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.
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(*) Visit the website of Fernando Ravsberg.


24 thoughts on “Cuba’s Press Law

  • September 15, 2015 at 7:26 pm
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    “….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
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    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
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    Cubans seek: “freedom of expression and press” which is denied them by Socialismo!

  • September 15, 2015 at 12:58 pm
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    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
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    “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
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    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
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    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
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    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.

  • September 13, 2015 at 5:33 pm
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    Tipper is referring to the problems that arise when free enterprise capitalism is given free rein by a laissez-faire government they ( the oligarchy; the wealthy: the corporations) own lock, stock and barrel.
    You’re being more then obviously disingenuous in not acknowledging what he is plainly and correctly stating because you can’t address the fact that FEC is the big problem for the developing world in which half the people must try to live on $US2.00
    a day.
    Cuba is the only Latin American country without childhood malnutrition because it has socialized food distribution unlike all the other countries.
    The vast majority of Cubans wish to keep what they have suffered to keep for 54 years .
    After normalization the Cubans will absorb the same advanced technologies but without the profit motive driving acts against humanity by the corporations. .

  • September 11, 2015 at 9:18 pm
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    Repeat, the Cubans are not afraid, the regime is scared of losing its power and control over them.

  • September 11, 2015 at 12:42 pm
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    If you go short of additions for your meaningless list, try the New York Stock Exchange for more.
    Don’t suppose that you use a bank? Where do you buy your clothes? Don’t eat out – you will probably be consuming food produced by farmers who use Monsanto and Pfizer products. Just sit at home and complain.

  • September 11, 2015 at 12:36 pm
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    It isn’t the people of Cuba who are afraid of joining the free world. It is the Castro family regime and the Communist Party of Cuba that are steeped in fear. Currently all those facets of life in Cuba to which you refer are controlled by the regime. It does so through it’s constitution, the State Police and particularly the CDR who have someone on every block of every village, town and city, reporting upon who is meeting with and talking to whom, who has made criticism’s of the regime.
    Agricultural supplies are not the problem which has caused annually decreases in agricultural production in Cuba. The decline to a point where the country is dependent upon food imports from productive capitalist countries while hundreds of thousands of acres of good agricultural land revert to bush.
    Cubans have access to pizza already, but I am sure they would love to be able to access beef hamburgers as currently they can only get pork and chicken – the latter being imported.
    As obviously an American, you are allowing your mind to be confined to the US interests. A free Cuba would have choices – the US is not the only potential source of ideas regarding type of government and the laws and regulations which control an economy.
    Incidentally, are you aware that round-up becomes inert upon contact with soil?

  • September 10, 2015 at 11:32 pm
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    If you want to live in caves you should move to Afghanistan. I like modern technology. I assume that you have also visited Cuba. When possible, Cubans enjoy modern technology and it’s comforts as much as I do.

  • September 10, 2015 at 11:17 pm
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    Zara is Spanish-owned.

  • September 10, 2015 at 9:08 pm
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    Have you been to Cuba lately? Seen what Cubans are wearing? Even Castro wears Adidas! ….hahaha

  • September 10, 2015 at 9:04 pm
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    I guess In your Cuba we’re looking at horse drawn carts and Franklin stoves for warmth.
    – modern medicine? Nope. That requires industry
    – modern agriculture to feed all the people? Nope that requires modern industry. Cubans can stay hungry
    – Toilet paper? Nope. That require modern industry?
    – money? Nope that requires US dollars. No buying any foods for Cuba.

    ….ummm I don’t think Cuba shares your point of view

  • September 10, 2015 at 8:57 pm
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    Don’t confuse the ineptitude of the Cuban regime in trying to develop an industrial base with some kind of benign concern for the Cuban people or the environment.

  • September 10, 2015 at 6:20 pm
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    Fernando Ravsberg in addressing the Castro family regime’s press laws is suggesting relative freedom of an alternative press and freedom of expression for the people of Cuba. It is a bold proposition after 56 years of suppression.
    I hope that both ideas are fruitful, but doubt whether a communist dictatorship will find either acceptable.
    Ravsberg refers to: “Cubans have access to international contents (chiefly through Miami) through the “package” or satellite cable. I would dearly like to know how and where? Or is that confined to Havana?

  • September 10, 2015 at 6:19 pm
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    The truth!

  • September 10, 2015 at 5:13 pm
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    Losing control. Information = power.

  • September 10, 2015 at 4:26 pm
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    What is Cuba afraid of? Monsanto, US Argo chemical farming with
    shit products like round up, having ADM create even more dead zones in
    the Gulf around Cuba, just like they do with all the crap that flows out
    of the Heartland down Ol’ Ms. and into the Gulf and creates dead zones.

    How about payday lenders and the game they play on the Haitians in Miami, maybe Cubans are afraid of that coming to Havana too.

    Oh and, Pizza-Hut, Zara, Nike, Pfizer, processed food, preservatives, American banks, interest
    rates, the IMF, commodities markets, over fishing, soon to be Chinese
    oil spills in the Gulf, American business leverage over all facets of
    Cuban life, Foreign investment buying up all the choice real estate and then leasing it back to Cubans who can barely make ends meet, the list goes on…

  • September 10, 2015 at 4:18 pm
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    Read above you what Cuba is afraid of…

  • September 10, 2015 at 4:18 pm
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    Pizza-Hut, Zara, Nike, Pfizer, processed food, American banks, interest rates, the IMF, commodities markets, over fishing, soon to be Chinese oil spills in the Gulf, American business leverage over all facets of Cuban life, the list goes on…

  • September 10, 2015 at 12:46 pm
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    What are these “socialists” afraid of?

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