Cuba: Lessons on Total Press Control
November 13, 2014
HAVANA TIMES — Maintaining control over all of the media and having the
power to decide who manages these and what gets published is probably
the dream of many politicians around the world. Such a degree of
control, however, is not without serious dangers.
When all of the media are controlled by a small group of people in the
governing party, these individuals have enormous influence over society,
so much that, if push came to shove, they could use it to pressure the
rest of the party and government.
The experience of the Soviet Union demonstrates the consequences of that
control. Alexander Yakovlev, head of the Agitation and Propaganda
Department (AGITPROP), became one of the main actors responsible for the
disappearance of the USSR.
For years, this "ideologue" was the second-in-command in this
department. He was a rather insignificant figure until Mikhail Gorbachev
appointed him head of AGITPROP, placing all of the Soviet Union's media
in his hands.
He then went on to replace many newspaper editors, appointing people who
were politically like-minded. He encouraged journalists to criticize
certain sectors within the Communist Party in order to weaken the
position of those who were opposed to the Perestroika process.
Almost overnight, the same media that praised everything that transpired
in the USSR began criticizing almost everything and had a decisive
impact on public opinion, paving the road for the system's implosion.
Ironically, some of the high communist officials who personally suffered
the criticisms leveled by the press had been staunch defenders of Party
control over the media.
In 1975, Cuba copied the Soviets in their control of the media, creating
the Department for Revolutionary Orientation, which, according to Jorge
Gomez Barata, a former member of that body, would later become the
Party's Ideology Department.
As in the former Soviet Union, all Cuban newspapers, radio stations and
TV channels repeat the same news – and they do so with such lack of
subtlety that, on occasion, the three major newspapers (Granma, Juventud
Rebelde and Trabajadores), have had the exact same front page.
What is truly curious is that these rigorously controlled newspapers
belong to organizations aligned with the revolution: nothing other than
the Communist Party, the People's Power Organization, the Young
Communists League and the Cuban Workers Federation.
Those in charge of these organizations, and even the trade unions, are
communist cadres who ought to be able to manage the media under their
control without having Big Brother tell them what they can publish and
what they can't.
Giving control over the newspapers back to the organizations that
publish them, letting these chose their editors and editorial stances,
would be a first step towards transforming these into public media, that
is to say, into newspapers that actually belong to Cubans.
It would also be an important step towards allowing these media to
fashion their own editorial positions, prioritizing the issues that
interest their readers, be these about youth, trade unions, provincial
developments or culture.
Decentralizing control over the media is key to preventing any one power
group from taking full control over these and molding public opinion to
suit its interests, as occurred in the Soviet Union.
What was questionable about AGITPROP wasn't the path it proposed but the
centralized use of the media to manipulate citizens. They acted as those
in previous decades had done but in the opposite direction, the
direction in which the wind was then blowing.
In addition to the similarities with the Soviet model, we must mention
that there is already a huge gap between the reform process being
impelled by the government and the contents of the country's press, and
that the resistance to change isn't to be found in journalists but in
those who coerce them.
There are those who believe that those people who do not learn from
history are condemned to repeat its mistakes – theirs and those of others.
Source: Cuba: Lessons on Total Press Control - Havana Times.org -