Cuba’s “Alternative Media”: Crisis or Opportunity?

By Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — Some days ago, I attended InCubar, the third course on social network management offered by the Aca Media Latam Foundation. There, promoters, bloggers, journalists and private and State community managers came together in a very agreeable atmosphere.

The course got us up to date on strategies used to make the most of social networks. In one of the exercises, we were asked to identify our main strengths – and the main challenges we faced – in terms of the development of our projects.

We were divided into groups (institutions, journalists, bloggers and others) in order to diagnose the situation we faced in each of our sectors, the indispensable first step for developing any strategy. I was placed in the bloggers group.

It would take too long to describe the conclusions arrived at by each of these groups, so I’ll focus on those identified by my colleagues in Cuba’s official media. They saw a “threat” in the emergence of “alternative” media that offer greater “diversity.”

I’ve placed the three words in quotation marks because I believe these are the key issues we debated during the workshop. To consider emerging news sites as “threats” boils down to regarding them as “enemies,” when, in fact, they could constitute an “opportunity.”

The end of Cuba’s information monopoly may be regarded as the besieged fortress that was finally “penetrated” by the enemy or as the beginning of a new form of competition that could become the engine that transforms us into the journalists the nation needs.

The official media suffers from such “politico-editorial verticality” that they have even published different newspapers with the same front pages.

The truth of the matter is that those who write for “alternative” digital media are as good as those who write for the official press – sometimes, they are even the same people. The difference is that they play by other rules. In one place, they are allowed to soar. In the other, their wings are clipped.

Official Cuban newspapers are so top-down that sometimes they all have the same cover.

If I worked for an official Cuban publication, I would be delighted to see the spread of new informative sites dealing with Cuban issues. In the first place, because it would allow me to demand greater “autonomy” in order to compete with them.

These sites also represent a source of employment, giving Cuban journalists better-paid work options with greater editorial freedom. For the first time in decades, leaving the official press does not necessarily mean quitting our work as communicators.

These spaces are an “alternative” for journalists and a “threat” to the censors and editors, who will have no choice but to negotiate, because imposing restrictions is making them lose more and more young talents every day.

Today, there is broader “diversity” in terms of information about Cuba and this diversity is part of life itself. It’s positive to have different viewpoints expressed. As more and more Cubans find a space to express their opinions, we will be move increasingly closer to the truth.

Some critics of my blog, Cartas desde Cuba, accuse us of “running with the hares and the foxes,” as though this were a strategy, as though we woke up every morning and asked ourselves: “how do we praise and who do we criticize today?” They don’t realize societies are built with a broad variety of materials.

Differing opinions won’t go away just because we ignore them in the media. In Cartas desde Cuba, we publish many texts and comments we do not agree with, and we do so because they have an impact on the lives of Cubans and are therefore of public interest.

Cuban journalists also face the challenge of giving voice to this diversity and the national press faces the challenge of putting its “proselytism” behind it and of becoming a public entity, faithfully capturing the opinions and experiences of all citizens. The little credibility the official press has is not a new problem.

Internet, the “package” of audiovisuals sold on the street, the illegal satelite antennas and the online media ended the government media monopoly. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Back in the 90s, Cuban humorists were already mocking the partiality of the press. Despite this, everything remained the same because nothing “threatened” it, there was no “alternative” source of information.

People start scrambling when the end of the monopoly nears, with the emergence of new digital news sites, the Internet and the “weekly package.” The government itself begins to demand a more credible, balanced, opportune, attractive and critical journalism.

In some cultures, the word “crisis” has a positive connotation, and they may well be onto something. There’s no doubt the crisis created by “alternative” media is a good ally of Cuban journalism, making change necessary and offering us the opportunity to improve.

9 thoughts on “Cuba’s “Alternative Media”: Crisis or Opportunity?

  • November 15, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Heaven? “Great” healthcare and education? Talk about jokes! Hahaha! Have you ever been to Cuba?

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