Pre-handover press crisis

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 August, 1999, 12:00am

Last week's demise of one of Macau's three Portuguese-language dailies is a stark reminder that the local press has reached a pre-handover crossroads.

The editors of the highbrow O Futuro de Macau blamed the dwindling number of Macau's Portuguese expatriate community, now estimated to total around 2,000, for the closure.

Macau's Portuguese-language press now comprises two dailies and two weeklies. The popular Macau Hoje (Macau Today) daily, which says it is modelled on Britain's Sun tabloid, is known for its punning headlines and hard-hitting commentaries.

The mainstream Jornal Tribuna de Macau daily, founded just a year ago, has the backing of one of Portugal's most powerful media groups, Lusomundo.

The independent Ponto Final (Full Stop) weekly is renowned for its political coverage and intimate access to judicial sources, while the Catholic diocese's O Clarim (The Bugle) weekly offers a surprisingly interesting medley of religious, political and social news.

While the circulation of Macau's Portuguese newspapers is rather small, averaging around 1,000 copies each, they do have a pivotal role in shaping public opinion and expressing the views of the minority.

Macau's Chinese-language newspapers often publish translations of their Portuguese counterparts' articles, namely those deemed to be controversial.

The fly in the ointment is that the readership of Macau's Portuguese press still depends excessively on Portuguese expatriates, many of whom are leaving in the run-up to the handover in 136 days.

Although several thousand local Chinese residents have a pretty competent knowledge of the Portuguese language, very few of them are regular readers of the Portuguese press.

Macau has one of the world's highest media densities. Aside from four Portuguese newspapers, there are eight Chinese-language dailies and six weeklies that have a combined circulation of around 40,000, or about 10 per cent of the population.

The staunchly pro-Beijing Ou Mun Iat Pou (Macau Daily News) has an 80 per cent share in the local newspapers' circulation.

The newspaper, which is widely seen as China's semi-official mouthpiece, is quite possibly the only left-wing newspaper in the world that is not only the absolute market leader but also highly profitable.

All the other local Chinese-language newspapers, most of which sell just a few hundred copies a day, are known to produce red-ink figures.

It is no wonder local Chinese editors complain about the import of nearly 40,000 Chinese and English-language newspaper copies from Hong Kong every day.

The circulation of Hong Kong newspapers in Macau now almost equals the number of Macau newspapers that are sold locally.

While some local journalists have come up with the preposterous notion of restricting the access of Hong Kong newspapers, others say the real problem is that Macau's Chinese-language press has simply not been able to keep abreast of the times.

Macau has enjoyed press freedom since April 1974, when censorship was abolished following Lisbon's democratic Revolution of the Carnations that got rid of four decades of fascism.

Article 27 of the Macau Basic Law guarantees freedom of the press.

Macau's 300 journalists should take note of the example of the Hong Kong SAR where not state censorship but self-censorship seems to be a problem.