Portugal Research 2022

news desert

The News Desert Portugal Report 2022


More than half of the Portuguese municipalities are news deserts or are on the verge of becoming so. Out of the 308 existing municipalities, 166 (53.9%) are news deserts or semi-deserts or at risk of becoming one. These are municipalities in a red flag situation regarding news coverage.

Over a quarter of Portugal’s municipalities are in some type of news desert, which means they don’t have frequent or satisfactory news coverage. Out of the 308 municipalities, 78 (25.3%) are in some type of news desert, that is, they do not have media outlets based in the municipality that create local news or the ones they have, have insufficient news coverage. Out of these 78 municipalities, 54 (17.5%) are in a total news desert, which means that they don’t have any media outlets producing news about these territories, and 24 (7.8%) are in semi-desert status, that is, they only have less frequent or not satisfactory news coverage. It should also be noted that 88 (28.6%) are at risk of entering into the status of news desert, as they have only one media outlet with regular news coverage.

The North, Center and Alentejo regions concentrate over 80% of news deserts and semi-deserts in Portugal. In these regions, there are 63 of the 76 municipalities that are news deserts and semi-deserts. Specifically, the districts of Beja, Bragança, Évora, Portalegre and Vila Real are those with the highest number of municipalities in some type of news desert.

In Bragança and Portalegre over half of the municipalities are in news deserts or semi-deserts. The district of Portalegre comprises 15 municipalities, of which 9 (60%) are considered news deserts. In Bragança, 7 (58.3%) out of 12 municipalities have the same status.

The lack of local news creation affects more heavily the interior municipalities. The districts of Lisbon, Porto, Braga and Aveiro, where the 20 most populated municipalities of Portugal are located, have only three towns in the news deserts (located in Lisbon, Braga and Aveiro). The district of Porto has no municipality in the desert, semi-desert or even under threat (with only one media outlet). In Continental Portugal, only three coastal municipalities are in a semi-desert: Aljezur, in Faro; Albergaria-a-Velha, in Aveiro; and Óbidos, in Leiria; and none are in a total news desert.

There are no printed newspapers covering local news regularly in 182 Portuguese municipalities (59%). It is considered, in this report, that frequent updates correspond to daily, weekly, and fortnightly news reports. Out of the 182 municipalities, 106 (34.4%) don’t have frequent printed media updates but have other media updates. A total of 15 towns only have printed monthly publications, without other media present, and thus, are considered semi-deserts. 54 only have monthly publications but have other media outlets (digital and/or radio). A total of 106 municipalities (34.4%) have at least one frequently updated printed media and one digital media. Six municipalities have as their only news source one printed newspaper.

Digital media are present in 151 municipalities (49%), while there is no digital media in 157 municipalities (51%). 16 municipalities host only one digital media, without any other publications available, and therefore are considered at risk of becoming news deserts. In 77 towns, there are frequently updated printed media, digital and radio stations.

A total of 118 municipalities (38.3%) do not have any radio stations broadcasting local news. 17 municipalities have licensed radio stations but don’t have local news coverage (no journalists locally and/or the newsroom is located in another non-border municipality). Of these, nine have no other news outlets and one has only one less frequently printed newspaper, therefore these 10 cases are considered semi-deserts. In the other seven municipalities, there are frequently updated printed or digital media. Meanwhile, there are licensed radio stations in 175 municipalities in Portugal (56.8%) with newsrooms and journalists in the same territory. In 59 municipalities without frequently updated printed and digital media, radio stations are the only local news source. In two municipalities with only one radio station as their local news source, it was not possible to assess their existence, and thus, these municipalities were classified as not rated. Despite that, these two towns, Castelo de Paiva (in Aveiro) and Azambuja (Lisbon), have other local media besides radios and are not, overall, to be considered news deserts.

More than half of the 50 less populated municipalities in the country are news deserts or semi-deserts. Among the 50 smallest municipalities in terms of population, 29 (58%) are news deserts or semi-deserts. Out of the 100 less populated towns, 53 (53%) are desert or semi-deserts. In total, 647,422 people live in some kind of news desert, or 6.3% of the population. Meanwhile, more than 13.4% of the citizens live in news deserts or communities at risk of becoming one. There are 1,390,493 people living in the 78 municipalities with less regular news coverage and in 88 municipalities with only one media outlet that covers local news more frequently.

42 of the 100 municipalities (42%) with the lowest purchasing power in the country are news deserts or semi-deserts. Of the 50 towns with the lowest purchasing power in the country, 22 (44%) are in deserts or semi-deserts. Comparing the purchasing power map in 2019 and the news deserts map in 2022, the correlation by regions between purchasing power and the creation of local news is evident.

A low correlation was found between the absence of local news and abstention in Portuguese elections. In the list of the 50 municipalities with the highest abstention rate in the 2021 municipal elections, only three are in the news deserts or semi-deserts. When considering the 100 municipalities with the highest abstention in the same election, only 11 are in the news deserts or semi-deserts. Considering the 2022 legislative elections, among the 50 towns with the highest abstention rate, only 16 are in news deserts or semi-deserts, while in the list of the 100 municipalities with the highest abstention rate in the 2022 election, only 27 are in news deserts of semi-deserts. Finally, it should be noted that abstention was not considered in a stratified manner, namely by age. This type of analysis, which future studies will seek to carry out, will help identify possible differences and impacts of the presence or absence of news deserts.

News Desert Maps


Full report

Authors: Pedro Jerónimo; Giovanni Ramos; Luísa Torre

Edition MediaTrust.Lab / LabCom

ISBN 978-989-654-870-4 (papel); 978-989-654-872-8 (pdf); 978-989-654-871-1 (epub)

Legal Deposit: 08025/22