The 1st Press Office
“The Country is between the Arcade and São Bento,” said Eça de Queirós, in Os Maias. Between Arcada and São Bento, sources of the Informação da Arcada [Arcade Informationan] service, created by the State during the Constitutional Monarchy and lasting until 1974, move.
From rumours to reliable information
The Arcade, during the Constitutional Monarchy, represented the governing and administrative centre of the country. It was the place name used to identify adjacent arches to the ministries in Terreiro do Paço. The geographical concentration of almost all ministries in this square became the epicentre of the political activity and consequently, of journalism.
A privileged stage for political fights, it triggered the creation of several sources of information that were voraciously consumed by reporters. The Martinho da Arcada café has played a major role in the exchange of information but also a lot of noise – rumours and intrigues were also disseminated in this location.
The environment of intrigue was indeed recorded in books of memoirs and diaries of politicians and other figures who attended this location. For example, a politician and thinker of the time, António Sérgio, in Essays (Ensaios), recalled the rumour about the persecution of Oliveira Martins – Minister of the Treasury – in 1983, during the reign of Luís I. “The plot that was intended to overthrow him would be woven by the Arcade, in newspapers, in the Parliament.” “The first press office” in Portugal had been created but in a volatile and non-professional way.
In 1911, António Teixeira de Sousa, Minister in several governments from the Constitutional Monarchy, commented in his work For the History of Revolution (Para a História da Revolução) rumours and information indicating the possibility of an imminent political revolution. “During the month of January 1908 the revolution was very much talked of. I only had the information of the Arcade, which is very fertile in fanciful rumours.”
Despite these undoubted records, “there is no official document, news or report that would demonstrate the existence of a service, a room or office designed to accommodate the many reporters who daily inhabited the Arcade, with the aim of collecting information from ministries” before the 5th of October, 1910.
However, there is an episode narrated by Jorge de Abreu, a journalist of O Século, in which the government’s routine distribution of information between reporters is revealed, which they called “the Arcade news:” “A government of the monarchy alienated with Silva Graça’s daily newspaper [O Século] and prohibited official offices of providing him any news worthy information. O Século tried sidetracking the obstacle (...) An employee of the ministerial body was bribed, who, every evening, disguisedly put the galley proof with the Arcade’s news report in the trash barrel placed on the front door.”
“Yesterday, at 3.00 p.m., it was said in the Reporters Office (Gabinete dos Repórteres) in the Civil Government, that earlier two stretchers leading two wounded men had landed on the bridge Ponte dos Vapores in Cais do Sodré.” The existence of a governmental information distribution service to the press were not an Arcade’s exclusive. There was also the Reporters Office (Gabinete dos Repórteres) in front of the Civil Government of Lisbon, between Rua Serpa Pinto and Rua Anchieta that, in the late nineteenth century, provided information from this government agency’s responsibility (crimes, arrests, deaths).
In the excitement of the early days of the First Republic, and according to the Memoirs of Raul Brandão, "the information was given to reporters in this office.” “[Mr. Paulo Cancela de Abreu] was published in Dia, but it was transcribed from a newspaper that he is not a royalist and it had the official information from the Reporters Office.”
At the beginning of the First Republic, Diário de Notícias published a small article in which it was read that reporters from daily newspapers in Lisbon were “kindly received” by senior representatives of the newly activated Security Police. Inside the premises of the Interior Ministry, in Terreiro do Paço, the Republican authorities have promised to “provide to the representatives of those newspapers all public information.”
On the 19th of November 1920, it was ordered the publication of a decree which established the existence of a Press Office of the Arcade. Now, it was officially recorded the existence of the “first press office” in Portugal.
“Decree No. 2514 – The Government of the Portuguese Republic, the Presidency Minister, orders the definitive installment of the press information services, along with ministries, in the existing office in the Interior Ministry, assigned months ago to this end, in the representatives of daily newspapers in Lisbon. Palace of the Government of the Republic, 19th November 1920. The President of the Ministry, António Joaquim Granjo, the Interior Minister, Felisberto Alves Pedrosa.”
In times of Dictatorship
But it all backtracked when it was established one Military Dictatorship in 1926, after the Military Coup led by General Gomes da Costa. This setback was most evident when it could be read, on 18th February 1928, an office that contains an “appeal from the Union of Professionals of the Lisbon Pressfor maintaining an office for journalists in the ministry.”
On the 13th of October 1930 it was held “an opening ceremony (...) of the new Interior Ministry’s press office.” Portugal was in a full Military and National dictatorship. The creation of this office was reported by the city’s daily big newspapers. In the event of its inauguration, Martinho Simões, the new Minister of the Interior and the journalist Júlio de Almeida, from Diário de Notícias, spoke.
The ruler stressed that the “decent office, of its high and patriotic role among governments, is due to the action developed until now [by journalists].”
Júlio Moreira spoke on behalf of all journalists and proved to be “knowledgeable of the different phases of the Press Office [of the Arcade].” Censorship was a consolidation tool of the Military and National Dictatorship, while investing in these press services from these government agencies.
“The district chief captain Luiz de Moura, after a conference held this afternoon with the representatives of several newspapers that serve the Civil Government, decided that the new reporters office will be housed in the former office of the administrative authority. This office that will undergo major changes, will also have a private phone.”
“Politically there is only what the State knows,” it was what António de Oliveira Salazar defended. With the New State (Estado Novo), the Arcade was professionalised. The Press Office, besides the political importance that it represented, the ruler saw this service as a cornerstone in the promotion of his governmental action. In addition to this mechanism, censorship was another means of settling the ideology of the New State (Estado Novo). This way, the Regime increased and lent a new dynamism to the press office as a way of controlling public information.
The Information Organisation
With the creation of SPN – National Secretariat of Propaganda – in 1933, it is established that, among many other things, this government structure was “to serve permanently as an aid information from the respective ministries.” In 1945 it begins to be called SNI – National Information Secretariat – but the guidelines remain unchanged. The Arcade’s Information worked then under the jurisdiction of SPN/SNI and had its activity minutely reported in the biweekly newsletter produced by these bodies, namely the Information and Press section.
In detailed reports it is also confirmed the existence of “two writers of the Interior Ministry.” The press clippings were also prepared and distributed to the larger organisation. The press clippings, an analysis service and collection of news highlights, resembled what today is known as clipping.
Later, daily and weekly clippings were distributed in the following bulletins: “Nacional,” “Imprensa do Porto,” “Província,” “Arquipélago dos Açores,” “Insular da Angra do Heroísmo,” “Insular da Horta,” “Madeira,” “Colonial Portuguesa: Angola,” “Colonial Portuguesa: Moçambique,” “Colonial Portuguesa no Estrangeiro: Brasil” and “Colonial Portuguesa no Estrangeiro: América do Norte e Argentina.”
SPN/SNI also promoted the creation of other press offices, namely, in the Lisbon City Council in 1935. Later, in 1957 the Press Room at the Palace of Foz – headquarters of the body – is created to mainly receive foreign journalists.
It was precisely during the New State (Estado Novo) that more writing texts with information distributed by the Arcade were produced. The instrumentalisation of the press went beyond censorship or propaganda. There was a group of Portuguese and foreign journalists who were paid to write articles according to the instructions received by SPN/SNI. In this context, the former journalist of Diário de Lisboa, José Estevão Santos Jorge, interviewed by Adelino Gomes, in 2009, takes the leading role of the Arcade’s Information during the New State (Estado Novo).
At that time the official news came through SPN. The newspapers were upset. And then they invented this system: a Press Office (...) in the Interior Ministry, where there was a boss. In my time it was Júlio de Almeida, the Diário de Notícias editor and senior public official. The information from all ministries was gathered there and sent to newspapers. These paid a little fee. It was necessary a certain ability for us to approach the staff – we did not talk with the ministers nor with the State Secretaries.”
The operation of this division was similar to one of the many services that are currently offered by a communication agency or provided by a communication office of any institution, that is, to be an intermediary between the institutions and the communication media.
The professional routines of journalists responsible for collecting the information from Arcade was also described by José Estevão Santos Jorge.
“In Diário de Lisboa this service [Arcade’s Information] even got to be done, at first, by Mr. Mário Neves. There was a young man of the House of the Press or the Union, I cannot remember exactly, who was there to get copies of the texts and distribute them in the newspapers, also earning a little money. A colleague who was doing the Arcade’s Information for Diário de Lisboa died, and Mr. Norberto Lopes asked my father if I did not want to replace him. At the time no one wanted to do something like that: we had to go around aimlessly in the ministries, the Presidency of the Republic and the Council Presidency, first thing in the morning.”
«Havia uma figura, nem sempre era um jornalista, que recolhia a informação dos ministérios. Como estavam todos no Terreiro do Paço - a exceção, que me lembre, era o Ministério da Educação -, era conhecido como o “informador da Arcada”», acrescentou ainda o antigo jornalista do Diário de Lisboa.
“There was a figure, who was not always a journalist, who collected information from ministries. As all of them were placed in Terreiro do Paço – the exception, that I remember, was the Ministry of Education – was known as the ‘Arcade’s informer,’” further added the former journalist of Diário de Lisboa.
Afonso Serra, former journalist of A Capital, in the work Living Memories of Journalism (Memórias Vivas do Jornalismo) also admits the existence of the Arcade’s Information, in particular its operation: “From politics there were usually what was sent from SNI, they sent the news... And there was a permanent informer in the Arcade that worked in the Interior Ministry. (...) There, there was a permanent reporter. He provided for his newspaper and other newspapers. It was Almeida, the Almeidinha. Firstly it was Almeida, the father, then his son... They were effective journalists from Diário de Notícias. (...) And they earned money, the job was paid. The content of the news was always about issues related to the regime’s organisational action.
“We wrote what came randomly. And what interested the ministries. And then SNI also began providing information. But the Arcade always kept working. There were many details of the day...”
Returning to Júlio de Almeida, epithet of the Arcade during the New State (Estado Novo), he earned praise from professional colleagues at the inauguration of the Office, during the National Dictatorship, him being an employee and the “boss” of the Arcade’s Information. Besides journalism, he took on a service of “press office” in the Arcade’s Information.
“This situation actually configured the practice of three-type functions in the press: Informant, reporter and journalist.”
During the governments of Salazar and Marcelo Caetano, the Arcade’s Information intensified its activity and professionalised its services. The National Assembly even highlighted the efficiency of this service: “Perhaps it was to be hoped that the Journal of Sessions followed to the Ministries, via Arcade. The action of this diligent service would be so wonderfully complemented.”
Salazar himself, in a correspondence exchange with the morning newspaper A Voz, praised the availability of newspapers to publish official press releases:
“I must, however, say that it has not been necessary to compel any newspaper to publish government notes, even the most extensive: all have provided this service voluntarily.”
In the “Spring of Marcelo,” (primavera marcelista) the office’s activity was strengthened by the new Statute of the Press. In this document, issued by SNI/SEIT (Secretariat of State for Information and Propaganda), it could be read that in order for “the central information services to provide the clarifications requested by journalists, it was envisaged the appointment of official informants of the ministries and of other public bodies and entities.”
The changes of the Revolution
Despite the fact that the Arcade’s Information was a support structure for the New State’s (Estado Novo) propaganda, it did not suddenly end with the revolution of April 1974.
From this historical landmark on, the Arcade’s Information, as well as other divisions of SNI/SEIT, begin to be a responsibility of the MFA – Armed Forces Movement.
The end of the Press Office of the Arcade had nothing to do with the stabilisation of democracy. The fragmentation of political activity and the decentralisation of executive power by several power instances were at the epicentre of the disappearance of the Arcade’s Information.
The testimonies and sources used in the corpus of this document show that the Arcade’s Information played an important and dynamic role as a government service in the historic period between the reign of Luís I and the II Provisional Government of PREC (Revolutionary Process in progress).