Political Interference on the Airwaves: The BBC Broadcasts to Portugal during the Second World War

Nelson Ribeiro, Catholic University of Portugal, “Political Interference on the Airwaves: The BBC Broadcasts to Portugal during the Second World War” (2011) excerpt:

"Salazar aimed to create individuals who would take a passive stance, which was different to the approach taken by other European dictatorships at the time; Salazar was not keen on mobilizing the masses as a means of supporting the regime. For this reason, as happened during the entire period of the Estado Novo, Portugal in the 1930s and 1940s was ‘protected’ from the incursion of the masses into the political arena. This explains the lack of investment by the regime in radio broadcasting, despite the existence of a colonial empire which, according to many of the regime’s intellectuals, urgently needed to be reached through radio.

The Estado Novo’s media policy was based more on control of information than investing in the creation of big events to be disseminated by the media, therefore censorship had a central role to play. All the news published in the press and broadcast on the radio stations was controlled by the censors. Moreover, the news broadcast by the radio stations did not pose a serious danger to the regime during the 1930s because it occupied very small amounts of broadcasting time. In reality, broadcast news was quite tightly controlled and there was little margin for disseminating events that might displease the regime.

The control that the Lisbon regime exercised over broadcasting guaranteed political alignment with the Estado Novo’s ideology and simultaneously made it impossible for the public to get up-to-date news on the war’s military developments through local stations, since the censors tended to be very energetic in suppressing news, especially from the Eastern front, due to the regime’s ideological opposition to communism. This led to the development of huge interest in foreign broadcasts in Portuguese, which put Portugal at the centre of the ‘war of the airwaves’ at a time when the development of international broadcasting was shaped by ‘the perceived power of the medium to influence public opinion’ (Hendy, 2004, 21). In fact, this perception explains why ‘international radio broadcasting enjoyed an almost meteoric rise during the late 1930s and World War II’ (Browne, 1982, 1)."