A Free Press: A Utopian Dream?

Dariela Aquique

Guillermo Rodriguez. photo: centroloynaz.cult.cu

I received an e-mail from a friend with an interesting article titled “On the Press in Cuba” (Sobre la prensa en Cuba), by journalist Guillermo Rodriguez Rivera; it was taken from Espacio laical, a publication of the Archdiocese of Havana.

I immediately felt that it merited me writing a post so that I could share some of the issues discussed in that article. I copied certain passages where the author came up with especially valid analyses and opinions.  For example:

“If you were to scan through a full bibliography, you would begin to discover that the rules that established the parameters of socialist journalism were the ones Lenin established in various articles. If one looks at the years when those were written, they will find the dates of these articles by Lenin were in 1910 or 1911. (…) What happened is that those became the standards that Stalin, the great master of de-contextualization, selected to control the press once socialism was in power.

Here this journalist tells us (already well known) that the Cuban press has been governed by and, sadly, continues to follow obsolete canons inherited from the sectarian Leninist-Stalinist ideology. As a corollary, he adds that this has limited the real possibilities for journalism in Cuba, leaving it without the option of developing in originality or craft. Secrecy, a fundamental characteristic of our press, for more than a half century has been the pillar upon which the national media has rested.

Rodriguez discusses this, saying:

“Secrecy” creates an unwritten law by which the news does not exist until the appropriate body authorizes its existence, if it thinks the existence of that news is in keeping with the country’s politics or what the censor thinks are in the interests of the nation. By the time information is published, everyone has known about it for a long time, because in today’s world — with the Internet and e-mail — while it’s easy to propagate lies, it’s almost impossible to hide the truth.”

Later, with his superb deductive logic, Rodriguez refers to how all of the media always respond to the interests of those who own it (in the case of capitalism), or to those who have the power to dictate the rules of what, how and when to speak (in the case of “socialism”).

We know full well that our media respond absolutely to an officialist approach that doesn’t allow for statements of opinion (not even conservative ones) concerning the prevailing policy. This is also done in the capitalist world, but with less strict control. In fact, there can exist approaches to the same incident or event that are diametrically opposed.

According to the journalist:

“There is almost no press in the world that is not visibly manipulated and controlled and does not respond to certain interests that are not necessarily those of legitimate information. The press in the capitalist world is a private press and responds to the interests of its owners or to those with which its owners are allied.

“The socialist press has been directed by a single party that has fused with the specific interests of the acting government agencies or, more accurately, with the people who govern these agencies. Although this is not spelled out in any formal program, most alliances are not between institutions but between the officials who run them, who interact with and protect each other.”

There are many varied issues addressed by this writer in his article.  Stopping at each one would force me to copy the entire piece, which is not my intention; rather, I only wanted to point out certain masterfully written selections that are the results of sincere and thorough observations.

One of its sections discusses a painful incident, the outcome of the inability of our authorities to listen and accept criticism:

“Only a few months ago, Dr. Esteban Morales, an eminent political scientist and a person with a proven revolutionary track record, wrote an article assessing the negative influence of corruption in the country and explaining how this can be more harmful to the revolution than the activities of internal dissent. He referenced similar cases in many of the former socialist countries, where corrupt socialists were essential to the restoration of capitalism.

“The party committee in his municipality then discharged the most severe penalty against Morales: he was no less than stripped of his membership in the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), an act considered scandalous and outrageous by many people. He appealed to the appropriate bodies and was finally absolved of any wrongdoing and was re-admitted into the party. It was a beautiful and necessary victory.

“Notwithstanding, the website where he published his opinion has never been the same. It has been charged with a sense of apprehension that’s one step away from outright fear, and we know that the distance between apprehension and fear is the same as that between the sublime and the ridiculous. In this sense, the punishment succeeded.

I invite everyone to read the entire piece. In it will be found many things that are known by heart. More than once you will find yourself nodding in agreement, while in others (like the paragraph just read), you will experience anger.

If at this stage of the game we are still suffering from such ills, what hope is there for the good health of our press? Only the option of blogs can be safe from infection, at least until we become a thorn in the side of the officialdom. It is a sad fate for journalists who try to make our press “substantive and free” — as it is so often proclaimed to be — though they know that this is nothing more than a utopian dream.

One thought on “A Free Press: A Utopian Dream?

  • The media in the United States is guilty of brainwashing under freedom of the press.
    It is certainly no model for a free press in Cuba.
    To explain: All U.S. media depends on the income it gains from advertising.
    As once said by a host of right wing radio talk show in Boston when confronted by a caller who asked:
    “What is the purpose of the media?” the host replied: “The purpose of the media is to sell product.”
    Each media outlet whether TV, radio, newspaper sor newsmagazines depends on revenue gained from advertising.

    The amount of money each outlet can charge for advertising is strictly determined by how many listeners/viewers/readers it has.

    In order to gain a larger audience share each outlet must gather or retain as large an audience as possible.

    This most often involves appealing to the lowest common denominator be it sensationalism, sex, violence or in the case of politics and social movements, what the government is saying or what the people , correctly or incorrectly have come to consider to be true.

    Any media outlet that airs inconvenient and unpopular truths suffers from audience backlash, loss of audience, loss of advertising revenue.

    In addition those outlets lose access to government spokespeople which is a killer to large network news machines. (Witness Helen Thomas, longtime doyen of the White house press corps who was banished for speaking an unpopular truth and the NYT reporter who was fired for reporting (truthfully) that a U.S trained military group in El Salvador was responsible for a massacre when the White House called the paper and said it wasn’t true.)

    Even National Public Radio which depends on 7% of its income from the government and the rest from corporate sponsors is subject to the same political and economic pressures and is largely the same as the corporate media in not presenting unpopular truths. Waterboarding, recognized by the world as torture is called “enhanced interrogation” on NPR broadcasts to mitigate its use and the guilt assigned to the U.S officials who authorize and order it.
    Those of us on the left in the States call NPR National Pentagon Radio for that and other good reasons.

    Cuba’s media also needs freeing up but Cuba and Cubans should not make the huge mistake of allowing corporate control of the media but rather something other than what exists now in Cuba and what exists in the U.S.

    The internet is one means of disseminating the truth of things much as HT does but the internet is also full of tripe that even exceeds the garbage found in the U.S corporate media and anyone seeking the truth of things must engage in a studious recognition of and separation of fact and fiction.

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