Cuba Must Decide Between Journalism & Propaganda

By Fernando Ravsberg

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES – A leader of the Communist Youth organization told me she was a faithful reader of Cartas desde Cuba, clarifying that she does not always agree with the articles of the site. She was very surprised when I said that I don’t agree with some of the texts either.

“So why publish them?” she asked me and my answer was that I include what I consider of interest to readers, beyond my point of view on the matter and even in cases where I think diametrically different.

US Senator Marco Rubio, for example, is a person that I do not identify with at all. However, we have published many of his statements and proposals because we believe his projects affect Cubans, both here as well as immigrants.

A few days ago I wrote a tweet with the phrase “Not even a thousand manipulations by the national press can prevent Cubans from seeing reality as it unfolds.” There was some commotion on social networks and some were radicalized.

One reader who goes by “Fidel for Ever”, threatened me with expulsion from the country, “don’t forget your immigration status, you are not Cuban.” As he didn’t manage to frighten me he extended the threat to my family, mentioning the name of one of my kids in the best of Mafioso style.

In Cuba the debate on the changes needed takes place in the newsrooms, in the Journalists Association and anywhere where two communicators meet.

The paradox is that the phrase that unleashed the passions of ultras wasn’t even mine but came from the blog of a journalist from the official Granma daily online. I reproduced the text because it is part of the debate that is taking place in the Cuban media.

The next day, an anti-Castro reader criticized us because we published an opinion of the president of the Cuban Journalists Association, Antonio Molto, which justifies the work of the official media and defends the relationship of the Communist Party with the press.

Others were suspect of dark intentions in a report we ran on people living on the streets of Miami for failing to pay their rent. The Cuban migration potential towards that city is more than enough to consider it a topic of interest.

Behind these misunderstandings is the concept of journalism-propaganda, in which diffusion is given only to the politically correct subjects, while journalists are pressed not to criticize and encouraged to leave those who think differently without a voice.

I just watched a Cuban TV program praising the achievements of the sugar harvest in a province, without saying a word about the disappointing production in the rest of the country. It’s like praising the strength of a chain mentioning the only link that wasn’t broken.

The information policy of Cuba is decided by a small group of officials who know so little about communication that they have come to develop the same front page for all newspapers.  Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Meanwhile, a friend who arrived to the island, after spending 15 days in Miami, asked about the situation in Cuba because the TV channels of that city speak of hunger, impending blackouts and popular uprisings.

The problem facing Cuban journalism –on both sides of the Florida Straits- goes far beyond censorship, it delves into a concept that makes the press a tool for politics and the journalists into ideological soldiers affiliated with one side or the other.

Nor is it an exclusively Cuban problem. Many media in Latin America and Spain are owned by powerful economic groups and are used to promote their businesses and demonize politicians who oppose them.

In the US all the mainstream press supported the war against Iraq knowing that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. The New York Times had the decency to apologize publicly afterwards but that did not reduce the number of Iraqi civilians killed.

However, the evil of many is the consolation of fools. In addition, Cuba has a unique position, it has talented journalists, all media are under state control, and both the population and the government call for a change in the press.

Those who defend the current state of things “scare” us by saying that the alternative is the private media, but that’s just a lie used to “outlaw” any initiative. The Constitution actually allows public media and even the creation of journalist cooperatives.

Young people of Cuba do not see reflected in the media their lives, their dreams and their frustrations. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

So why do they keep discussing the same old thing year after year at the Journalists Association and get nowhere?  Why not take some practical steps? Why not allow a “pilot project” with a particular media? Why not let the people finance it?

We would find millions of Cubans willing to contribute money out of their pockets to fund a public media covering their information needs with communicators that respond to readers and not to a small group of opaque officials.

Instead, the censors provoke another of their little wars recently prohibiting journalists from writing on the side for non-state media programs like El Toque of Radio Nederland, because “it’s financed by the enemy.” They are so lost that they didn’t know that the program is about to disappear in a couple months due to a lack of funding.

The truth cannot be found by persecuting journalists in cyberspace. It would be more useful to create attractive media offering editorial freedom and a living wage, a place where young people develop an honest job which they can be proud of.

19 thoughts on “Cuba Must Decide Between Journalism & Propaganda

  • Thanks for the reference to the Clash album. I’m listening to it now on YouTube for the first time (maybe I’ll recognize some pieces). But this is not to say your main point isn’t correct. Censorship happens when someone becomes aware of something and, in a moment of ignorance and fear of the unknown, pulls the plug on it. But but the broader, subtler censorship is simply information overload–cascades of content rushing at people that habituate them to mindless witnessing of content rather than focused engagement with it.

  • If as you say dani there is no need to fear suppression in Hong Kong, have the public led by the students held so many demonstrations -which have then been confined?
    The Bernie Sanders campaign was well funded as he himself publicized the tens of millions of dollars received, at the DNC – saying that the average donation was $27.00. He certainly received very wide coverage from Television during his campaign over North America. That may not have been reported in the UK, but I can assure you of it.
    One has to admire how he eventually managed to swallow his pride and join the Democratic Party in order to run for President rather than remaining in the isolated role he chose for so many years.
    I think it interesting how the US political wonks in analysis are finding that Trump and Sanders were both targeting the same sections of society – the dis-enfranchised white working class male and those who previously had little interest in politics many of whom did not vote. It seems remarkably similar to UKIP.

  • I’m not a Labour Party member or supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. However remember that he was elected on a huge mandate by the members of the Labour Party. I’m not really sure why the MPs have turned against him with such vitriol. However the Murdoch Press campaign against him started way before the recent rebellion. BTW Corbyn is working class and lives very frugally, which makes it all the more difficult for the press to hold that against him.

  • That is censorship under the guise of phony market reasons – exactly what I was talking about earlier. There is nothing un-newsworthy about the Bernie Sanders campaign. For the first time in years a candidate for President has criticized the financial and political establishment, it is the first time in years that a Socialist has stood for President, for the first time in years has a candidacy been financed at grassroots level rather than big business, his scathing attacks on Hilary Clinton were epic.

    There is no reason for newspapers in Hong Kong to fear suppression, Hong Kong is self-governing and is ranked 69 in the world (US 41, UK 38, China 176) according to Reporters Without Borders. As I said it is business reasons.

    Left wing parties have not eradicated free press around the world. Where do you get that “fact” from. Generally they criticize the monopoly that corporate media has in many countries and criticize the lack of objectivity they face from that type of media.

  • I think that even you dani would have realised that the coverage given to Trump is not a consequence of right wing media, but his insatiable appetite for expressing outrageous views – which as the saying goes: “Makes good press.”
    Being critical of the Chinese communist regime is as I think you know also, I risky business. Eventually even that one to which you refer will be stamped on. In Cuba all such newspapers were eradicated by decree fifty six years ago. As ‘Che’ Guevara put it:

    “We must do away with all newspapers. A revolution cannot be accomplished with freedom of the press.”

    That eradication of a free press is a pursued policy of those countries which have left wing parties in power around the world.

  • Well Dani, it would not have been the first time if a newspaper owner had been appointed to Cabinet, I refer to Beaverbrook. Note that the Blair Government was Labour not Conservative.

    Poor Jeremy Corbyn cannot even muster the support of his own Labour M.Ps. so why complain that others act similarly in their criticisms about him? Maybe if Corbyn had come from a so-called ‘working class’ background, his fellow M.Ps distaste would not have been so strong.

    I had the pleasure of the company in Africa for almost a month, of the Deputy Editor of the Weekly Manchester Guardian – formerly a Professor at Brown University in the US and can assure you that socialism and its policies are in good hands – we managed to converse and co-habit quite well however.

    But, note that Mr. Daugherty was unable to respond to my comments directed at him.

  • There is a subtle kind of censorship in America which is couched up in phony market decisions. As I’ve stated below Bernie Sanders was given less than a tenth of the publicity that Donald Trump was given. Oliver Stone’s film Salvador was blacked by all mainstream film distributors and finance because of the subject matter. Now whether one personally likes the film or not it isn’t possible to maintain that it is a turkey. It has won several awards. The record Sandinista by the Clash was also blacked and was near impossible to buy in the US. Now again nobody can maintain that the group lacked popularity. The tickets for their concert in New York was over sold by a factor of 10 and so they had to put on 9 extra concerts.

  • The Guardian and Mirror are the exceptions. The vast majority of the newspapers in the UK are right wing and owned by one man. His power during the Blair era was so great he almost had a seat on the cabinet. His papers were involved in a lot of illegal activity including hacking phones of relatives of dead servicemen. These papers will never give opponents any kind of sympathetic hearing because they are geared to the business interests of their owner. See how they’ve treated Jeremy Corbyn because he dared to suggest that this monopoly should be broken up.

  • It’s hard to maintain that fantasy given the number of people who support left wing parties around the world. Even in the USA Bernie Sanders has a huge amount of followers. But he got less than a tenth of the publicity Donald Trump did, let alone getting a sympathetic coverage of his views. In the end corporate media is going to reflect corporate interests. I’ll give you an example. Of the 40 newspapers in Hong Kong only one is critical of China and its human rights record. Its easy to see why, they all have business interests on the Chinese mainland.

  • Currently bjmack only a small portion of information from the Internet slowly filters through to the people on the street. Let us remember that the Internet has been around for twenty five years and that it is only now that a few in Cuba have access to that which comes through from Venezuela.
    You correctly observed the disciplined behaviour of the young people attending the free concert, reflecting the educational system and restrictions to which Cubans are accustomed. If you reflect, similar population discipline could be observed in Germany from 1934 onwards and in Stalin’s Russia. Access to cell ‘phones is the main way in which young Cubans are being affected by the outside world and they are influencing their thinking.
    Cuba is 1300 km from one end to the other so events in Havana are only accessible to those within a relatively short distance. How many people from Madison Wisconsin attend a concert in New York?

  • Grady R. Daugherty is factually incorrect because he has confined his views regarding the media to the US. It is nonsense to say that: “the media is an arm of the political state in every country”. Yes, it is correct that in Cuba the media is totally controlled by the communist state, but incorrect if applied to the Western European countries. Is Mr. Daugherty suggesting that the Manchester Guardian and the Daily Mirror reflect right-wing thinking or is he ignorant of their existence?

    In response to the comment that: “the US people are so brain washed that they swallow it like imbeciles.” one can only comment that obviously it takes one to know one!

    It is evident that Mr. Daugherty has been the unfortunate victim of communist indoctrination – as has every school student in Cuba for fifty seven years. The difference however between Mr. Daugherty and the people of Cuba is that they have sufficient experience of the reality of communism dictatorship to realize that in practice the actual function of communist controlled media is to deceive and lie.

    Syria like North Korea and Cuba, has for many years been controlled by a socialist family dictatorship. To suggest that the US is responsible for the chaos currently reigning there with only some 15% of the land area being under the Asad regime (with Putin support) is an obvious nonsense. But Mr. Daugherty goes one further when he blames the US for the Russian annexation of Crimea and for Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine- logic is obviously not his forte.

    The experiences during the 20th century of communism – which without exception ends up in dictatorship, is that the theory of Marx/Lenin doesn’t work in practice. The implosion of the USSR was for thirteen occupied countries akin to having a rotten tooth pulled. The subsequent relief was enormous and the people liberated.

    It is noteworthy that Mr. Daugherty says little about Cuba probably because it lies beyond his visual and mental horizon. Those of us who are not US citizens, become somewhat bored by the anti-US Government and anti-US political parties and anti-capitalism rants given by US citizens in these pages. If you folks are dissatisfied then act within your own country and don’t bore the rest of us – the world extends far beyond your borders – even those which apparently are going to be protected by a wall much higher and much longer than the infamous Berlin Wall built by the communist USSR to endeavor to contain those seeking freedom!

  • Grady, get real. Russian fascists invaded Ukraine and continue to occupy the eastern part of the country, along with Crimea.

  • I get it. You hate the US. But what do US military bases in Germany have to do with a total lack of press freedom in Cuba?

  • “It can carry out a bloody, fascist coup in Ukraine” . Talk about re-writing history.

    Have you ever considered that your socialist viewpoint is marginalized because few agree with it?

  • Cyberspace is changing the way we get our info in the US Fernando, only those who are older than dirt still get newspapers delivered. I watched some raw footage of the Stones concert in Havana. Estimates of over 100,000 people attended this event and every single person I viewed, and there were thousands were enthusiastic, dressed well and most of all incredibly well behaved. If 100,000 attended, direct family members would total about 6 per individual so 600,000 knew first hand how that show went. Cyberspace allows this to happen and although no more than 10% of Cuban’s have any access to the internet, it’s more today than five years ago and these kids attending the Stones concert will no accept going back. The internet will allow your country to do the right thing!

  • Censorship is rarely a problem in the U.S. It is in Cuba, but that probably means the Cuban people learn from each other rather than from media they do not trust. That’s normal. I lived in Spain when Franco died, and Spain under Franco was like Cuba. Because people in Spain trusted each other rather than the media, the were interesting and fun to be with.

    The U.S. problem, and it’s a big one, is that it finances its media operations through the sale of attention. How and why this is so I can’t say in a short note, but I’d ask you to take seriously the question of how you will finance your media and devices in the future. Some combination of free, subscription, or pay after you watch or read (like donations at a church) should, or could, work. Allowing large firms to gather and sell your attention with fancy content will not.

  • In the US we have journalistic freedom. It is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. And so, any group might publish a newspaper of magazine, and say just about anything they wish, so long as it does not violate certain criteria pertaining to libel or slander, etc.

    As it turns out however, those social forces who have enormous financial strength are able to utilize the press freedom to manipulate the broad masses to an extent that is almost unbelievable. The US is a democracy, consequently, in name only.

    This “freedom of the press” has resulted in the complete domination of the people by the right-wing, anti-socialist point of view, to such an extent that the federal government can invade and destroy entire countries at will, so long as the “free” media maintains a supportive political perspective.

    And I’m not talking just about Fox News, but also about CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, New York Times, and virtually the entire US media spectrum.

    I think Ravsberg’s article should be viewed in this more broad context. The simple fact is that the media is an arm of the political state in every country; and this is true, whether they are journalistic organizations owned directly by the government (Granma, etc.), or “independently,” as with the various US media sources listed above.

    The mass media, the areas in which journalists do their valuable work, must prop up the status quo; and if they do not, they might be considered as opponents of the status quo, i.e., as counter-revolutionary or even as treasonous.

    Ravsberg’s article is written as though there were no worldwide struggle going on between socialism and capitalism; as though the US State Department, the CIA, USAID, the NED, etc., etc. were not conducting a well-funded, 24-7 campaign of counter-revolutionary propaganda against the Cuban state, as well as against all the working peoples of Latin America and of the world.

    Think about democracy and press freedom, and look at how it functions in the United States. The government can invade and carry out or instigate wars which kill millions of people, and destroy sovereign countries like Iraq, Libya, and now Syria. It can have mulitple aircraft carrier fleets which patrol the seven seas.

    It can carry out a bloody, fascist coup in Ukraine and rape the country financially, any yet blame Russia. It can set up hundreds of military bases all over the world, and site first-strike missiles on the western border of Russia, yet claim that Russia is the aggressor.

    And in all this, under the Constitutional freedom of the press, the US people are so brain-washed that they swallow it like imbeciles.

    As followers of the mass media, and in this case of Havana Times, let’s remember what the hell is going on in this world, and not be “massaged” by certain journalists into a state of imbecility. If we forget the worldwide context in which we are living, we are left at the mercy of sweet words that are, in fact, deadly poison.

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