Local Media for Democracy — country focus: Portugal

Report authored by Dora Santos-Silva, Carla Baptista, Luís Bonixe, Luís Oliveira Martins, Patrícia Caneira – ICNOVA / Universidade NOVA de Lisboa. This country chapter has been edited by the CMPF team.


Portugal emerged from a dictatorial regime in 1974. From then on, there was a proliferation of local media, mainly radio, called “pirate radios”.[1] Local newspapers also increased, but often with solid ties to municipalities, which meant their independence was called into question[2]. Television continued as a national trend, with some projects launched, but without much of a future. The international media crisis in the first decade of the 20th century led to many local print newspapers closing without being replaced by local online media[3].

The topic of news deserts has yet to expand in the Portuguese political and societal agenda. The current debate about it is residual and confined to academia and newsrooms. In 2020, the first map of news deserts in Portugal was published informally by Giovanni Ramos, a PhD researcher, on his blog.[4] In 2022, the MediaTrust.Lab project took over the study and published “News Deserts Europe 2022: Report from Portugal”, which received some media attention, mainly from local media.[5] At the beginning of 2023, the launch of the European programme “Local Media for Democracy”, co-financed by the European Union and involving a consortium of four institutions, contributed to introducing the topic into newsrooms.

With around a 90,000 sq. km. land area and a population of about 10,5 million, Portugal has an internet penetration rate of 82%. In 2022, the highest rates were in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (93.9%), the Autonomous Regions of the Azores (93.5%) and Madeira (90.8%), and Algarve (89.6%). The lowest rates are recorded in the central region: 84.4%. However, there is no clear correspondence between news deserts and the internet penetration rate. Similarly, there is also no correspondence between the most economically disadvantaged areas and the existence of news deserts.

Finally, there are no legal definitions for “local media” and “community media”. “Regional media” are defined (Decree-law no. 106/88), and this includes all periodic publications of general information under the Press Law, which are predominantly aimed at the respective regional and local communities. Thus, this definition includes local media. In practice, the general public understands community media as journalistic projects that meet the needs of communities but are not registered as media outlets, primarily because their independence is questionable in some cases and just a hobby in others, or they are projects that arose from civil society, which would aim to be considered media, but do not include professional journalists on their staff.

Based on the results of this research, the highest risk has been noted for the social inclusiveness indicator, while the lowest is for safety of local journalists.

[1] L Bonixe, “As primeiras experiências de radiodifusão local em Portugal (1977-1984)” (2019) Media & Jornalismo, 19(35) 183-195.

[2] P Jerónimo, Media e Jornalismo de Proximidade na Era Digital (Labcom 2017).

[3] C Baptista, M. Torres da Silva, “Media diversity in Portugal: political framework and current challenges” (2017) Media & Jornalismo, 17(35) 11-28.


[5]  P Jerónimo, G. Ramos, L Torre, News Deserts Europe 2022: Portugal report (MediaTrust.Lab 2022).

Main findings

Granularity of infrastructure of local media – Medium risk (50%)

Urban areas in Portugal are well covered by various media. Suburban areas (excluding the ones located in the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Oporto) are covered mostly by local newspapers and radio stations. Suburban areas that surround big cities (such as Lisbon and Oporto) are usually covered by national newspapers, radio and TV, but not in a detailed way. These areas are usually misrepresented, and associated only with big headlines such as crime and poverty.[1] This is why, according to the Media Trust.Lab 2022 study on news deserts in Portugal, more than half of the municipalities can be said to be in a “news desert situation” or on the way to becoming one. The authors of this study considered as “news desert” those municipalities without local news or with just one specialised news media. They considered as “semi-news deserts” the municipalities where the only medium is a newspaper with a frequency greater than biweekly or where the only medium is a radio located in the municipality but without any journalists based in that territory.[2]

People in rural areas have access to information mainly through local newspapers and radio stations or benefit from the news coverage of media located in the nearest cities.[3] Radio plays an important role in this regard, as there are several programmes dedicated to rural populations. However, many radio stations have assigned frequencies but broadcast programming and information with little link to the regions in which they operate. Communication groups acquire the radio stations in suburban areas to increase their geographical coverage, but without prioritising local programming/information.[4]

According to the media authority (in Portuguese, Entidade Reguladora para a Comunicação Social – ERC), there were 1,710 active periodical publications at the end of 2022.[5] Of these, around 700 have a regional or local scope (200 online only, around another 200 holding both print and online editions, and 300 print only). Still, when looking at the local and regional print newspapers with significant longevity this number drops significantly. There are only 18 daily regional and local newspapers. Concerning online media, there is a certain resistance from older printed newspapers to migrate online; there are local online editorial projects, but they are more recent.[6]

Regarding radio, in 2018 there were around 320 local stations, particularly located on the coast, where there is greater population density. There is no local television regulation except for Web TVs.[7]

Besides the headquarters in Lisbon, the public service Rádio e Televisão de Portugal (RTP), has a production centre in Oporto, 5 regional broadcasting centres and 3 newsrooms. It also has editorial offices in the Autonomous Regions of Madeira and the Azores.[8] Lusa, the Portuguese news agency, besides the main newsroom in Lisbon, maintains newsrooms and correspondents spread across all districts and autonomous regions, organised by regional editorial offices (North, Center, Alentejo, Algarve, Azores and Madeira).[9]

There are no specific data available about the number of local journalists in the recent period but, based on several studies[10], it is possible to say that local media are fragile structures where journalists can take up many functions (not only journalism, but also managing and production, for example). Another 2018 report about local radio[11] concludes that 9,8% of the local radio stations do not include any journalists on their staff, 46,1% of local radio stations employ one journalist only and 32,4% have two, which means that they are dependent on quoting other sources, like the national news agency. The same happens with local newspapers.

[1] Ibid.

[2] Ibid.

[3] B de Seixas Mendes “O Jornalismo local e regional – O caso do Fórum Covilhã” (2021) Relatório de Estágio, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Coimbra, p. 8. Available at https://estudogeral.uc.pt/bitstream/10316/97017/1/BarbaraMendes_versaofinal.pdf.

[4]  MJ Taborda, H Pestana, A Rádio Local na Sociedade Portuguesa (Estudo, ERC – Entidade Reguladora para a Comunicação Social, June 2023), p. 13. Available at https://www.flipsnack.com/ercpt/estudo-a-r-dio-local-na-sociedade-portuguesa/full-view.html .

[5] AT Esteves, C Martins, “A Sustentabilidade do Setor da Comunicação Social” (2023) Study carried out by Entidade Reguladora para a Comunicação Social – ERC, p. 58. Available at https://player.flipsnack.com/?hash=QjdGODlDNkQ3NUUraDNxbzVhM3RrNQ==.

[6] Ibid., 29.

[7] G Cardoso, V Baldi, T Lima Quintanilha, M Paisana, P Caldeira Pais, “As Rádios Locais em Portugal. Caracterização, tendências e futuros” (Relatòrios Obercom, Observatório da Comunicação, 2018) Available at  https://obercom.pt/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/CIUL-CV-OberCom2018-Rádios-Locais-Caracterização-tendências-e-futuros-.pdf.

[8] Felisbela Lopes, Serviço Público de Média: Livro Branco (Ministério da Cultura 2023) Available at https://www.portugal.gov.pt/download-ficheiros/ficheiro.aspx?v=%3D%3DBQAAAB%2BLCAAAAAAABAAzNDY3MQYAkFAjnQUAAAA%3D

[9] Agência de Notícias de Portugal, S.A. LUSA, Livro de Estilo (LUSA 2019) Available at  https://www.lusa.pt/about-lusa/Livro-de-Estilo

[10] J Miranda, R Gama, “Os jornalistas portugueses sob o efeito das transformações dos media. Traços de uma profissão estratificada” (2019) Análise Social, 54 (230) 154–177. https://doi.org/10.31447/AS00032573.2019230.07

[11]Cardoso, Baldi, Lima Quintanilha, Paisana, Caldeira Pais (n 12).

Market and reach – Medium risk (45%)

Most of the variables in this indicator have been assessed as medium risk. In the period 2017-2021, the average growth of local media revenue was -0,01%. In the same period, the country’s real GDP increased 1,2%.[1] The comparison of these numbers shows that there is no major difference between trends in local media and trends in the economy (overall).

The supply distribution chain has some problems aggravated by the Covid pandemic. One leading press distribution company—VASP, retained by some large media groups—distributes around 4,500 titles to approximately 7,000 points of sale. It has 245 direct workers and 700 collaborators. In May 2021, VASP tried to apply an extra fee for daily delivery to share the costs of transport, delivery and collection of publications. This led to the boycott of several points of sale and several requests for a hearing by the government of the then newly created National Association of Press Vendors (ANVI). Meanwhile, steps are being taken to create two other national distribution companies.[2]

The Regional Development Coordination Committees manage the Incentive Schemes for Reading Periodical Publications and the state Incentives for Regional and Local Social Communication. The Incentive Scheme for Reading Periodical Publications (Pay Postage) consists of the state contributing to the costs of issuing periodical publications. Regarding the state Incentive Scheme for Regional and Local Social Communication, the following types of support are considered: digital development, technological modernisation, accessibility to social communication, development of strategic partnerships, literacy and education for social communication. The state is also obliged to carry out institutional advertising in the media. In the case of regional and local advertising, a percentage of no less than 25% of the expected global cost of each state institutional advertising campaign, with a unit value equal to or greater than 5,000 (euro), must be allocated. However, in 2022, the investment in state advertising dropped by six million euro.[3] The amount allocated to regional and local media outlets, in 2022, was 2,384,267.78 euro, which corresponds to 36.9% of the total invested in the acquisition of advertising spaces. Compared to the previous year, there was a percentage increase of 37% in allocation to regional and local media; however, the overall investment reported was significantly lower.[4]

The government has also announced plans to increase existing support for the mailing of the regional and local press. The minister for culture has recognised the need and pledged a 12.5% increase, since this funding has been frozen since 2015.[5] The regional and local press see this increased support as essential to their future. Another—albeit controversial—response was the creation by the government in the spring 2020 of a Covid emergency financial media support scheme, based on compensating for the estimated revenue loss from cancelled corporate advertising. €11.25m was awarded to national media brands and €3.75m to local and regional outlets.[6]

The most recent Media Pluralism Monitor (2023) stated that Portugal’s risk regarding ​​market plurality is 52% (4% less than in 2022).[7] This is essentially due to the concentration of media and digital markets, because five players control the media business: Impresa, Cofina, Media Capital, Global Media, and RTP (state owned). In the digital environment, large platforms have big market shares in advertising. The regulatory framework does not prevent market concentration, be it within traditional or digital media, which is cause for concern. These players also control some regional and local media.[8] The Catholic Church is also, directly or indirectly, one of the main owners of regional and local press.

[1] Eurostat, “Real GDP growth rate – volume, Eurostat – 2023.” Available at https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/TEC00

[2] Madremedia/Lusa “Vai comprar o jornal ao quiosque ou papelaria? Pontos de venda iniciam hoje boicote de dois dias” (June 18, 2021) Available at https://24.sapo.pt/atualidade/artigos/vai-comprar-o-jornal-ao-quiosque-pontos-de-venda-vao-boicotar-venda-hoje-e-amanha.

[3] Esteves, Martins (n 10) 60.

[4] A Nobre, “Relatório de Regulação: Publicidade Institucional do Estado 2022” (ERC – Entidade Reguladora para a Comunicação Social, 2023) Available at https://www.flipsnack.com/ercpt/erc-relat-rio-publicidade-institucional-do-estado-2022/full-view.html

[5] A Pinto-Martinho, M Paisana and G Cardoso, “Digital News Report: Portugal” (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford 2023). Available at https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/digital-news-report/2023/portugal.

[6] Ibid

[7] F Rui Cádima, C Baptista, M Torres da Silva, Patrícia Abreu, L Oliveira Martins, “Monitoring Media Pluralism in The Digital Era: Portugal (Media Pluralism Monitor 2023, European University Institute) Available at https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/75734/portugal_results_mpm_2023_cmpf.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[8] F Correia, C Martins, “Media Landscapes – Expert Analysis of the State of Media: Portugal (2019) Available at https://medialandscapes.org/country/portugal.

Safety of local journalists – Low risk (21%)

Journalists working for local media are paid low wages and suffer from the fact that they work in newsrooms with a small number of journalists. According to a 2015 study, the local radio journalists who participated in the study were on average earning the national minimum wage and complained mainly about not being able to get out to report due to lack of human resources.[1]

The lack of human resources in newsrooms is a reality in the local and regional press. This has been noticed in a report from the media authority (ERC) then in 2010 [2] but continues to be a problem in the country: about 25% of the local and regional press report a lack of journalists and more than 70% of them employ part time journalists.[3] The low salaries earned and the lack of human resources are thus the main problems faced by local journalists, whether in radio or print.

There is no concrete data regarding the working conditions of local journalists working on a freelance basis. In general terms, journalists working freelance receive a fee for each job done, this amount is usually low; in addition, they do not have a work schedule. These are the general conditions of freelance journalists; they are not specific to local journalism, but it is possible to assume that they are also applied to this reality.

Attacks against the physical integrity of local journalists are not very frequent, although it cannot be said that they are non-existent. Some cases, in small numbers, have been reported and occur mainly to journalists who cover sports (football in particular). With regard to SLAPPs, between 2010 and 2022, there were 9 cases in Portugal (less than one per year), according to the recent report of the Coalition against SLAPPs in Europe (2023).[4]  The existence of specific laws for the media sector, and the fact that freedom of the press is enshrined in the Portuguese Constitution, contribute to the low number of cases.

[1] L Bonixe, “A territorialização da informação: uma análise do jornalismo nas rádios locais portuguesas” (2015) Novos Olhares, 4(1), 67-80 https://doi.org/10.11606/issn.2238-7714.no.2015.102239

[2] ERC – Entidade Reguladora para a Comunicação Social, “Imprensa Local e Regional em Portugal” (Report 2010) p. 25.  Available at https://www.erc.pt/documentos/ERCImprensaLocaleRegionalfinal.pdf.

[3] PA Leitão Monteiro, “Imprensa regional:  Globalização, localização e jornais de proximidade em Lisboa (2016) Master Dissertation, Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa. Available at https://repositorio.ual.pt/bitstream/11144/2803/3/Disserta%C3%A7%C3%A3o%20PAULO%20vers%C3%A3o%20final%20para%20reposit%C3%B3rio%20da%20UAL.pdf.

[4] Coalition Against Slapps in Europe – CASE, “SLAPPs: Increasingly Threatening Democracy in Europe” (Report 2023, prepared by The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation on behalf of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe, and published in August 2023, 2nd edition). Available at https://www.the-case.eu/latest/how-slapps-increasingly-threaten-democracy-in-europe-new-case-report/

Editorial independence – Low risk (31%)

The Television Law (Law No. 27/2007) and the Radio Law (Law No. 54/2010) prohibit parties and politicians from exercising or financing, directly or indirectly, activities on these platforms. At the same time, the Transparency Law (Law No. 78/2015) obliges media companies to transmit to the ERC detailed information on ownership, financial data (including relevant customers and liability holders), corporate body holders, and corporate governance reports. There are, however, some cases of public knowledge in which candidates for local political office own media registered with the ERC.[1]

State subsidisation is properly regulated[2], and no concerning issue is found with regards to its distribution. State subsidies consist of postage paid to local and regional press, as well as a set of funds available to companies managed by the Regional Development Coordination Commissions (CCDRs). In the last call for state Incentives for Regional and Local Media, which took place in 2022, 27 local and regional media outlets were granted support, divided into four types: digital development, technological modernisation, literacy and accessibility, with a total value of €395,214.70.

State advertising is also efficiently regulated.[3] In 2020, in connection with the pandemic, a package of 15 million euros was exceptionally allocated in the form of advance purchase of institutional advertising. Of this amount, two million euro were allocated to regional publications and 1.7 million to regional/local radio stations.[4] However, the government resolution did not identify which local and regional organs receive the approximately 3.7 million euro, determining only how the amount is distributed according to their frequency of publication.[5]

According to Article 38 of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, the state assures the freedom and independence of the media from political and economic power. The Journalist Statute and the Code of Ethics of Journalism prescribe important provisions against commercial interference. The Code of Conduct for Advertising Self-Regulation in Advertising and Other Forms of Commercial Communication also presents relevant principles. The non-existence of proceedings brought by the Deontological Council of the Journalists Union appears to show that local journalists comply with the principles of the Code of Ethics of Journalism.

However, sometimes local news media are indirectly pressured by commercial entities, municipalities or sources because of their close ties. Moreover, other sources of concern have been identified, such as: the participation of politicians in the opinion spaces in newspapers, radio and television; measures to prevent newspapers from accessing public documents (as the former minister of infrastructures, João Galamba, did in June 2023 as a way to deny access to 105 documents by national newspaper Público); refusals to provide information to journalists (as happened in April 2023, when the municipality of Idanha-a-Nova refused to provide information to a journalist about a project of municipal interest; or defamation (for example, the president of Oporto City called a journalist a “perfect idiot”, in September 2022). The above examples can be found in the online platform Artigo 37,reporting restrictions to freedom of information in Portugal.

The ERC regulates the entire media sector (TV, radio, press and online), including the Azores and Madeira. The ERC is a legal person governed by public law, with financial and administrative autonomy. It has independence regarding the exercise of its functions and is responsible to the Assembly of the Republic. The Commission of the Journalists’ Professional Card and the Union of Journalists (with headquarters in Lisbon and delegations in Madeira and the north), do not have any authority over the media. The ERC  and the Commission of the Journalists’ Professional Card have no local branches.

Portuguese PSM (RTP, Portuguese Radio and Television) has 9 local branches, besides the headquarters in Lisbon: Oporto, Madeira and the Azores (function as national emission centres); Viseu, Vila Real and Bragança (in the north of Portugal); Coimbra (central region); Évora and Faro (the south of Portugal). These local branches do not have editorial and financial autonomy, except Madeira and the Azores. Regulatory safeguards exist and are generally effective in preventing governmental or other forms of political influence.

Problems are instead detected in terms of content diversity, as most local media cover the same subjects, usually linked to the cultural and associative agendas of the municipalities. Even covering different sections, the tone and the actors are usually identical.

[1] For example, there are some cases in which politicians were shareholders of a regional newspaper, like the former prime minister José Sócrates and the newspaper Gazeta do Interior. Sometimes former local journalists apply for municipal positions and use their credibility as former journalists.

[2] According to Article 36 of Decree-Law nº 23/2015, the entities competent for the allocation of incentives must submit a report to parliament containing: the identification of the beneficiaries, the total amount of support allocated, the levels of implementation of the incentive scheme, the degree of compliance of the projects supported and the impact of the support.

[3] The transparency rules to which state institutional advertising campaigns are subject, as well as the rules that apply to their distribution through local and regional media are found in Law no. 95/2015, of August 17.

[4] Obercom, “Apoio financeiro aos media durante o período pandémico e análise ao estado do mercado publicitário 2019-2020” (Report, 2021) Available at  https://obercom.pt/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Apoio_media-2020_final.pdf.

[5] Conselho de Ministros, Resolução n.º 38-B/2020, de 19 de maio – Presidência do Conselho de Ministros, 2020, Available at https://diariodarepublica.pt/dr/detalhe/resolucao-conselho-ministros/38-b-2020-134021996.

Social inclusiveness – High risk (61%)

The reason for such high risk for this indicator is related to the representation of minority groups in both PSM and private media, the engagement of local media outlets with their audience and the lack of prominent media outlets that target marginalised groups.

PSM offers news and information to minority and marginalised communities, mainly news segments and some Portuguese shows: television programmes with Portuguese sign language; Teletext subtitling of programmes spoken in Portuguese; audio description and symbols used in programmes to facilitate accessibility; vocalisation and a version of Teletext RTP in text mode, accessible to screen reader software used by blind or visually impaired people. Regarding immigrants, PSM provides two channels dedicated to some segments: RTP International and RTP Africa.[1]

When considering foreign minority languages, there is one single interesting experience developed by the local Lisbon newspaper, Mensagem[2], of journalism in Creole, within the Newspectrum project, in partnership with the blog Lisboa Criola. The texts are written by a journalist of Guinean origin and published in Creole from Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. There is also an international section with pieces available in English. Portugal does not have prominent media addressing minority groups, only niche experiences such as Afrolink[3], Revista Gerador[4], Lisboa Criola[5], Buala[6], Revista Mulher Africana[7] and other similar micro alternative digital media focused on Afro-descendant communities.

Since 2018 the ERC has monitored the cultural diversity of news content on public television and 3 private stations: SIC, TV and CMTV. The results do not reveal significant differences between public and private media in terms of representativeness, with all channels scoring low. Still, the public channel RTP2 scores best, standing out with the highest percentage of time and programme titles for minority groups and the promotion of cultural diversity.[8] However, there are relevant differences in the framework. CM TV, the private TV channel of the COFINA group, broadcasts more images promoting stereotypes and ethnic discrimination. Moreover, according to the last regulatory report from the media authority (ERC), there is a low number of programmes promoting cultural diversity and minority interests on the main public broadcasting television channel and the two leading commercial TV media (SIC and TVI).[9]

Finally, in terms of engagement, local media do not have the financial resources, the knowledge or the means to conduct audience studies or impact studies; any relation with the academics that could partner them is scarce. Engagement with the community and participatory journalism is something that is not yet secured in local newsrooms. Communities do not see added value in journalism (especially the younger groups who are used to social media alone) and do not engage easily with journalists.[10],[11]

[1] See Concession Contract for Public Service Broadcasting between the Portuguese State and RTP (Rádio e Televisão de Portugal S.A.)  Available at https://media.rtp.pt/empresa/informacao/contrato-de-concessao-publica-radio-etelevisao/.  and https://www.erc.pt/download/YToyOntzOjg6ImZpY2hlaXJvIjtzOjM5OiJtZWRpYS9kZWNpc29lcy9vYmplY3RvX29mZmxpbmUvODYyOS5wZGYiO3M6NjoidGl0dWxvIjtzOjI5OiJkZWxpYmVyYWNhby1lcmMyMDIyMjYxLW91dC10diI7fQ==/deliberacao-erc2022261-out-tv.

[2] Mensagem de Lisboa (Local newspaper), https://amensagem.pt/crioulo/

[3] Afrolink, https://afrolink.pt/sobre/

[4] Revista Gerador, https://gerador.eu/revista/ 

[5] Lisboa Criola, https://www.lisboacriola.pt

[6] Buala, https://www.buala.org

[7] Revista Mulher Africana, https://www.revistamulherafricana.com/OnStage.asp

[8] ERC—Entidade Reguladora para a Comunicação Social, “Relatório de Regulação 2022” (Report 2023) Available at https://www.erc.pt/pt/estudos/relatorios-de-regulacao/relatorio-de-regulacao-/.

[9] Ibid., 422.

[10]  D Santos Silva, C Carvalho, C Reis, A Brito Guterres, “(Un)désert the News” (fieldwork 2023).

[11] Interviews with C Reis (editor of Mensagem de Lisboa); C Carvalho (Director of the Mensagem de Lisboa) and A Brito Guterres (community mediator) Conducted in person on 14 November 2024.

Best practices and open public sphere

Portuguese news media organisations are experimenting with innovative responses, regarding new formats, storytelling, data journalism and even social innovation. As mentioned, Mensagem de Lisboa was the first to create a section written in Creole, the second most spoken language in Lisbon. Divergente has carried out investigative journalism, and has already received several international awards, such as the Online Journalism Awards[1]. RDP, a public radio service, launched the first report with binaural sound in 2018.

[1] See https://awards.journalists.org/entries/for-you-portugal-i-swear/.

Map of Local and Regional Media in Portugal

This map shows the number of local and regional media in Portugal in 2022. You have the option to filter by format, periodicity, municipality and district. Hover over a region to view the number of media outlets, including a detailed breakdown by format. Clicking on a specific region provides a detailed list of media outlets in the table below the map. This includes details on the format, periodicity, municipality and district where the outlet is based. The original data source for this visualization is P. Jerónimo, G. Ramos and L. Torre, News Deserts 2022: Portugal Report, and can be accessed by clicking here.