“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

Reporting in Cuba With or Without Consent

Joven cubano lee Juventud Rebelde. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Last week, Juventud Rebelde newspaper published a story that denounced the bureaucratic hurdles that journalists had to jump over just to be able to do a simple report about the Coppelia ice-cream parlor, a true icon in Havana.

Our colleagues have made a groundbreaking move in making bureaucrats pay for the public ridicule that they “made them go through” for two weeks without ever giving them the long-awaited “permit” they needed to do the report on the “Ice-Cream Cathedral”.

We’re still not sure whether this problem lies with those who deny this “authorization” or with those who believe it’s their duty to ask for it and wait obediently for the doors of a place to be opened to them which anybody can go through, including journalists.

Going through this procedure, our colleagues in national media almost never manage to see the problems that exist in the places they visit. Generally speaking, when they’re finally allowed to get near somewhere, it’s so that they can see a staged show.

What happens when we ask a corrupt person if we can do a report about the government-owned business the run? They’ll try to avoid it or they’ll put us off until they put things “in order”, so that we can’t detect the mechanisms they use to steal.

Employees at a food company at the Ministry of Fishing have told us how, when journalists come, they always clean things beforehand and things are in order which normally aren’t. As well as a tasting table and a gift bag.

Cuando los directivos de una heladería se niegan a pasar por el tamiz del periodismo cubano solo puede haber una explicación y no es la seguridad nacional. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

When the managers of an ice-cream parlor refuse to let Cuban journalists onto the premises, there can only be one explanation… and it isn’t national security. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

The reports were highly favorable; the journalists wrote about how the company was steaming ahead. Not a word was written about the container of prawns that disappeared or about the hundreds of thousands dollar account abroad which put the director in jail.

One of the media’s jobs is to reveal corruption cases and in Cuba it’s even more important to do so given the fact that all national media belongs to the people who lose out when a manager steals.

This objective is impossible to achieve if journalists have to ask for permission to cover every event they want to. This explains why when 30 patients died of hunger and cold at a psychiatric hospital no national media went there to find out why.

I’m reminded of Gunter Wallraff, who used to go undercover to do his investigative work, as an emigrant, as an opponent to the Greek dictatorship or as a rookie journalist in one of the largest media organizations in his country.

Some people have questioned his methods but his work embodies realism which could only come from knowledge acquired from the inside. And the result was such that corrupt business people had to do the impossible – legally and illegally- to prevent it from being published.

It’s strange that Julian Assange and Wikileaks are so praised here by the Cuban press. I can’t imagine him or his team asking for permission from the Pentagon and the Department of State to make public secret conversations leaked to global media.

If Cuban journalism wants to play the role that it should play one day, it needs to understand that its first commitment is to the Cuban people, who pay their salaries and to whom all of the country’s press belongs.

In any case, we have to give a pat on the back to Juventud Rebelde for denouncing the bureaucrats, who denied them the permit, by name, however that’s not enough. The next step is to show them that they don’t need them to do their reports about what is happening in Cuban society.

El periodismo habría perdido una fuente clave de información si Wikileaks hubiese pedido permiso al Departamento de Estado de EEUU para publicar

Journalism would have lost a key information source if Wikileaks had asked the US Department of State permission to publish what they found.

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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