“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

New Limitations Placed on Cuban Journalists

Jovenes--periodico-VanguardiaCuban journalists received the order prohibiting them from working on the side in non-government media but the “resolution” was only communicated verbally. They say it is an initiative of the management of each press outlet, however, it is occurring in unison across the country.

No written document or any political institution takes responsibility for the prohibition and journalists consulted do not even know what will happen to those who fail to comply. My grandfather used to say that if you sow fear you harvest obedience.

Advocates of the prohibition told us that “this rule also applies at the BBC, CNN and El País”. The funny thing is that they copy the prohibitions but not the wages received by those international media journalists.

When a reporter gets paid US $20 a month and is banned from performing other better paid journalistic collaborations on the side, they are being pushed to crime, professional corruption, to change jobs or leave the country.

That’s what the young colleagues from Santa Clara explained to the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC) in an impeccably argued letter, both from the professional point of view and from the political, as that are both journalists and members of the Communist Youth League.

Periodistas de Santa Clara: “la censura existe y ata el ejercicio del periodismo revolucionario"

Santa Clara journalists: “censorship exists and binds the exercise of revolutionary journalism.”

But it was a futile effort because, as recognized by the assistant director of Granma, Karina Marron, UPEC has no decision-making power, has no force and is worn down discussing the same problems at meeting after meeting.

In that same intervention, Karina recalled that those who decided “to study journalism did not choose it either to work in political propaganda or advertising nor did they choose to remain silent on the sidelines, because otherwise they would have chosen another profession”.

The reality is that the model of the Cuban media is taking in water on all four sides and the problems go beyond ethical or ideological issues. The national press is so inefficient it no longer even serves to promote government policy objectives.

Some good examples are their silence when a transsexual is elected a delegate of the People’s Power Assembly; when thousands of Cubans end up stranded in Costa Rica; when a blackout affects half the island, or when they fail to question Obama at a press conference.

Los periodistas cubanos sufren de censura, de bajos salarios, de falta de fuentes y de escasez de recursos. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Los periodistas cubanos sufren de censura, de bajos salarios, de falta de fuentes y de escasez de recursos. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

But these mediocre decisions are not made by journalists, as shown in the satirical short film “Brainstorm” by Eduardo del Llano. The scissors that censors all media in Cuba is in the hands of a very small group of officials.

They maintain tight control over the national press but had lost some of the fear exerted on journalists. The opening of informative cyberspace ended the monopoly because anyone could publish what was vetoed in the official press.

The colleagues in Santa Clara make it clear in the first sentence of their letter: “As journalists we chose the right to publish in digital or print media that do not represent offenses to the full dignity of men and women, nor pose a threat to the sovereignty of our country.”

What journalist anywhere in the world would not subscribe to that idea? But here (in Cuba) they are “accused” of writing for other media for money, as if receiving a minimally decent pay for our work was a sin that makes us mercenaries.

The problem goes beyond money, proven by Sergio Alejandro, director of the international pages of Granma. He did not receive pay from private media when he published on his blog his text on Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica, while his newspaper remained mute.

La mayoría de los periodistas sabe que la prensa oficial ha perdido tanta credibilidad que ya ni siquiera es efectiva haciendo propaganda. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Most journalists know that the official press has lost so much credibility that it is not even doing effective propaganda. Photo: Raquel Pérez Díaz

The greatest charm of unofficial media is that “no one alters our texts or do we negotiate our revolutionary positions. Now more than ever we are and we must be fully responsible for our opinion,” explained the journalists from Vanguardia in Santa Clara.

Meanwhile, in the national media they are tied hand and foot because “censorship exists and binds the exercise of revolutionary journalism. As a hydra with a thousand heads, censorship affects especially the words, ideas and nuances of the texts.”

And now the censors want to ban journalists from collaborating with any unofficial media. That is how they seek to extend censorship to cyberspace, a vain attempt to inaugurate the era of pseudonyms and simulation.

If the government and journalists allow these “verbal rules” to take hold or worse, if included in the press law being formulated, it will mean a huge setback for journalism extending the double standard and disarming the nation against the big foreign media.

The Cuban population does not believe in the official press, journalists reject stupid censorship and the government demands efficiency. You cannot leave the creation of a new information policy in the hands of those who led the media thus far and sank it into the worst of crisis.

All conditions are present to break the shackles of the past, creating public media under the authority of journalist collectives with legal mechanisms for citizen oversight. Such would be a press in which people create and where young people want to work.

Everything is at stake in today’s Cuba, the model of society that it is giving birth to needs a media that informs, that defends the interests of the nation, that protects the most vulnerable, that investigates problems thoroughly, that points to the inept and denounces the corrupt.


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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