Portugal has a 33 years old democracy achieved after a peaceful military revolution that ended a dictatorship that had lasted for several decades. Propaganda was one of the major strengths of our dictatorship (as with all the other similar regimes) and people-to-people grass roots communication was the major weapon of the revolutionary. But Public Relations in Portugal is still to accomplish some important revolutions. Here’s why…
During Portugal’s democratic period, many essential conditions for the practice of public relations (like a public sphere more or less free of governmental control) started to develop and with our entrance to the European community in 1986 the economic conditions for the development of a public relations market seemed to put us on the right track.
However in some essential aspects we remained tied to the past. One of those is the fact that the official definition of the PR profession in Portugal still dates back to the seventies and the fact that several professional associations where formed and disappeared and we are still to have a representative, active, open and proactive professional association.
But probably the best example of our PR industry trying to achieve social change and being prevented from doing it is the case of lobby. Martins Lampreia, one of the three Portuguese accredited lobbyists at the European Parliament, recently explained in an interview that
“There are three main aspects as to why lobby doesn’t function in Portugal. First of all, there is a prevailing idea that lobby is an Anglo-Saxon activity that doesn’t concern us that much. Second, every time the media talk about lobby, they bring up the negative side of it, exposing this or that (negative) case. And thirdly because major companies never experienced any problems in reaching top decision makers. It’s not in their interest to give that kind of power to the small and mid-sized companies, who merely rely on their representative associations, who have some access to the decision-making power according to their resources. Let’s just say this isn’t about those major companies preventing small ones from doing it, but rather about them doing nothing to help.”
Martins Lampreia has been pursuing the cause of lobby regulation in Portugal and explains that
“Portugal is one of the few countries in which a third of the MP’s are not under exclusivity regimen at the Parliament. (…) So before the question of transparency in lobby there is the question of transparency from the politics / MP’s because they are often acting as lobbyists for the companies they represent.”
Having said this, perhaps the following facts extracted from this article doesn’t surprise you that much:
After recent moves from PR agencies and professionals in Portugal claiming the public relations’ professionals right to enter the parliament to speak freely to members of the parliament (a right that is only conceded to journalists), the President of the Parliament (after a putative study of similar cases) declined to concede this right saying that “there are juridical questions that prevent that the right of parliament journalists to have permanent access to the parliament is enlarged to employees of those companies”.
This moves us back to a situation which most European countries have already undergone several years ago. That situation of having to argue the legitimacy of lobby, something that (as Jordi Xifra explains in an article on PoRtraits magazine – begins
“in the duty of the public decision-makers to be informed about all those interests implied when it is necessary to take a decision, whichever the ambit. The legislator or someone having a management position, like the judge, have the duty to listen all involved parties. And the civil society, as an involved part, should defend its interests, based on information and argumentation. These are their only weapons.”
What’s your opinion? Do you know similar cases around the world?