Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Journalism in the Cross-Current

Cuba: Journalism in the Cross-Current / Ivan Garcia
Posted on October 21, 2013

An autocracy's efficiency can be measured by, among other things, its
immutable capacity for controlling information. Everything passes
through an ideological filter. Some guys sitting in an air-conditioned
office minutely evaluating it to determine what people can see, hear or

Books, records, news, novels, films and television programs must be
approved by the Cuban Communist Party's censor. Anything the regime has
not approved can be considered illegal.

Granma, Juventud Rebelde, Trabajadores and all the other party organs
must play the same tune. Everything is planned. Very little is left to

Once the order from on high goes out, docile reporters must write about
the economic crisis in Europe, the lack of social discipline on the
island or the private middle men who are blamed for the high price of
agricultural products.

Fidel Castro has always said that the Cuban press serves as one of the
weapons of the revolution, one it does not hesitate to use. And while
you can find examples of good reporting and sharp social commentary, it
is never of a heatedly controversial or political nature.

The most talented official journalists play in the minor leagues. They
are not highly visible. Obedience takes precedence. The local press — a
synonym for mediocrity — is designed to misinform. The color of its
style manual is olive green.

Fidel Castro used to stride through a secret passageway that connected
his office in the Palace of the Revolution to that of the director of
the newspaper Granma a few yards away. It allowed him to review news
stories or change a layout.

It is said that he personally wrote its most inflammatory editorials.
Unless an official journalist has been accredited by the communist
party, a government minister might not respond to his phone call or
might even hang up on him. Officials and institutions — if you can call
them that — bury information and statistics. Raúl Castro would like to
turn the this situation around.

Awhile back, some provincial media outlets, local broadcasters and TV
talk shows initiated a discreet and very cautious form of tropical
glasnost. One can now read crime reports, sports writers criticizing the
policies of INDER,* and one daring reporter accusing a state agency of
bureaucratic foot-dragging.

While it is good thing that the national press is beginning to reflect
the opinions of the average Cuban, it's a bit too little, too late. By
our count a handful of men and women began to write in the mid-1990s
about the side of Cuba that the regime was trying to hide.

Almost all of us were empirical journalists, educated by daily life.
Twenty or so — I was one of them — had the good fortune to attend
workshops led by the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero. We were reasonably
well-educated and had an enormous desire to learn and get ahead.

Journalism for us meant going out and looking for news in the
neighborhood and in the ranks of the dissidents. It meant reporting
daily using old typewriters and, because there were no computers, filing
our stories by phone.

As in every aspect of life, there are independent journalists who are
good, average and poor. And people who think clearly but write badly.
Whether good or bad, they go on reporting on areas of national life that
the official media ignores.

The credibility of independent journalists has grown since 1995. Their
points of view and social critiques have influenced opinions outside the
island. The regime knows this, which is why it is begun trying to
compete without mentioning its competitor.

It is independent journalism that has caused official journalism to
rethink its role and forced its reporters to go out into the street.

It is not a battle for information. Completely independent journalists
are swimming against the current; their reports will never be published
in state-run newspapers. Their colleagues — independent journalist
licensed by the state — are monitored, harassed or accused of alleged

This is because there is a gag law which allows a reporter working
outside the control of the state to be sentenced to more than twenty
years in prison. The official press operates on an uneven playing field.
Nevertheless, it is losing to the competition.

Photo: Cover of the first issue of a magazine that has remained a symbol
of alternative journalism and that in the mid-1990s gave independent
journalists their start. The regime allowed only two issues to be
circulated. It blamed their publication on Raúl Rivero y Ricardo
González Alfonso, who were later convicted and sentenced to jail. From
"Remembering the Revista de Cuba."

*Translator's note: Acronym for The National Institute of Sports,
Physical Education and Recreation.

17 October 2013

Source: "Cuba: Journalism in the Cross-Current / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba" -

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