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Posted July 07, 2008 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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(original title: Cuba’s Media Contemplates Changes) | By Circles Robinson*

Cuba’s journalists are gearing up for a major congress on July 3-5 that could reshape what Cubans see on TV screens, in newspapers and on the radio, as well as the way the island reaches out to the world.

For the last several years, an intense debate sponsored by the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC) has raged among reporters, editors and the Communist Party as to what steps would improve the quality of Cuban print and broadcast journalism.

Then, at the insistence of acting President Raul Castro in July 2006, the general population jumped into the fray with its own opinions on the media as part of a national debate on the problems facing the country.

The trend in the US and Latin America is toward ever greater corporate domination of the media. Consolidation has put power in the hands of an elite group that today includes AOL/Time Warner, General Electric, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Viacom, Walt Disney Co., Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, Univision Communications, the O’Globo Communications Group and Televisa. With globalization, the profit-oriented interests of these conglomerates take precedence over the needs and interests of peoples, communities and nations.

Cuba has no intention of going that route. Its entire media is publicly-owned and non-profit, and the directives come from the Communist Party, the center of the island’s political life.

Defending the Revolution, but with Better Reporting

Cuban journalists are united by a passionate commitment to the Cuban revolution. Such a commitment was overwhelmingly apparent at meetings held in the different provinces throughout May as a lead up to the UPEC Congress.

In an article published on the Cuban Journalists Association website in the lead up to their Congress, Ernesto Vera sums up Cuban journalists’ general opinion of the privately owned media championed by the US: “Journalism is too important to reduce it to a business… exempt from any social responsibility.”

Nonetheless, the best way for the media to defend the Revolution has been a matter of debates.

The Cuban press has always prided itself on avoiding sensationalism, focusing on serious issues and telling the truth. The Cuban population, however, have made it clear that they would like some changes.

The media was one of the many concerns discussed nationwide at meetings held in workplaces, urban neighborhoods and rural communities. Opinions aired, though often scathing, were accepted as valuable feedback by the Communist Party and UPEC.

The public urged the press to reflect more accurately the grassroots realities of Cuban society, with less reticence about discussing and reporting the real problems that exist. News programs on radio and TV and the print media were sharply criticized as presenting a much too rosy picture.

Another popular request was for a greater diversity of topics and opinions and a move away from the similarity between one media and another. The population also said it wants investigative reporting that gets to the bottom of a given issue.

A large segment criticized the media for omissions, a lack of details, and poor timeliness. At present, stories often circulate in the foreign press and hit the streets of Cuba on the “Radio Bemba” rumor mill long before they appear in the local media.

The upcoming journalists’ congress promises to be a time of serious evaluation. The last Congress in 1999, attended by Fidel Castro, brought a major push towards greater availability of computers, the internet and other resources to the media. Like that gathering, it’s expected that this Congress will yield important direction for the years to come.

Two Different Media Approaches

A siege mentality has permeated much of Cuban life during 50 years of hostility from the United States under ten different administrations. Understanding this is vital in comprehending the cautious approach of the Communist Party in policies involving the island’s media.

On the other hand I also recall what it’s like living under corporate, profit-first, media in the US, Spain and other Latin American countries.

I remember a dear friend William Eastlake (1917-1997), novelist and short story writer, journalist and war correspondent, and the stories he told me over a couple glasses of wine at his southeastern Arizona home about his stint in Vietnam working for The Nation magazine in the late 1960s.

He recounted how reporters often saw no reason to leave their Saigon hotels, instead waiting for some Pentagon general to give the day’s success story at the afternoon press conference.

According to Eastlake, the reporters there faced the choice of writing what the Army wanted them to or going out on their own and not being trusted by anyone. In addition, after taking the risks involved, it was very difficult to get articles published if their point of view ran counter to what the media owners wanted.

The author recalled that many chose the safer and easier route of the martinis and press conference, providing just what their publications or broadcast media wanted to play Washington’s game.

Many moons after Eastlake’s reflections on reporting from Vietnam, we face a far worse situation with the coverage in today’s Iraq. Five years into the war, the US media remains tightly controlled. Many publications don’t even bother to station reporters, finding it more cost-effective and less conflictive to merely replicate the wire service reports.

Back to Cuba, I am one of those who believe the island’s media has a lot of room for improvement. However, that doesn’t mean it should mimic the western media model where the pens dance to the dollars.

Maintaining its public service focus and being totally advertising free sets the Cuban media apart from today’s trends. The challenge posed is how to meet the population’s needs on domestic news and debate and more effectively communicate Cuban views abroad on national and international issues.

*Circles Robinson’s reports and commentaries from Havana can be read at http://www.circlesonline.blogspot.com

  1. Follow up post #1 added on July 07, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    You have to carefully read this article then read it again after reading my comments.

    I especially hope the good communists like Varsi and (the new) Gregory read this too.

    1. It always amuses me (sadly) at how the Cuban media claims they always tell the truth while the US media is corrupt and that somehow because business posts news stories that that is somehow worse then when the government is in charge.

    2. So, for you newbies to news from Cuba, this is a nice propaganda piece that might get you excited that the Cuban media will become more open. Forget it. All just spin.

    3. We were duped by Circles Robinson in the past. He wrote several articles that we published here. I was under the impression that he was an independent blogger like Yoani Sanchez. He is NOT like Yoani Sanchez.

    Circles Robinson works for the Cuban government and pretends to have an independent blog at blogspot (see the link above).

    There is nothing independent about Circles Robinson and that’s too bad. He is a good writer, not your usual propagandist like Varsi so that makes him dangerous and that’s why I felt compelled to tell everyone to read carefully if you come across anything written by Circles Robinson.

    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on July 08, 2008 by Varsi Padayachee

    Mr. Publisher, you once again have proudly announced that your IQ is equal to your belt size. It appears that you cannot seem to Gregory and I out from under your skin. We certainly proved our point that you afre nothinh but a sham, who annointed himself/herself “The Publisher”, a title usually reserved for people who have had extensive experience.
    Addedly, you call me a communist! Please give us your astute and educated definition of Communist! It would make interesting reading.
    Just one other thing, please afford us the wisdom of your assessment of the US Media. That too wpould make interesting reading.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on July 08, 2008 by cubanpete with 127 total posts

    The original articles admits that Cuban media will continue to take direction from the Communist Party, hence providing only “all that news that fits” and treating the Cuban people like mushrooms.

    For change (cambio) we can believe in.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on July 08, 2008 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    i personally don’t think teh time is ripoe yet for the Cuban media to be anything more than a mouthpiece for the government. 
    Yes we too have problems with our media but the plurality and access to foreign media overcomes that quite well in most cases.

    But how the media changes is one of the things i’ll be watching to see how deep Raols changes will be going.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on July 10, 2008 by abh with 244 total posts

    Clearly the Cuban government, with Raul supposedly presiding, has tried to enact some reforms.  One of these reforms is opening the media up.
    I think that pretty much everybody who reads the Havana Journal would agree this is a good thing.  I myself find that, yes, you do always have to read between the lines in these pieces.  My personal reading in between the lines leads me to believe that many Cubans, journalists and otherwise, are looking forward to having more freedom to express themselves.  I especially found it interesting that the Cuban reality of the last 50 years was described as a “siege mentality”.  How true that is!  What person who’s been to Cuba has not found this to be true, that all the good party liners want to talk about is the bloqueo and how this is a government under attack.
    In summary, I agree with the publisher that one might need to read such articles multiple times.  I also am doubtful that we will see any articles in Cuban newspapers anytime soon criticizing Fidel or Raul.  However, it’s undeniable that we are entering a new era.  Listen to any intellectual with knowledge in Cuban dometic affairs and they’ll tell you that Cuba is faced with a serious challenge: move the country from the siege mentality of the last 50 years into a mature economic, political, and social reality.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on July 11, 2008 by edward with 65 total posts

    Hi Publisher

    I appreciate that you are trying to protect us from propaganda. We are bombarded with propaganda from the moment we are born. It is only with time and experience one learns to separate propaganda from truth. Since my love affair started with Cuba in 2005, my wishing to gain understanding and truth has ignited my interest in politics, the arguments for and against capitilsm, communism and socialism and the dynamics of international ideologies.

    Cuba has given me many things including a fine upstanding wife and a deep appreciation of it’s music, people and culture. I know my life as a result of my first visit will never be the same again, I have so much more to explore in Cuba.

    In my early posts I was blinded by romance, the romance of the Revolution, now, steadily and surely I am advancing toward my own understanding. I hope. later this year to meet Circles as there are a number of issues I would like personally to discuss with him.

    Meanwhile I will try to tread a line of true independance, as the cubans say:

    “A dog has four legs, it still manages to walk in a straight line”.

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