Cuba’s Press Law

by Fernando Ravsberg*

Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — Some years ago, foreign journalists working in Cuba found out about a series of regulations applied to their work (thanks to an information leak). They had kept these regulations a secret, making it very difficult for us to follow them.

This illustrates the main issue faced by the Cuban press: no one knows the rules of the game or the divisions of the playing field. We journalists play blindfolded, never knowing when (or why) we’re going to get a red card and get kicked out of the game.

The matter came to mind when I found out that a law, decree law or series of norms designed to regulate press work on the island were in the works. However, I haven’t been able to find a single Cuban colleague who’s directly taking part in any debates in this connection.

Apparently, a group of experts has been working and made considerable progress in the drafting of this legislation. My colleagues speculate they will later gather the opinions of journalists, but merely as part of a consultative mechanism.

The Cuban Playing Field

The censorship that Cuba’s press is subjected to has made the country’s media lose credibility.

The constitution declares that the country “acknowledges the freedom of expression and press of citizens, in conformity with the ends of socialist society.” Judging what the ends of “socialist society” are, however, is the exclusive prerogative of a tiny group of Party bureaucrats.

It’s such a complex mechanism that I, for instance, opted to simply do my job as best as possible, without worrying about the “rulings” handed down by the court of the Holy Inquisition. Ultimately, I think it’s been worth it, even though it entails having my employment options severely curtailed.

That’s why I was happy to hear that Cuba would be passing press legislation: at last, the rules of the game will be public; journalists will know their duties and bureaucrats will be forced to respect our rights.

The least a press law can do is clearly define the relationship between journalists, the media, society and State powers – the rights and duties of each of these actors – such that the freedom of the press enshrined in the constitution can be guaranteed.

Why the Silence?

The “alternative” press, bloggers and social networks have demonstrated that Cuban journalistst are capable of doing better work without censorship.

The secrecy surrounding this legislation makes some of my Cuban colleagues suspicious. No few people fear that they will use these laws to extend the control of the Party’s Ideological Department to cyberspace, to social networks, blogs and “alternative” media.

The head of that department already touched on the issue, asking for the establishment of norms that would forbid Cuban communicators from writing articles in those media different from those authorized for publication in official media.

The “alternative” activities carried out by Cuban journalists demonstrate that the ruling is in favor of official press higher-ups and not the professional quality of the work being produced. The Internet has allowed us to clearly identify where the problem lies.

The way to overcome this contradiction in an intelligent way is not to censor digital communication spaces, but to transform the country’s press, so that journalists can publish there the reports seen in the so-called “alternative press.”

For Everyone and by Everyone?

Freedom of the press is a fundamental human right, something the Cuban constitution acknowledges by prohibiting private ownership over the media and declaring they may be controlled only by the State or society (one wonders whether it refers to the public, cooperatives or what).

Continuing to censor the country’s press is ridiculous at a time when Cubans have access to international contents (chiefly from Miami) through the “package” or satellite cable.

An issue as important as the drafting of this law should perhaps begin with the gathering of opinions of all journalists on the island through a debate organized by different media, a debate that includes their aspirations and needs.

It would be healthy if these exchanges of opinions were carried out without the presence of censors, in order to avoid subsequent reprisals, and because it is time for the sector to show it is mature enough to meet without “chaperons.”

Citizens should also be invited to share their opinions. We’re talking about a public service and everyone should be entitled to express what kind of a press they want, as well as establish social and institutional control mechanisms that will allow them to protect their rights in view of journalistic or political malpractice.

If broad participatory mechanisms are set up to glean the interests of citizens, journalists and the government, this law could be fitted to today’s Cuba, to the needs of the people and to the challenges that lie in store for them.

(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.

24 thoughts on “Cuba’s Press Law

  • September 15, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    “….in conformity with the ends of socialist society” is a euphemism for represion. It’s license to twist that statement into anything the regime wants.

    ¿Tú crees que las cuentapropistas no son capitalistas?

  • September 15, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    How little you must think of the people of Cuba to consider them “naive” because they want the freedom to decide of themselves how best to run an economy without having it imposed. Your statement implies that we simple Cubans must be kindly led by some benevolent ruler to avoid those economic and political systems which don’t jive with your world view! Let’s as you imply keep Cubans in the dark. Free and open press? …God forbid! We simple Cubans must be protected from the outside world.

    ….Just a couple of hours ago a homemade raft landed on Key Biscayne beach loaded with Cuban’s seeking that which you wish to deny them, indeed risking their very lives to do so!

  • September 15, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Cubans seek: “freedom of expression and press” which is denied them by Socialismo!

  • September 15, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    As far as the living standards of Cubans are concerned, what is there to ruin? Do you really believe that capitalism would reduce the average living allowance of 33 cents perday?
    Don’t take the superior view that Cubans are naïve, that smacks of unjustified conceit. The Cubans are just as intelligent as the rest of us and I can vouch that they envy those of us who have freedom and seek it for themselves.
    In Cuba, the Castro family regime has used its Socialismo control:
    “to empower and enrich themselves at the bitter expense of the people and the environment.”
    Good point!

  • September 14, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    “freedom of expression and press of citizens, in conformity with the ends of socialist society” Good law, and the best way to avoid becoming a capitalist peon

  • September 14, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    good points, Tipper! Capitalists will ruin Cuba faster than you can say Monsanto, if naive people get the ‘freedom’ they think they want. Capitalists are wily experts at using ‘freedom’ to empower and enrich themselves at the bitter expense of the people and environment. Beginning w/ the press laws – cuidado Cuba!

  • September 14, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    How can I be disingenuous about Free enterprise capitalism when I believe that is the best and obvious path for Cuba. I also think your ideas are complete lunacy. So no John, hardly diengenuous.

    ..And when you say the vast majority of Cubans want to keep Castroism (A fair description of Castro rule + communism) what do you base that on? Have you spoken to any Cubans?….do you even speak Spanish? What do you base that on John? ….please do tell us!

  • September 14, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    The list goes on Informed Consent, but there are those who have never been to Cuba, who think that the people of Cuba want to retain the Castro family regime for ever. Only the ignorant could even consider such a thought!
    The people of Cuba have to live on 33 cents per day whereas half the developing world lives on $2 per day.

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