Cuba: Censorship, Self-Censorship and Common Sense

Ernesto Perez Chang

Press censorship.  Image:
Press censorship. Image:

HAVANA TIMES — As a mechanism for ideological control, censorship is not unique to totalitarian regimes. In nearly every country around the world, there are political, religious and other demarcations that make so-called freedom of expression mere semblance. This is a truism. No one is so naïve as to believe they can freely express their opinions without some form of hostile consequences.

The fact censorship exists nearly everywhere should not, however, be used by governments to justify its practice as an unquestionable right, nor as a kind of consolation for those whose right to dissent is curtailed.

All countries will always suffer some form of censorship (tacitly or explicitly), but public opinion groups and individuals must be very much aware of the legitimate role they must play in their relationship with power.

Journalists and writers – provided they are true to their calling and assume the absolutely independent and responsible attitude devoid of opportunism and complicity with higher-ups their profession demands – are duty-bound to practice their trade honestly and decorously, even when this means an open and direct confrontation with the political establishment.

Strategies aimed at silencing people and at controlling the opinions of individuals within the sphere of culture and others are the fundamental causes behind the stagnation and mediocrity that prevail in our society.

It is not a question of turning literature or journalistic work into propaganda, creating spaces, columns or opinion groups, much less affiliating oneself to parties or parading down the streets holding banners and yelling out slogans (as citizens, we are all free to do this, of course). It is a question, rather, of shedding one’s fears ceasing to conceive of our intellectual subjugation and self-censorship as “common sense”, as these phenomena only lead to ridiculous and nonsensical text and never to genuine literature or journalism.

While it is true that efforts to avoid censorship through the use of literary disguises of every sort has spawned literary masterpieces and brilliant authors whose real names we will never know, hidden as they remained behind a pseudonym or total anonymity, it is also true that no hand numbed by fear or guided by a foreign and despotic will ever managed to write anything worthwhile. One cannot write a journalistic or literary piece if one is forced to respect the limits imposed by others. Nothing of any significance can be achieved when one needs a permit in order to create.

It is a question, rather, of shedding one’s fears ceasing to conceive of our intellectual subjugation and self-censorship as “common sense”, as these phenomena only lead to ridiculous and nonsensical text and never to genuine literature or journalism.

Publishing a sterile work that has been emptied of potentially offensive content, besmirched by convenience and adulterated by the fear of punishment could be tolerated in mentally challenged people, but it is shameful and objectionable when practiced by individuals who have an effective influence on the public sphere.

Any system that fears individual opinion, the direct usage of the written word or questioning (misguided or not) only demonstrates that the ideological foundations that sustain it are as fragile as paper or as insubstantial as hot air.

By attacking those who dissent, governments merely reveal their colossal clumsiness.  By revealing, through their hatred, their disproportionate and contradictory faith in the written word, they attest to the fact that their reality is made up of a huge pile of words, each propped up by the other, part of a discourse that is only apparently coherent.

Words are not the political or ideological property of anyone. Imposing limits on the activities of intellectuals and artists does great harm to a country’s culture. Strategies aimed at silencing people and at controlling the opinions of individuals within the sphere of culture and others are the fundamental causes behind the stagnation and mediocrity that prevail in our society.

27 thoughts on “Cuba: Censorship, Self-Censorship and Common Sense

  • Do you seriously believe any media outlet that called the US president a liar would be boycotted and put out of business? Media pundits have called Nixon, Carter, , Reagan, Bush Sr, Clinton and Bush Jr. liars at one time or more. Today you can find plenty of people on TV, print or the web calling Obama a liar for his promise, “If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance.”

    Really, John. Are you that unaware, or do you just make up stuff and believe it because it sounds right to your warped perception of reality?

  • You are crossing two separate arguments. The fact that hypocrisy exists among US politicians does not mean therefore that the US media is just as censored as the media in Cuba.

    Fidel Castro has made far more preposterous claims, misleading statements and outright lies than George Bush ever did. The difference is that nobody on Cuban media ever dared point out Fidel’s fibs, while in the US a thousand different critics in print, on TV and on the web all called Bush a liar and a war criminal.

    Or did you miss all that?

  • Errata: “The corporate media in the U.S. totally support the policies of the U.S. government regardless of which party is in office.”

    The US press is varied in scope and can very critical on those in power.

  • The causes of the ongoing epidemic of violence among African-Americans (and among other racial minorities) are not easily accept by politicians on either the left or right. Conservatives doesn’t like to hear that systemic racism does exist, and liberals don’t like to hear that their welfare state, which has served to destroy the foundation of the African-American family, is a contributing cause of the violence and not the solution for it. Nor do many black celebrities like to have it pointed out that a pop culture which celebrates gangsters is not a positive influence for young people.

    Until people are ready to take an honest look at society and do the hard things that need to be done, these tragedies will continue.

  • John, of all your irritating rhetorical devices, the most irritating of all is when you assume that condescending sarcastic tone and presume to tell other people what they’re really thinking, by pretending to agree with your ignorant strawman representation of some position.

    You are so deep in your projection and denial the irony that you just revealed your own cluelessness, along with your own racial prejudices is lost on you.

  • You repeat a lie when you say there were no WMD in Iraq.

    There were indeed WMD in Iraq. Not as much as the intelligence services believed, but there was some. Even Saddam’s general believed they had a large stock of working chemical weapons. The liar was Saddam who let everybody believe he still had chemical weapons as a threat to bolster his grip on power.

    You can go on and on complaining about the evils of capitalist media, but you haven’t offered any ideas about how to organize the media in a more free and open manner. Instead, you defend and endorse the most repressive States, such as Cuba, which bans all independent and critical media.

  • Well that’s the problem, if its not reported, who will people figure it out ? Small example: Bush says “any country who harbors terrorists is a terrorist country”. Sounds fine, and a good excuse to invade whoever you want, as long as you are the typical American who has never ever heard of Luis Posada or Santiago Alvarez.

  • Your comment is offensive. You have no right to judge me. It is typical that when African-Americans acknowledge that all things unfair are not always racial, just as all thingsracial are not always unfair, there are always snipes from the extreme left to complain as if black folks are not allowed to think for ourselves. I could give a pig’s snout what Haj Malik el Shabazz thinks…and what you think even less.

  • Dude….seriously, how old are you?

  • It is the job of the media to present the facts and this they are not doing .
    It costs them money to say a particular view that is unpopular with the (dumbed-down ) public is correct and they will ALWAYS put out only that which they know from long experience will keep the viewers watching and not upset and changing the station .
    They present both sides as valid because they cannot afford to alienate any great body of viewers and in so doing, they abrogate their responsibility to tell us the “unvarnished truth”
    It’s all about making money and not informing the public and as a die-hard believer in capitalism , this all should be Reality 101 for you.
    The bottom line for all the media except the rare non-commercial type is profit .
    Not telling the truth if and when it will result in revenue loss is a major basic feature of the corporate media .
    BTW-as far as “let the people figure it out for themselves ” , how’d that work out in the lead -up to the Iraq invasion ?
    We were all lied to , weren’t we ?
    We DIDN’T figure that out for ourselves , did we?
    Most of the public, enough of the public never got the information that said there were no WMDs although that info was available to the media who chose to not say that Bush lied . This because you cannot call a president a liar when much of the country has already swallowed and believed his lies and not have it cost you a ton of money in lost subscriptions/viewer/listenerships/sponsors .

  • Yes I agree .It is necessary to quash any talk about societal inequities especially when it involves the most persecuted people in the country .
    I agree that it is all the fault of the blacks for continually whining about how they were enslaved for 400 years and to this day suffer from massive pay inequalities , social segregation that are all part and parcel of racist Amerikkka.
    As an A-A who has made it in America I can well understand your wish to put yourself at a distance to your black brothers and sisters who are just so backward and something to be ashamed of. ( oh yes and mostly Democratic voters too) .
    “Perceived” racists ?
    Why not just say that racism doesn’t exist in the USA. and be a complete moron ?
    And you’re African-American ?
    I wonder what el Haj Malik el Shabazz would think of you.

  • The corporate media will most often present two opposing views as being equal and leave it up to the viewer to decide which is correct .
    They have neither the time nor will the viewing dumbed-down U.S.public tolerate more than five minutes on any particular topic short of a rock star’s wardrobe malfunctions.
    So we get a few sentences on each side of an issue and they are both presented as equally valid when on most issues there is a clear right and wrong side of things.
    The details necessary for an intelligent decision making process must be sought out elsewhere by anyone interested .
    A responsible and professional media would do the digging and present good as good and bad as bad and not both as equals.
    BUT…. doing that alienates those on the losing side and the corporate media is not about alienating viewers but attracting them to raise their advertising revenues so they present a mish-mash of conflicting views and opinions without ever coming out for what is factually true.
    The purpose of the U.S. corporate media is selling product. and decidedly NOT in informing the public.
    Of course this makes all the sense in the world since an informed populace is the biggest asset to a democracy .
    The dumbed-down electorate as created by the government-corporate media nexus is just perfect for the ruling oligarchy .
    It turns out disinformed, misinformed and uninformed customers like you who believe whatever the government and media tell them and become quiescent, complacent and cooperative subjects.

  • Not many read Chomsky and for a few reasons.
    He often uses big words.
    He FACTUALLY details in great depth all the points he makes and those points most often run counter to public thinking which is dismally deficient.
    For you to post that Chomsky is read by the average media customer is ludicrous enough. For the most part Chomsky is just too intellectual for them and you .
    For you to then gratuitously add that he MAY be 90% bull is just an incredibly cheap shot .
    For that matter, I challenge you to read ANYTHING that Chomsky has EVER published ( you have well over 200 chances here) and come back here and point out a single inaccuracy.
    There are other books on U.S. media censorship but Chomsky’s ” Manufacturing Consent” is all you need read to see what you’re missing .
    The purpose of the U.S. media is to SELL PRODUCT .PERIOD and to do this massive self-censorship is necessary to avoid unpopular truths such as saying back in 2003 that Bush was lying about the WMDs
    Any media outlet calling the president out for lying would be boycotted and out of business shortly thereafter.
    The purpose of the Cuban media is to protect the revolution and for this, omitting the bad news is what they do .

  • In the first place Noam Chomsky is one hell of a lot smarter than you and a quite a lot more rational than you.
    Calling him a crackpot makes you out to be more than a little irrational.
    You CAN order the book at Amazon but you would be unable to read it since it runs 180 degrees against what you want to believe and in a factual way you will be unable to refute-
    I do not disagree that Cuba practices stricter censorship than most countries BUT that is usually the case when a country is under existential attack –
    What is the excuse for the shining city on the hill, the beacon of democracy : the USA -for its low standing in the censorship rolls ?
    Your argument is really inane .
    Chomsky is free to say what he wants because he is no threat to the status quo. He is not working for al-Qaeda or the Soviets and while most of what he says runs counter to popular thinking, he is near-absolutely correct in everything he says because he has done some 50 years of homework and knows his stuff.
    That said , to people like you who have believed the lies from the media and government for so long , the truth , the facts as presented by Chomsky are simply unacceptable and are rejected by you WITHOUT you ever having looked at them .
    And again you make the same tired comparison of the media in Cuba and the media in the U.S. as if they were equal entities
    -apples and oranges kiddo .

  • The corporate media in the U.S. totally support the policies of the U.S. government regardless of which party is in office.
    That is largely because major corporations as large as the media corporations finance both candidates .
    The business of the US government is business
    There is no Republican or Democratic media .
    That’s a rather ridiculous thought most often promulgated by Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck who make their livings making claims that are false and believed by the low intelligence listeners they attract.
    The “liberal media”, according to Rush et al is run by communists.
    Strange that all those “communists ” who own the media outlets are all multi-millionaires and hardly the type to believe in sharing the wealth or having that sort of socialist thought published in media they own.
    Take just a moment to think about this.
    The media multi-millionaires want a socialist society ?
    They are leftists ?
    The NYT , it must be remembered, retained paid liars -later released when the truth came out – who backed Bush’s WMD claims and help lead us into that war.
    You’re probably too young and unread to know that during the earlier years of the Vietnam invasion , the media was uniformly supportive of the war as was the general population and it was only when it was apparent that the U.S. would have to kill off about 80% of the population to win that the public turned on the war and the media dutifully, and as required to sell their sponsor’s products, also then opposed the war in a very limited way.
    Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman wrote ” Manufacturing Consent ” some 30 years ago and that book will clearly show any reader that the media is about selling product/making money and especially NOT about being against government policy in the big stuff: capitalism and imperialism/militarism -again- no matter who is in office. or which party.
    They would not care if Hitler was in power.
    They are in business to make money.
    Shoot your radio and try thinking without half your brain being tied behind your back .

  • Yea, that reaction does not surprise me either. Racism has contorted the sensitivities of the historical victim and the perceived racists. The pendulum of what is not enough coverage to what is too much swings widely. Hopefully one day the tragedy surrounding the death of a black child is simply that, and not an opportunity to debate past social inequities.

  • I don’t know how the black community in San Francisco behaves, but in Toronto when the media reports on another shooting of a black youth, certain members of the black community call the media racist for mentioning it. They seem to want the problem to be ignored. They certainly don’t like any honest discussion of the problem of the black gangs who are involved in nearly all of these black on black shootings in Toronto. And woe betide any politician who dares to bring up that topic!

  • “Unvarnished truth”? And who is the arbiter of what that truth is? I believe it is easier to sort out what truth is by opening up to all views and let the media consumer make their own decisions. The reason extremists from the left and the right believe that their views are underrepresented in the media is because … well…they are extreme. The media customer reads Chomsky and decides that he is 10% fact and 90% bull. Whether that mix is true or not is irrelevant. What matters is the market creates the margins not some secret council of rich white men ensconced in an underground bunker. As an African-American, I would like to see a greater emphasis on issues affecting my community. When a white child is murdered or kidnapped, the news coverage is unrelenting. A black child is stolen or dies in a gang shoot-out and hardly a mention. White people are not racists because they choose to ignore the black child tragedy. They are simply responding to market interests. If they believed they could sell more Viagra and dandruff shampoo with stories about crimes in the black community, they would lead with such a story every night. As sad as this reality is this is not censorship in any form and should not be compared to the overt media manipulation that takes place in Cuba.

  • Do you know that any established marketplace favours those already in business?

    And did you know that there are always upstarts and new comers who beat eh established winners and take over the market lead?

  • And you know what the unvarnished truth which Americans, Spaniards, Greeks and Mexicans to know?

    I don’t know what the “unvarnished truth” is. That’s why I insist on all freedom for all points of view. Let the people figure it out for themselves.

  • My point is that the “Marketplace of Ideas” is totally rigged in favor of the wealthy and powerful, just like the financial, taxation, economic and political systems are. Yet most Americans are deluded not only into thinking that they are receiving an accurate picture of the world, but that they are getting one skewed by a liberal/left bias. If Americans, Spaniards, Greeks and Mexicans were exposed to the unvarnished truth, the world would be very different, very quickly. But they, unlike the average Cuban, do not realize the extent to which they confuse truth with propaganda. BTW of your jab at “Stalinist” enforcement of media’s ideology, I assume you are aware of the fact that the CIA has paid more journalists in the US and abroad than any private company ever.

  • Your complaint is that alternative, or obscure or extreme points of view, while free to be published, posted to websites or broadcasted over the radio & TV, only a few people will pay them any attention.

    So what’s your solution? Should all TV stations & newspapers be forced to broadcast and print all points of view in equal proportion? Should we force everybody to listen to all of these broadcasts and read all of these newspapers, whether the want to or not?

    Or is it, as per the Stalinist states you defend and advocate in support of, to enforce the One True Ideology? In Cuba, people are forced to hear the Party line because that’s the only content allowed. When you get down to it, that is the standard solution of the Left.

  • John’s only mistake was calling what we have here censorship. It is not censorship. It is total ownership.Call it market censorship. It is much more effective than the old totalitarian model of censorship, and hard for some, like yourself apparently, to see and understand. It’s beauty is it allows people like yourself to point out that you can publish anything here. The fact that only a minuscule percentage of people will ever see it is ignored. When Time Warner, CNN, Newsweek, the Economist, Bloomberg ect. are having the nation engage in group-think on whatever subject, invading Iraq, the evilness or Chavez, ect. what impact can the tiny alternative media have on the average guy on the street ? Nothing. Dissenting voices are not heard on their own accounts, and can be effectively marginalized and even ridiculed, as you do, for example calling Chomsky a crackpot without ever even bothering to try to refute what he says.

  • In what country did the crackpot Chomsky publish this media bible you so cherish? Can I go into a Barnes & Noble to buy it or order it from Amazon? Sound like censorship to you? There is a difference between not printing extremist ideology because the market for it is limited to guys who live in their mom’s basement and the censorship that festers in Cuba. Try publishing let alone selling a book in Cuba that criticizes Fidel the way Chomsky criticizes America. You are lucky to only get arrested! That’s censorship.

  • Cuba’s press censorship is easily equaled by the corporate U.S. media which is 95%owned by a handful or two of corporations . They will never publish stories favorable to leftist economies and will always seek to denigrate them .
    OTOH they play down the evils of capitalism and play up the illusionary “freedoms” we all have but of which few are available to those who speak for the working man and the poor.
    This is nothing new .
    Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman published “Manufacturing Consent” over 30 years ago and Chomsky’s ” Necessary Illusions” is well over 20 years old now.
    Both books clearly detail how the corporate media is self-censored and how that process works on any journalist entering the field .
    The right wingers who doth protest so much should look at their own media close-up sometime but we all know that the right does not read anything that points out what they don’t like.
    Hence, in their minds the Cubans do not have a free press but the United States does.

  • Reporters Without Borders maintains an index of press freedom around the world. Finland ranks as having the #1 with the most free media in the world. Canada comes in at #18, while the US ranks at #46. Cuba ranks #170 out of 180 countries surveyed.

    The US comes in for criticism for the gov’t treatment of whistleblowers like Snowden and Manley. In my opinion, that’s a bit of a stretch, as neither of those people are journalists. Both of them were employees of government agencies and had sworn oaths of secrecy regarding classified information they were privy to as part of their job.

    Ironically, what is missing from the US file is the close relationship between the editorial boards of major news organizations and the major political parties. The Journolist scandal revealed that many liberal reporters are members of a private, and for a while secret, listserv feed which provided them with talking points straight from the Democratic National Committee. At the same time, Fox News is known for their cosy relationship with the Republican Party.

    When journalists abdicate their responsibility to investigate fairly and report honestly on the business of government and instead willingly become active mouthpieces for specific political parties, they undermine democracy.

    Recently, one of the most respected journalists in the country, New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Risen, has declared that the Obama Administration is the greatest threat to a free press in a generation. That’s a stunning commentary, especially as it comes from a paper that has frequently been likened to a lapdog to the current White House.

  • Ernesto begins his article with the rationalization ‘Censorship…everybody does it’. Well…yes…sort of. There is such a huge difference between US “censorship” that still permits the publishing of a biting New York Times editorial read worldwide written by Russian President Putin blatantly criticizing President Obama and the kind of censorship that takes place in Cuba where independent journalist Calixto Martinez was imprisoned last year for publishing an undisputedly factual news story in a local independent journal with a circulation of a few hundred readers. It may take a little of the sting out it when the claim is made that censorship is universal. But US censorship is virtually non-existent if compared to what passes as journalism in Cuba.

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