HAVANA TIMES — “We can’t lay the blame entirely on journalists or entirely on the media. We must lay the blame on the Party, in the first place, and we have to begin to criticize ourselves for what we have failed to do in order to develop our press,” said Cuban Vice-President Miguel Diaz Canel.
He declared this at the close of the 9th Congress of the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC). It is the first time anyone in the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) acknowledges the Party’s responsibility for the shortcomings and distortions characteristic of the Cuban press.
The call for self-criticism was accompanied by the election of a new UPEC leadership, made up of eager journalists of proven professionalism, who are versed in the use of new information technologies – something which ought to make them more conscious of the pressing need for changes.
Raul Garces, UPEC’s recently-elected vice-chair, stressed that the Cuban press is going through a critical moment. “There are two paths we can take: either we fix the problem together once and for all, or the credibility and persuasive power of the Cuban media will simply collapse.”
In his address to the journalist’s Congress, he acknowledged that “we have gradually adopted a model which portrays reality by contrasting the alleged “hell abroad” with Cuba’s supposed “domestic paradise”. We have often substituted reasoned argument with propaganda.”
The new UPEC chair, Antonio Molto, sent out a clear message to Cuban journalists, stating that “all you have to learn is that the media, knowing what they have to do, should not wait for any sign from above, that the go-ahead is already there.”
According to Molto, however, no few pitfalls are to be found down this path, for “we’ve had a lot of claptrap and rubbish. Learning to communicate with the public, getting to understand a democracy that isn’t only top-down, where diversity has a place and is respected, will be a long process.”
The new model for the media “hasn’t been put into writing yet. There are notes, suggestions, and theses. The model, however, has by no means been worked out,” Molto affirmed.
The fragments of the UPEC Congress sessions broadcast on Cuban television showed a serious debate, where participants questioned many aspects of the country’s media and proposed old and new ideas to transform the press into something that society demands and needs.
The Congress questioned the current relationship between the Communist Party and the press, the salaries of journalists, the lack of equipment, the refusal of government officials to share public information, the absence of journalistic legislation, the “thin skin” of some politicians and the lack of authority of media managers show when faced with pressure from these politicians.
The Congress, in a last analysis, saw more criticism than laments, more serious analysis than tantrums, and more proposals than conformism. And the best part, to quote Molto, is that the new model “hasn’t been put into writing yet. There are notes, suggestions, and theories. The model, however, has by no means been worked out.”
This opens up the possibility of collective action, through which common journalists can become something more than salaried workers forced to adhere to pre-established norms, as is the case nearly everywhere around the world, through which they can take part in the creation of the norms themselves.
Cuban journalists have all of the professional passion, talent and knowledge needed to take on this challenge. The two presentations at the Congress were a demonstration of the knowledge that journalists have in the area of communications.
Some insist that countries are shaped by their enemies and that this applies particularly to Cuba, forced to conceal nearly every one of its steps from the watchful gaze of its northern neighbor, who is always waiting to use the slightest slip against it.
Caught between foreign aggression and those at home who affirm that criticisms give “weapons to the enemy”, the Cuban press is today what it was forced to be. To blame everyday journalists for this would be a bit trivial, superficial and unjust.
At this precise moment, however, it seems as though the entire nation is conspiring to bring about a new, improved journalism in Cuba. There are still risks involved, but to let such an opportunity pass without at least trying to achieve this would be unforgivable.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.