Every day, or almost every day, the primetime news/commentary program La Mesa Redonda (The Round Table) comes on Cuban television screens at 6:30 p.m. Seated in a circle, experts present their opinions on some vital issue, generally political in nature. However, what you can never hope to find there —nor could I ever imagine— is someone differing from the official line.
The panelists and the moderator always seem to agree among themselves, the reason why our “Round Table” is popularly known as the “Square Table.”
La Mesa Redonda is a Cuba in miniature, full of superb specialists who arrange themselves carefully so as never to be off the mark; and where true discussion and plurality remain sequestrated. In short, it is a round fraud, so terribly bad that I thought I’d never run into anything similar.
However, I began to doubt all this after enjoying an episode of a certain Spanish “Round Table” known as La Tertulia (The Gathering), where two recognized philosophers habitually discuss political and also philosophical issues.
Owing to technological difficulties, I’ve only been able to watch two programs (from March 2009), which while not enough to make a solid judgment, intuitively make me think the rest of the shows aren’t so very different. The discussion in one of these programs revolved around the sudden withdrawal of Spanish troops from Kosovo under orders of the current Spanish president, Jose Zapatero.
Those who worked on the design of this program know how to give it an attractive air of balance and free thought (at least they feature a moderator who has an intelligent look). Likewise, the philosophers have a human air, neither overly serious nor dull, like the punctilious pundits who appear on our round table.
However this same attractiveness makes the final results even more terrible —from my point of view— which is the defense of particular ideas without a respectful analysis of differing ones. What’s more, this is almost always done with classist and partisan implications.
It is said that two philosophers will never come to an agreement with each other, but that myth was undone on that occasion. They and the moderator arrived at the same conclusions: The withdrawal of Spanish troops from Kosovo was an insult to the citizens of that country and that this would also bring about the demoralization of Spain before NATO.
No one seriously analyzed the pros and cons of this decision, and no one questioned the fact itself of having troops in Kosovo. Zapatero turned out to be no more than a careerist and populist who is working to undermine democracy.
My conclusions? There aren’t many differences between the two round tables, except maybe that the Spanish one’s hosts had better make-up (at least on that occasion), which in the long run is worse…because it’s more deceptive.
What I enjoyed most about the Spanish show was the opportunity for the viewers to participate with comments and questions that appeared on the screen. Some were extremists, others moderate; some fools, other sages, but all were made to fit into the program.
It is still a distant day in our programming when “debates” will open up to those who have voices and want to use them, and the current limitations aren’t exactly technical ones.