The Impact of Telesur and Cuba’s Media Crisis

Fernando Ravsberg*

Cubans watching Telesur.  Photo: Raquel Perez
Cubans watching Telesur. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — “At last I get to see what Capriles looks like and hear what he thinks,” a 65-year-old Cuban friend says to me. News reports aired by the station Telesur , now broadcast on Cuban television, continue to be a topic of conversation among Cubans, surprising many and raising questions in others.

Alarmed, the wife of a mechanic tells me of an interview televised by the station, in which a Venezuelan woman declared she didn’t want her country ending up like Cuba, that she didn’t sympathize with communism and that all Cuban physicians in the country ought to be expelled.

Following 50 years of a biased, grim, monotonous and clumsy way of handling information, the arrival of the new television channel awoke so much interest among television audiences in Cuba that many stopped watching the local news altogether, until Telesur coverage stopped being aired during Cuban news hours.

To make matters worse, Cubans know that Telesur is unequivocally left-wing and pro-Chavez and that it sympathizes with the Cuban Revolution, such that it could never be accused of being an “imperialist” broadcaster. Nor could its brand of journalism be dismissed as “bourgeois”.

What makes Telesur different for Cubans is that, while the Cuban news program recalls a movie with “good guys and bad guys” (where the “bad guys” aren’t allowed to share their opinions, lest they “confuse the people”), the Latin American broadcaster shows the gray areas inherent to the issues.

These subtleties make people think. For example, following the coverage of the Venezuelan elections, many in Cuba are asking themselves: “why are political candidates on the island not allowed to campaign, to present their platform and explain what they intend to do if they are elected?

Watching Nicolas Maduro tour Venezuela and make campaign promises creates something of a short-circuit in Cuba’s official political discourse, which condemns electoral campaigns as “politicking” and only allows Cuban candidates to post a brief personal biography.

Curiously, a very close friend of mine tells me that Telesur news reports and documentaries exposed him to the extreme levels of poverty and violence that persist across Latin America. He tells me that he hadn’t “imagined the situation was so serious.”

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Telesur has had an enormous impact in Cuba. Foto: Raquel Pérez

When I remind him that this is constantly repeated on Cuban television, he laughs and replies: “that’s just bunk (political propaganda), a bunch of Cuban journalists talking amongst themselves about how evil capitalism is. In Telesur, you see how people actually live.”

By the looks of it, the “friendly fire” from this regional broadcaster has sparked off an internal media credibility crisis that Radio and TV Marti, stations used by the U.S. government against Cuba, have always dreamed of but never attained.

Cuba’s national media had already lost the confidence of many Cubans and run the risk of alienating the most left-leaning of the lot as well, which can now see the two sides of the coin in programs “above all ideological suspicion.”

Telesur could well constitute the sign presaging the restructuring of the political mechanisms which have been used to keep the Cuban press under the strictest control for over 4 decades, mechanisms which are primarily responsible for the creation of Cuba’s severely deficient media.

And there are other telling symptoms: the blog La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba), recently censored for its critical stances, has just published an interview with Cuban Minister for Culture Fernando Rojas, who declared that blogs are the embryo of “the alternative press we need.”

The official admitted that Cuba does not have a truly socialist press today and sent out a clear message to the blog’s readership: “I ask young bloggers to continue to do what they’re doing. I hope you can become revolutionaries on your own, not because any one of us tells you to.”

Since the interview, a photograph showing the bloggers from La Joven Cuba next to Cuban Vice-President Miguel Diaz Canel, standing in front of official portraits of Fidel and Raul Castro, has been circulating around the Internet, a sign that the government is distancing itself publicly from the ideological censors.

The gesture is in keeping with the personality of Diaz Canel, who showed an open mind, pragmatism and flexibility when he was Villa Clara’s provincial leader. These qualities could prove extremely useful in bringing a new way of thinking to the Communist Party’s Ideological Secretariat.

Cubans know the type of press produced under the vigilance of the country’s “protectors of the ideological faith” only too well. Attempting to bring about a different kind of journalism, for which critical thought ceases to be a heresy and submission a virtue, would well be worth the effort.
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(*) An authorized HT translation of the original posted in Spanish by BBC Mundo.


8 thoughts on “The Impact of Telesur and Cuba’s Media Crisis

  • May 5, 2013 at 3:49 pm
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    There’s no such thing as ‘just the news’. There never was and never will. The ‘unbiased’ sources you like are just as biased as the sources you don’t like.

    Deal with it.

  • May 4, 2013 at 8:07 pm
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    Therein is your mistake. True journalism is neither capitalist or socialist. It is just the news. Who, what, when, where, why and how. Cubavision will always reject reporting anything that would negatively reflect on the Castros, the Cuban government and its allies. CNN, in search of a Pulitzer, would sell out their own mothers, let alone President Obama and the US government if they believed it would increase viewer ratings. Once again, your comment not only, understandably, reflects your bias, it also denies the truth.

  • May 3, 2013 at 1:04 pm
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    Cannot really agree on that. Cubavision of course is not a “pluralistic” program, anybody knows that and Cubavision gives its point of view, and its positioning in the political world. Which I think is correct. If you reproch Cubavision being onesided, its not correct either, unless you do also blame CNN f.e. for not allowing communist journalism. This does not mean, that there should“n t be any diversity as mentioned above, which is very fertil for being on the way towards a true socialist democracy. Cubavison has one way of looking at things, others have other ways of looking at thing. And it`s good like that I think.

  • May 3, 2013 at 8:26 am
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    Fernando Rojas is not Minister for Culture but deputy minister

  • May 3, 2013 at 6:23 am
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    Here’s the irony: two of the mulatto on-air personalities with Telesur are Cuban!

  • May 2, 2013 at 9:49 pm
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    My wife has lots of horror stories about how even the littlest changes to newscopy she had to read on-air had to be prior approved by the information-minders. Even someone like Rafael Serrano, Cuba’s mustachioed version of NBC’s Brian Williams can not change a single word in his newscopy. Sometimes when the teleprompter would stall or malfunction, my wife would be forced to adlib on-air until a paper copy was discreetly handed to her. She knew she risked sanction if she misspoke despite the fact it was because of a crappy 20 year-old teleprompter. Lack of press freedom is an understatement.

  • May 2, 2013 at 6:44 pm
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    Cuban TV (Cubavision) should be exposed for its shameless practice of racial exclusionism. It is extremely distressing for a person supportive of the Cuban revolution to see day after day this monopoly institution nearly always featuring no program presenters of colour, and no participants of colour in discussions. This could not happen without the blessing of the government. Hopefully, the multiracial / multicultural nature of Telesur will open the eyes of the Cuban people.

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