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    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
    papers.2

    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
    occasions.

    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
    criticism?

    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,
    rationalization.

    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.


    Notes:

    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
    youth.

    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
    creativity.

    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.

    http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=78694