“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
 

How a Cuban Journalist Got the Axe from a Government Radio Station

periodismo-cuba-blogThis week, my colleague Jose Ramirez Pantoja received his definitive firing from Radio Holguin and therefore [with the existing system of blacklisting] from any government media.

His crime? Publishing on his personal blog the speech given by the assistant director of the official Granma newspaper, Karina Marron, in its entirety, even though some “chosen” paragraphs had already appeared in the national media.

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Publishing the opinion of Granma’s assistant director in its entirety has cost Jose Ramirez Pantoja his job and he’ll probably never be able to work as a journalist ever again.

Here is our conversation with Jose and his point of view about what happened. If the sanctioning authorities want to express their opinions, they can also do so. We’re open to hearing their side.

What did you study and where have you worked?

I studied audiovisual communication at the Holguin branch of the Superior Arts Institute, which is today the University of the Arts (2000-2005). In 2000, the CMBF radio station hired me as a correspondent in Holguin and when I graduated, they gave me a diploma in broadcast journalism. In 2006, I was hired by Radio Holguin and I became a member of the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC). Between 1998 and 2005, I also worked as a journalist in the Cultural Communication Department at the Provincial Culture Directorate.

Why were you fired from your job?

For publishing the speech given by Karina Marron Gonzalez, the assistant director of Granma newspaper and member of UPEC’s national committee, at the UPEC National Plenary on June 28th 2016, on my personal blog. I took part via videoconference, because of my role as the president of the of the UPEC delegation at Radio Holguin.

Did you secretly record the speech?

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Karina Marron’s speaking at the UPEC gathering. As the media belongs to the people, is it right to hide from the people the opinions journalists have about the role played by those who manage the media?

No, on the contrary. I took out my recorder in front of all those present and I walked towards the TV, putting the recorder near the speakers and I recorded six speeches without anyone chairing the event in my province contesting this.

When the speech appeared on your blog, had nobody published it yet?

Yes. On June 28, the Cuban Journalists Association website published an article where they cited fragments from Marron’s speech. Then, extracts also appeared on the TV.

What was your intention when you made the speech public in its entirety?

When I saw that the TV news program had mentioned the Plenary and that the UPEC website had also already published excerpts from Karina’s speech, I deduced that it was publishable and I decided to transcribe it in full and upload it to my blog with the fundamental goal of letting people know that journalists in Cuba are able to have a serious and responsible debate at the highest level. I also published it thinking that it would spark a debate in line with the speech’s own nature to create controversy and to exchange different opinions which are always much needed here.

What does your boss at the radio station have to do with you publishing this on your personal blog?

That is one of the contradictions in this case. How is it possible that you need a manager of a media organization to approve what journalists publish on their personal blogs? Who does the blog belong to then? In my case, the management of my workplace claimed that when a journalist publishes on his blog or on social media, they are doing it in the name of the media they work for. This is quite a controversial viewpoint.

What are the laws that exist then for personal blogs?

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This case seems to reveal the new dimension censorship has taken on in cyberspace, personal blogs and even social media. Note: the post that led to Pantoja’s dismissal is no longer on his blog.

If they exist, we haven’t been told about them.

What did they argue to get such a drastic sentence as being laid off definitively?.

The radio station that effected the sanction outlines:

“The colleague in mention, was given the opportunity to take part in a videoconference as a guest on June 28, 2016 which formed part of the Cuban Journalists Association National Plenary.  He recorded, without the necessary consent and approval to do so, the words of journalist Karina Marron, assistant director of the Granma newspaper, who on this occasion gave a speech critical in nature, where she assessed questions relating to the organization’s own functioning and the results it had over the last year, giving her personal opinion about Cuba’s information policy and the duty of young journalists, as well as the possible impact of economic measures that are on the horizon.

“The person who signs this only transcribed Karina Marron’s words in full and in spite of not having received any order to cover the event, published the speech on his Facebook page, thereby violating the information policy which applies to all media institutions, which establishes the fact that work must have a social interest and criticisms must be previously approved by a Manager of the media.”

What did the appeal you took to the Labor Justice Body bring about?

On August 12th, the president of this board told me orally that they had dismissed my appeal. According to the right I’m entitled to by law, in the face of such a decision I can appeal my case before the Municipal Court for work-related cases. Now, I need to hire the services of a lawyer and continue this legal process until a judge decides.

Did they tell you why they decided to give you such a harsh punishment?

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Is it right that a manager of a press media has the power to leave a journalist unemployed just because they published a speech made by another colleague at a professional meeting on his personal blog?

The document I received on August 15th, sides with the administration, given the fact that the UPEC Plenary is considered government information, even when the organization itself and the NTV published news on the Plenary. The Labor Board’s argument concludes with the following Marti-esque sentence: “The enemy should only hear our voice of attack… This is Patria (homeland) in the media. It is a soldier.” Undoubtedly, the Labor Board has confused the name of the publication with the term Patria. I am very unhappy with the Labor Board’s ruling.

What are you planning on doing now on a legal and personal level?

Legally, I’m going to take my appeal to the Municipal Court for work-related issues which I have the right to do. Personally speaking, I’m very disappointed by everything that has happened, by the twisted way that the whole case has been handled and for not having the support of my workplace in the first place and then the labor union and UPEC.

While the legal process draws on, I’m going to have to look for whatever job I can get just to survive. With a disciplinary action like this one, it’s going to be very difficult for me to find work even though the law states that I can still be hired by any media organization. The question is: What director would dare to hire me? Maybe in the non-government sector I can find a job, especially if I look for a job and not for a profession.

What do you think about how the Cuban media works and what would you change?

There’s a lot to discuss about this subject. An example of this is the disciplinary action I’ve been given which I think has left a bitter taste in the profession. In my opinion, Cuban media needs greater independence to be able to truly fill the space that it needs to fill in society.

Cubans need less triumphalism, meetings and covering events in the media, a media that truly reflects the reality of our country. Just a few days ago, Julian Gonzalez was released from his duties as the Minister of Culture. Has the Cuban media told us why he was replaced?

In my opinion, the media, for the sake of its main objective which is to inform the people as its inalienable right, has to tell the truth no matter how hard it is to hear and to delve into the issues that affect people, to denounce what’s wrong. The media isn’t there to go following our leaders so that they can talk about their great achievements.

Cuban media needs to stop being so rosy and sweet, however, what journalist is ready to go through a situation like the one I’m living right now, a situation which clearly questions the “No to secrecy” or the “We’re not afraid of differences in opinion or discrepancies”, both of which have been stated by Raul Castro himself.

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.

 
 

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