“El periódico ha de estar siempre como los correos antiguos, con el caballo enjaezado, la fusta en la mano y la espuela en el tacón.  Debe desobedecer los apetitos del bien personal y atender imparcialmente al bien público”.
José Martí

Cuba Must Decide Between Journalism & Propaganda

En Cuba la prensa debería "actualizarse". Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

A leader of the Communist Youth organization told me she was a faithful reader of Cartas desde Cuba, clarifying that she does not always agree with the articles of the site. She was very surprised when I said that I don’t agree with some of the texts either.

“So why publish them?” she asked me and my answer was that I include what I consider of interest to readers, beyond my point of view on the matter and even in cases where I think diametrically different.

US Senator Marco Rubio, for example, is a person that I do not identify with at all. However, we have published many of his statements and proposals because we believe his projects affect Cubans, both here as well as immigrants.

A few days ago I wrote a tweet with the phrase “Not even a thousand manipulations by the national press can prevent Cubans from seeing reality as it unfolds.” There was some commotion on social networks and some were radicalized.

One reader who goes by “Fidel for Ever”, threatened me with expulsion from the country, “don’t forget your immigration status, you are not Cuban.” As he didn’t manage to frighten me he extended the threat to my family, mentioning the name of one of my kids in the best of Mafioso style.

The paradox is that the phrase that unleashed the passions of ultras wasn’t even mine but came from the blog of a journalist from the official Granma daily online. I reproduced the text because it is part of the debate that is taking place in the Cuban media.

En Cuba el debate sobre los cambios en la prensa ocurre en las redacciones, en la Unión de Periodistas y en cualquier lugar donde se reunan dos comunicadores. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

In Cuba the debate on the changes needed takes place in the newsrooms, in the Journalists Association and anywhere where two communicators meet.

The next day, an anti-Castro reader criticized us because we published an opinion of the president of the Cuban Journalists Association, Antonio Molto, which justifies the work of the official media and defends the relationship of the Communist Party with the press.

Others were suspect of dark intentions in a report we ran on people living on the streets of Miami for failing to pay their rent. The Cuban migration potential towards that city is more than enough to consider it a topic of interest.

Behind these misunderstandings is the concept of journalism-propaganda, in which diffusion is given only to the politically correct subjects, while journalists are pressed not to criticize and encouraged to leave those who think differently without a voice.

I just watched a Cuban TV program praising the achievements of the sugar harvest in a province, without saying a word about the disappointing production in the rest of the country. It’s like praising the strength of a chain mentioning the only link that wasn’t broken.

Meanwhile, a friend who arrived to the island, after spending 15 days in Miami, asked about the situation in Cuba because the TV channels of that city speak of hunger, impending blackouts and popular uprisings.

The problem facing Cuban journalism –on both sides of the Florida Straits- goes far beyond censorship, it delves into a concept that makes the press a tool for politics and the journalists into ideological soldiers affiliated with one side or the other.

Nor is it an exclusively Cuban problem. Many media in Latin America and Spain are owned by powerful economic groups and are used to promote their businesses and demonize politicians who oppose them.

In the US all the mainstream press supported the war against Iraq knowing that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The New York Times had the decency to apologize publicly afterwards but that did not reduce the number of Iraqi civilians killed.


The information policy of Cuba is decided by a small group of officials who know so little about communication that they have come to develop the same front page for all newspapers. Photo: Alejandro Ramírez

However, the evil of many is the consolation of fools. In addition, Cuba has a unique position, it has talented journalists, all media are under state control, and both the population and the government call for a change in the press.

Those who defend the current state of things “scare” us by saying that the alternative is the private media, but that’s just a lie used to “outlaw” any initiative. The Constitution actually allows public media and even the creation of journalist cooperatives.

So why do they keep discussing the same old thing year after year at the Journalists Association and get nowhere?  Why not take some practical steps? Why not allow a “pilot project” with a particular media? Why not let the people finance it?

We would find millions of Cubans willing to contribute money out of their pockets to fund a public media covering their information needs with communicators that respond to readers and not to a small group of opaque officials.

Instead, the censors provoke another of their little wars recently prohibiting journalists from writing on the side for non-state media programs like El Toque of Radio Nederland, because “it’s financed by the enemy.” They are so lost that they didn’t know that the program is about to disappear in a couple months due to a lack of funding.

The truth cannot be found by persecuting journalists in cyberspace. It would be more useful to create attractive media offering editorial freedom and a living wage, a place where young people develop an honest job which they can be proud of.

Los jóvenes de Cuba no ven en los medios de comunicación reflejadas sus vidas, sus sueños y sus frustraciones. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Young people of Cuba do not see reflected in the media their lives, their dreams and their frustrations. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Translation: Havana Times

About Fernando Ravsberg

Nacido en Uruguay, corresponsal de Público en Cuba y profesor del post grado de “Información internacional y países del Sur” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Fue periodista de BBC Mundo, Telemundo de EEUU, Radio Nacional de Suecia y TV Azteca de México. Autor de 3 libros, El Rompecabezas Cubano, Reportajes de Guerra y Retratos.


One thought on “Cuba Must Decide Between Journalism & Propaganda

  1. Fernando Ravsberg: Haven’t you heard what happened to Jose Ramirez Pantoja, a journalist in Holguin? He was recently fired for reproducing some of the very same discussions journalists are having for years in Cuba. How are you suppose to change things and to improve them if losing your job is the price to be paid? How can you, when timing is always wrong if someone tries to be honest? Who condemn and suppress are certainly not the people of Cuba, Cubans are open minded and inquisitive by nature. This is an offense and humiliation for every journalist in the world. Allow me to reproduce the quote by Jose Marti that you like so much: “El periódico ha de estar siempre como los correos antiguos, con el caballo enjaezado, la fusta en la mano y la espuela en el tacón. Debe desobedecer los apetitos del bien personal y atender imparcialmente al bien público”.

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