, and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, good name and honor can be put into action, a right that is there for all citizens, without threatening Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press.

Despite the Minister denying the accusations later Director Bárbara Reis would say that the Minister Miguel Relvas “apologized” to her. Despite this there have been several demands for his resignation, namely from António Capuchos.

Links to articles and statements(in Portuguese):
Público's Conselho de Redacção accuses Relvas of pressures
Newspaper "Público": Miguel Relvas accused of threatning journalist
Conselho de Redacção's Statement
Management's Statement
Office of the Deputy Minister and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Statement
"Público"'s management answers the Conselho de Redacção
Público's Management criticizes the Conselho de Redacção's statement
PÚBLICO and pressures from Miguel Relvas
Miguel Relvas "apologizes" to "Público"
Público's Management against the Conselho de Redacção
Relvas supposedly apologized to Público for threats that he denies making
Capuchos defends Relvas' resignation, if the threats are confirmed