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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Culture

FROM PROPAGANDA TO PR: A GUIDE TO CUBA’s MASS MEDIA

Posted February 17, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Culture.
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By Douglass G. Norvell | [url=http://www.CubaNews.com]http://www.CubaNews.com[/url]

Take a look at Cuba’s changing mass media as it shifts from a traditional Soviet model to a more market-oriented approach. Cuba now has PR firms that help private companies advertise in both domestic and international markets. Magazines and journals serve niche markets, and radio stations advertise real-estate transactions.

Will this shift continue as the government relaxes controls?

In Cuba, the government owns all mass media, and foreign firms are prohibited from investing in radio and television. Along with ownership controls, in Cuba “collaboration with foreign journalists” is punishable by law.

Cuban media outlets are controlled in other, more subtle ways. A media job is a real prize in Cuba, with above-average salaries, invitations from foreign press, interesting work, salaries at least twice the national average, and a shot at working overseas — although these assignments are usually reserved for journalists who are members of the Communist Party.
Given these conditions, anyone working in Cuban media is extremely careful, even in providing information to potential advertisers.

A 1998 directory published by the Union de Periodistas de Cuba (Cuban Journalists’ Union) lists all media outlets, press agencies and accredited foreign correspondents, even down to freelance agents.

Here are some highlights from the directory that illustrate the changing nature of the industry:

PRESS BUREAUS

Cuba has two press bureaus, one for domestic operations and another to carry the Cuban message abroad.
The domestic operation is the Agencia para Informacion Nacional (AIN). With headquarters in Havana and correspondents in 14 regional offices, AIN — a sort of Associated Press of Cuba — feeds information to domestic media outlets.
The international operation is Havana-based Prensa Latina, with 15 correspondents in Latin America, Russia, Spain, Angola and Vietnam. It is Cuba’s equivalent of the U.S. Information Agency, as it focuses on issues important to Cuba and detrimental to the United States. An assignment overseas is one of the perks held out to Cuban journalists, particularly in Mexico, where Cuban journalists are wooed and feted.

FOREIGN PRESS AGENCIES

At least 70 foreign news organizations have bureaus in Cuba. Mostly from other Latin American countries and Europe, these agencies report directly to their home countries under the watchful eye of their Cuban counterparts. All journalists must be accredited by the Centro de Prensa Internacional, which charges $60 for the procedure; foreigners working as journalists without accreditation or on tourist visas risk arrest and/or deportation.
The Cuban government also accredits freelance journalists, who are also closely monitored; Fidel Castro has been known to make disapproving statements about individual correspondents, even mentioning them by name in speeches.

PRINT MEDIA

Cuba has 26 newspapers and 96 magazines supported by 24 printing companies. These publications aren’t substantially different from print media in other countries, except in their ownership and advertising policy. The Cuban government owns all the newspapers, and advertise-ments are mostly public service. Cuban papers do not prepare media kits nor advertise rates, although they do publish circulation figures.
Cuba’s print media enjoys wide readership. Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party, prints 400,000 copies a day (the international edition has 50,000); Juventud Rebelde’s circulation is 250,000. Regional publications like Escambray (Sancti Spíritus) and Sierra Maes-tra (Santiago de Cuba) reach 20,000 and 42,000 readers respectively.
Cuba’s smaller print media include weekly business-oriented publications read by smaller niche markets, such as Negocios en Cuba with 1,000 readers, and Opciones, with 5,000. Founded in 1994, Opciones is a commercial newspaper focusing on finance and tourism, the Cuban equivalent of the Wall Street Journal.
Academic journals comprise another segment of Cuba’s media industry, covering hard sciences like biology and chemistry, and social sciences such as economics and anthropology. Given that Cuba is on the leading edge of research in biotechnology, a number of journals report on Cuban research for international readers.
Like most of the print media, many of the academic journals post information on various Cuban websites.

RADIO

Cuban radio tends to be less political and more entertaining than TV. Cuba has seven stations that broadcast nationally or internationally, and another 47 local stations, most of them broadcasting on both AM and FM frequencies. These are backed up by 31 radio studios.
The content of radio stations varies from political and self-help programs to music and some public-service advertising. These include ads by individuals offering their homes for trade under the permuta system (see CubaNews, October 2003, page 14).
Cuban radio stations rarely, if ever, advertise commercial products, though goods and services are widely advertised in print media.

TELEVISION

Cuba has two TV stations backed up by eight broadcast studios. The stations broadcast from the early evening until late ar night, except on days when there’s a government assembly, or acto, in which delegations are sent to demonstrate on a particular issue — almost always protesting some U.S. policy toward Cuba. There’s actually an office in Old Havana whose purpose is to arrange actos; that is, schedule transportation for tens of thousands of people, set up microphones and generally manage the process, which makes for good TV footage to be aired on unscheduled broadcasts during the day.
Cuban evening TV barely beats looking out the window for entertainment value, except for the soap operas that come from Brazil and Mexico. Prime-time TV in Cuba usually consists of a self-help program on nutrition or health-care, followed by a mesa redonda or roundtable.
The roundtables almost always involve a discussion about some U.S. policy that Cubans view through a distorted lens. The roundtable is often a lead-in to the news, which follows immediately after.
One recent evening newcast covered the following subjects in turn: continuing political strife in North Ireland, mudslides in Italy, elections in Paraguay, homeless children in Mexico, how the Cuban government cares for Down’s Syndrome kids, foreign visitors from Botswana, sports news and finally a piece on birdwatching in Cuba’s Zapata Peninsula, followed by the weather.
After the news comes the telenovelas, or soap operas. In the evenings, Cuban TV sets often show pictures of Fidel Castro, normally angry and gesticulating, but with the sound off. Their owners are waiting for Castro to finish and for the telenovelas to begin.
When the soap operas come on, streets empty and dinner partners excuse themselves from the table to sit and stare slack-jawed at the screen while Brazilians and Mexicans tug at their heartstrings — providing an emotional relief from the day-to-day drudgery of Cuban life.
When U.S. movies are shown at all, they usually portray some negative aspect of American life, particularly films that deal with race relations in the Old South and show attack dogs and Ku Klux Klan rallies.

PR AGENCIES

A full complement of 13 public relations agencies rounds out Cuba’s media industry. The PR firms profiled in the communications directory advertise themselves as being skilled in graphics, publicity campaigns, trade shows, design work and other activities.
Interestingly, they don’t tout skills in developing media campaigns or ad placement, indicating they haven’t evolved into full-service operations consistent with a market economy.
Haunted by the twin ghosts of Karl Marx and Adam Smith, Cuba’s media industry is moving steadily toward becoming a market-oriented industry, albeit slowly.
While the basic infrastructure for both print and electronic media is solid and backed up by skilled PR agencies, tight government controls and the conservative polices of media managers restrict advertising possibilities.

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