BY HELENA SOUSA
This thesis is an attempt to bring politics into the sphere of communications. Taking Portugal as a case study, we will try to demonstrate that the current national telecommunications and broadcasting systems are neither the mere consequence of external forces and imperatives nor the result of economic and technological developments (though they have played a relevant part). Indeed, very concrete political decisions (and deliberate non-decisions) taken by ill-prepared national politicians under pressure from nationally-based lobbies lay behind the configuration of Portuguese communications. Though recognising the increasing external links of national communications and, specially, the flourishing EU binding legislation and non-binding recommendations, this study sustains that the main reasons why the Portuguese people get what they get should be examined closer at home, rather than in a intricate net of external political and economic connections.
The so-called liberal ideology which has swept the country since the mid-1980s, coinciding with the accession into the EEC and with the beginning of Cavaco Silva ten-year term in office, did not mean less 'state'. Quite on the contrary, there has been - as never before - an intensification of political intervention in the communications arena. Telecommunications were partly liberalised and the privatisation of the major operator, Portugal Telecom has started; in broadcasting, the public television monopoly was broken up and two national TV channels were allowed to operate. However, this programme of reforms was so crudely developed that further political intervention is required and a more consistent regulatory framework will prove to be indispensable.
Despite the technological convergence between
telecommunications and broadcasting, these two sectors have developed quite
differently and are still perceived as distinct policy areas. Being displayed
as essentially a technological issue, telecommunications did not attract
much public interest and the sector was re-restructured without proper
debate or consultation. The opening up of broadcasting to private companies
has brought in some discussion but - due to the political sensitivity of
the affair - the prime minister himself decided which would be the safest
pairs of hands to be granted the two TV licenses. From a political point
of view, telecommunications and broadcasting could hardly be further apart
and yet both reflect aspects of the general characteristics of the Portuguese
policy-making process. Inter-related attributes such as elitism and/or
limited pluralism, political and geographical centralisation, lack of expertise
and retreat on safe issues are observable in the way policies are conducted
in both sectors.
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