Journalism of the 19th century in Portugal


Newspapers played a revolutionary role in Portuguese society of the nineteenth century. At a time when only the press was the medium of communication, journalism was conditioned by the high illiteracy rate and the low purchasing power of the Portuguese population

The Journalism of the eighteenth hundreds, marked by the times of the French Revolution up to the definitive fall of Napoleon, in 1814, started to be called “press of opinion”. Issues included with major names of literature such as Eça de Queiroz and Ramalho Ortigão.

However, the press’s importance was noted in an article, of 1841, in Revista Universal Lisbonense that registered the following observation: “The press clings the world. Before, the sword ruled – today, it is the feather that governs (…) The former civilization was in the wars, the new one is in the press”.



However, in the beginning of the 19th century, in the Age of Enlightenment, there was still Inquisition in Portugal hid under the designation of Santo Ofício. This factor, combined with the industrial delay, held back the expansion of the Portuguese press.

In the field of censorship the decrees of the police inspector Pina Manique stood out, who, in 1803, reinforced censorship against all publications, both national and foreign.

Even though, there were noted, in several fronts, signs of the will to develop Journalism in Portugal.

The timid appearance of newspapers

From the 14th of June, 1809, on Gazeta de Lisboa, until then with a triweekly periodicity, became daily.

Gazetaand Diário Lisbonense’s daily periodicity, among others, points out that in Portugal, despite the country’s chronic delay, there were already conditions for the appearance of daily newspapers, though more than a century after they had appeared in other points of Europe.



Daily Journalism deepened the interest for what was new in the country and in the world, where new ideas spread, feeling the need for information.

The definitive eviction of the French invaders from Portugal, with the help of England, did not lead to the freedom of the press. On the contrary. Anachronistically, authorities reinforced the censorship devices to prevent the propagation of liberal ideas, contrary to absolutism. Between 1810 and 1820, few were the papers that were able to maintain their periodicity.


After the revolution

After the 1820 Liberal Revolution, principles were prepared that regulated the affirmation of the liberal current in Portugal. In article 8 of this set of clauses, versed the principle of freedom of communication and expression.

On the 12th of July, 1821, the first freedom of the press bill was approved, which foresaw juridical mechanisms to condemn abuses. After that, with the publication of the 1922 Liberal Constitution, the freedom of expression and of the press was reinforced.

However, without being able follow the rhythm of the industrialized Europe, Portugal kept on producing newspapers in a very artisanal way.

The liberal spirit spread to overseas territories. In Goa, Gazeta de Goa appeared; in Macau, Abelha da China and in Brazil, several political newspapers that promoted the country’s independence.


In 1823, the absolutist coup, led by D. Miguel I, decreed the censorship’s return and the end of many newspapers. However, several exiled liberals tried to introduce illegal publications in Portugal, encouraging the liberal cause.

In 1826, with D. Maria II ahead of the country’s fates, the Constitutional Letter that seemed to assure the freedom of the press was approved, even though previous censorship had continued to exist.

Nonetheless, the promulgation of the Constitutional Letter created conditions for the acceleration of the rhythm of appearance of new newspapers.



D. Miguel I, exiled at the time, returned to Portugal to marry D. Maria II’s niece and didn’t hesitate, opposite to what he had promised, to install an absolutist regime again. For the press, that meant the return of censorship and the obstruction of the creation of new newspapers.

Only in 1834, when liberalists beat absolutists, did Journalism in Portugal experience moments of apparent freedom again.

The press’s development was progressive until 1840, the year in which a law was published that restricted the freedom of the press and persecutions to newspapers and journalists started to be reported.

That situation remained until 1851, despite not having completely prevented the edition of oppositionist newspapers. According to José Manuel Tengarrinha it is, around this time, that “the first news reports in Portugal start to appear.”

Taking account of the repression that fell over the press, newspaper A Revolução de Setembro published the following news:

“In Oporto, the realm’s second capital, under the authorities sight, who are two new counts, is where the freedom to write stands out under the administration that has only one thought and one will!”



A time of political… and journalistic agitation

In a time of great political fuss there were many newspapers created for this cause. O Procurador dos Povos, A Lança, o Atletaand A Revolução de Setembro are some examples of those publications. Due to the lack of subscribers, some publications had an ephemeral existence, other reached circulations of over two thousand copies.

This way, press was becoming a new public space, more symbolical than material and essentially understood as public arena.

Joel Serrão considers that “the press of the time is, in the first place, political and, in second place, literary and only accidentally of news of daily events”.

In the second half of the century the first signs were felt of the frenetic Industrial Revolution. It was time to make experiments.

The industrialization lights, allied to the sedimentation of the freedom of the press, made Portugal blossom with new daily publications. The articles’ opinionative tone started to give place to the report of everyday news. Journalism, better yet, the newspapers were more accessible and closer to the Portuguese population.



Tengarrinha states that it was “only between 1865 and 1885 that were established in Portugal the conditions propitious to the press’s industrial transformation,” highlighting the need to develop the journalistic writing techniques.

Eça de Queiroz, known for projecting a Journalism of the future, wrote in the first edition of the newspaper Distrito de Évora, on the 6th of January, 1867, an article about what he thought Journalism should be in Portugal:

“Journalism, in its fair and true attitude, would be the permanent intervention of the country in its own political, moral, religious, literary and industrial life. […] It is the journalist’s greatest duty to make known the state of public things, to teach the people their rights and safety guarantees, to be alert to the attitudes taken by foreign policy, to protest with just violence against wrongful, weak, harmful acts, to watch for the country’s internal power, for the moral, intellectual and material greatness in the presence of other nations, for the progress that spirits do, for the conservation of justice, for the respect for the law, of family, labor, for the improvement of the unhappy classes.”

The appearance of news Journalism

The appearance of Diário de Notícias, in 1864, created new dynamics in the Portuguese journalistic panorama. It was a daily newspaper, cheap and that reported everyday scenes.

It was a newspaper different from the remaining Portuguese newspapers from that time, in the news contents, in the clear, concise and simple style and shape, namely in the graphic aspect with four columns, in the dimension sensibly similar to the time’s tabloids, and also in the price – ten reis per copy, even less when sold by subscription.



This renewed and contemporary perspective of news and generalist journalism suggested itself to be neutral, independent and aimed to all population. In the first page of the first number it was announced:

“Diário de Notícias – its title is saying it – will be a careful compilation of the all daily news, of all countries, of all specialties, a universal newscast. In an easy style, and with greater concision, it will inform the reader of all interesting events (…) Eliminating the featured article, it doesn’t discuss politics, nor sustains controversy.”


In 1870, three years after his manifest in Distrito de Évora, Eça de Queiroz accepted a challenged proposed by the director of Diário de Notícias, Eduardo Coelho, and wrote a series of four stories for this newspaper reporting the inauguration of the Suez Canal. Two months went by between the event and the publication of the story, but not even that took the readers’ interest in the story, narrated with detail by the “special envoy”.

“Port Said, full of people, covered in flags, all noisy with the cannons shots and the hurrahs of the sailor, having in its port Europe’s fleets, full of streamers, arches, flowers, songs, improvised cafés, camping tents, uniforms, had a beautiful and powerful appearance of life. Port Said’s bay was triumphant. It was the first day of the parties.”

After Diário de Notícias, the commercial intention and the informative ambition of the press spread. The audience was thirsty of relevant and interesting news, as shoes the foundation of several newspapers in the same editorial profile, such as Diário Popular (Lisbon, 1866) and Jornal de Notícias (1888), in Oporto.

The press of the time counted, later, with an important help: the telegraph. News agencies were born. Havas, Reuters, Wolff, Agence France-Presse and Agenzia Stefani were created in the 20th century.

Portuguese Journalism was born under European influence, particularly French one. The Napoleonic wars and liberalism dictated the opening to the British model of Journalism, built around the principle of freedom of the press.