Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Some Challenges Facing Cuba’s Press

Some Challenges Facing Cuba's Press
September 17, 2012
Esteban Morales*

HAVANA TIMES — Everything seems to indicate that there are now two
presses in Cuba. There's one that some want all of us to read, and
another one that reaches only 10 percent of the population (though
summaries of it are broadcast over "Radio Bemba" ["Radio Lips," or the
grapevine], which Raul Castro himself once said transmits better than
the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television).

Since the time that President Raul Castro made that statement, however,
there have now come into existence email and internet, which are highly
efficient means for circulating information that our press still doesn't
dare to even think about printing.1

The written press, which has two main national newspapers, often
duplicates the news, making it possible to find the same things in both

These are newspapers that people purchase every day with the hope of
seeing major events and especially their concerns reflected in an open,
fresh and frank way – which is to say, what everyone is talking about
and asking on the street.

People ask: What's happening with all this corruption? Whatever became
of the underwater cable that was assured would connect us to Venezuela
and the world? When will the output of the Cuban agriculture system
start reflecting more produce at lower prices? When will we see the
changes in immigration regulations, something that was energetically
promised? When will we actually be able to read the text of the new tax
law? What will happen with the accumulation of negative opinions
concerning the latest customs regulations? And so on…

This written press seems like something that's not really Cuban. It's
too over-simplified, too secretive, too bland. It has almost nothing to
do with the unique character and nature of Cubans, who laugh even their
own misfortunes.

It's a press that's able to ferret out all the negatives concerning the
United States, sometimes putting news about that country on the front
page when that same information doesn't even take up a tenth of a page
in USA Today, the most popular newspaper in the United States.

There's no doubt that lately we've begun to note that our press is
making an effort, but it's still far from meeting the expectations of
the average citizen. To some extent, this can be seen in the Friday
section of the official Granma newspaper and in a few sporadically
published articles.

Next year's announced congress of the Cuban Journalist's Association
(UPEC) will inevitably have to "grab the bull by the horns" if we really
want to have a press in line with our times.

This would be a press that serves as an effective instrument for
criticism, for improving the economic model and changing people's
collective mentality, which has been requested by the top leadership of
the country.

Nonetheless, despite these modest gains, it's sad to see that our
national newspapers are losing readers. Those who buy them do so almost
by inertia (or because there aren't any alternatives) hoping to someday
find in these dailies what concerns them or what they want to know about
and learn.

Unquestionably, with a press like this, the battles to be waged have
been lost in advance. The reasons for this include the following:

• The public has gotten tired of reading newspapers that don't reflect
our real life situation or what's happening overall.

• The gap between what the media reflects and reality has introduced
skepticism and suspicion.

• People have begun looking around for better alternatives – which is
very dangerous.

• Average citizens are turning to the national radio, which is always
spontaneous, and from there they are accessing foreign broadcasts, some
of which even broadcast in Spanish, with many directed specifically at
Cuba (the worst of which is so-called "Radio Marti").3

• A mindset is being created whereby people seek information on events
in Cuba from sources abroad — news that should be available here —
handing the breaking news and information from the island on a silver
platter to the foreign media.4

• Citizens have become more perceptive of trumped-up stories and the
distortion of information.

• There is a lack of more realistic, democratic, open news coverage that
permanently eliminates secrecy, censorship and old, dogmatic and
apologetic approaches.

• We are missing out on the inclusion of revolutionary Cuban
intellectuals who can reflect more realistic ideas, in addition to open
and intelligent criticism. People are distanced from those who can
confront counterrevolutionary criticism from positions that recognize
our shortcomings, before the enemy throws them in our face and turns
those arguments into arms for conducting subversive diplomacy, something
which is promoted by the policy of "regime change" advocated by the
current US administration.

• We haven't grasped the fact that the enemy's technological superiority
doesn't have to be a disadvantage for us if we wisely use the weapons of
truth, consistency, systematic criticism and the valuable revolutionary
scientific and intellectual potential that's available.

A society that in the middle of an information revolution tries to
control the ears and eyes of its citizens will not survive. Recovering
people's confidence is becoming exceedingly difficult because they are
now reacting to the absence and the poor quality of information. It's
like something that belonging to them or owed to them is being stolen
from them or that power is being used to deny them what's theirs.

This is a feeling that is now dangerously gaining ground among us.
What's more, it's quite legitimate, as even the top leadership of the
country has criticized the press, speaking about its numerous
shortcomings – among them secrecy.

It was the president himself who opened the channels of criticism and
has pushed for the press to follow his call. But there has been no
change as a result, while people continue to wait with increasing
impatience for what still hasn't occurred.

Nonetheless, a significant share of the revolutionary intelligentsia is
finding space on the national intranet and the internet. Though only a
limited number of people have access to this medium, articles and
comments by our intellectuals are being spread across the country
through email, reaching a number of people that's greater than what
might be assumed.

But unfortunately, the internet benefits from that, relaying information
and commentary to Cuba that the country itself should provide [in it media].

That is the damage we're doing with this "overzealous" approach to the
internet, which is more harmful than what the internet itself could do
to us. In order to survive in this world in which we live, it's demanded
that we confront the risks of being in it.

How can we reverse that equation in which our national media are also
beginning to lose face internationally?

The shortcomings and inadequacies of the Cuban press and media also have
negative repercussions abroad, where there's great interest in the
events and the situation in Cuba due to the very concerns raised by
criticisms of the situation on the island and because criticism is now
recognized in official discourse.

Even many foreign friends of Cuba are concerned about what's happening
on the island, but they feel that they don't receive sufficient reliable
information about our circumstances. They realize that the Cuban press
doesn't provide this information and that it is more realistic to learn
about Cuba via the internet, intranet and other alternative media sources.

Various revolutionary and non-revolutionary blogs, as well as online
magazines — such as Espacio Laical, La Ceiba, Observatorio Critico,
Moncada, SPD (Socialismo Participativo y Democratico), Café Fuerte,
Havana Times, La Joven Cuba and others — are moving forward. They are
capturing the attention of readers outside Cuba who are looking for more
objective, daring, critical news, as well as information that is
generally more consistent with the challenges everyone knows the country
is facing.

This information simply isn't provided in the national press, which
usually presents an almost idyllic image of the country, lacking
sufficient critiques, masking difficulties and disagreements, hardly
reflecting our reality and only doing so in a timid, secretive and
restricted fashion.

In this way they prevent our potential friends outside of Cuba from
knowing enough, not only about what our problems are but also the
arguments needed to support us.

This involves a phenomenon that I don't think the national media clearly
perceives, because often those foreign friends suffer from the same
problems we do in Cuba: they defend inflexibility, self-censorship, give
insufficient recognition to what's negative here, serve as apologists
and build solidarity blindly. These are vices that we ourselves, Cuban
revolutionaries, have transmitted from here in Cuba on more than a few

How do we get out of this disinformation quagmire so that defending the
Cuban revolution today is more realistic, more conscious, more in line
with the challenges now facing the country? How do we do this so that
our people can gain trust our press and so that our friends abroad can
be of greater help in confronting the avalanche of counterrevolutionary

These days, counterrevolutionary criticism is undoubtedly more
intelligent and more scientific, since it often relies not on simple
lies, the gross distortion of events or the exaggeration of our
problems; instead, it takes advantage of our real problems. They present
them in a more sophisticated and more finely manipulated manner, while
searching for discouragement, confusion and apprehension in our solutions.

I think there is only one path for our press to follow to overcome these
situations. As long as our media fails to achieve this alliance,
everyone will is on their, each with their arms (some quite rusty), and
we'll be no more than a horde that is divided by mistrust, dogmatism,

Moreover, we will suffer from the elitism of some who — from their
positions of power — adopt the attitude of "pure" defenders while they
label others to be no more than liberals who want to hand over the job
of defending the revolution to its enemies.


1 There are excellent journalists (like Jorge Gomez Barata, Felix
Sautie, Fernando Ravsberg) whose articles would contribute substantially
to our press; however none of them are welcome there. On more than a few
occasions, when in-depth writings are published here that deal with the
problems of today's world, these are merely "refried" articles
originating from foreign authors, though Cuba has plenty of people
capable of writing about these issues. We are observing a true divorce
between the so-called official press and the nation's intelligentsia.

2 No doubt there's a personality problem between the two newspapers,
which basically affects the youth newspaper (Juventud Rebelde), which
inevitably devotes a great deal of space to repeating news that isn't
relevant to its young readers. They will run what appears in Granma, the
official newspaper of the Party, but very little about the problems of

3 No mention is made here about the phenomenon of the proliferation of
CDs with all types of programs that circulate throughout the domestic
network. This relates to a problem that is similar to that of the
written press but which relates to our TV programming; it is harshly
criticized not because of its lack of resources, but because its lack of

4 On the night of this past September 9, a significant portion of the
country suffered a black out and the national broadcast of Radio Reloj
was unable to inform people what was happening – something that wouldn't
have happened a few years ago.

(*) An authorized Havana Time translation of the original published by
Esteban Morales on his blog.

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