Who Can We Ask?

Esteban Morales*

People buy newspapers but usually do so only by inertia, because day after day they won’t find anything of interest in them. Photo:Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — For people like me who enjoy writing, we also like it when others read our work. But this isn’t enough. What’s written must reach the receptive ears of those who, in addition to reading it, have the social responsibility of retransmitting what they’ve read. Undoubtedly, these are our mass media, our national press in particular.

In a recent article, “Some Challenges Facing Cuba’s Press,” I wrote about how useful it would be if our press felt allied with the many revolutionary intellectuals in Cuba who write, those who — while upholding their responsibilities — are also critical when it come to the multiple issues facing us as a people.

We know it isn’t easy for our press  — accustomed to writing only about what they’re allowed — to use sources that make critical analyses, such as those reflected in many articles circulating on the Internet.

They would need more than a little courage to defend such articles before their censures. Notwithstanding, the revolutionary consciousness of each of them would remain at peace and intact in doing so. This is because our journalists are pro-revolution, and in presenting these critiques they would be fulfilling their duty, which isn’t simply publishing what they’re authorized to print.

We’re not asking them to be irresponsible or to ignore the management of whatever newspaper in question; rather, they simply need to be a little more of themselves. They need to demand that they themselves act as the press and not the bureaucracy that currently controls them.

As Jorge Gomez Barata expressed so well, “The problem is not the journalists, but the structure.” I would add that there is a lack of a model for the press, given that the one presently being followed no longer corresponds to the times in which we live – and much less to the requirements of the ideological battle being waged today through the media worldwide.

Although the national press refuses to publish our work, which is only reflected on the Internet, I think we should still send all of the writings to the national press. I say this because things can change in our country and we mustn’t give anyone the opportunity to say that we never came up with proposals and alternatives.

Therefore we are declaring the need for an offensive with the national and provincial press: We need to send them articles. We need to do this tirelessly, regardless if we don’t think they’re going to be published. We need to send those articles until they’re overwhelmed, until one day they become convinced that the journalism they practice can be improved if they take us into account.

This is because our press is unquestionably losing the battle with unofficial journalism, which better reflects reality and does so in a manner that’s more attractive, respectful of reality and doesn’t make concessions to dogmatism, apology or bureaucratic control.

uban press.

Our press is satisfied with putting information on the table for a people who for more than 50 years have advanced tremendously, acquiring levels of education and culture that make them distinctly dissatisfied with what they receive from our current press, radio and television.

What is clearly being seen is the displacement that is increasingly occurring in the areas of video production, the Internet, and foreign radio broadcasts, a consequence of our poor television production and programming.

Observing our television programming we are able to perceive the abysmal imbalance between what is received from external sources (including US television) and our poor domestic production.

At the same time, we must not stop asking our press why it doesn’t publish articles about certain things. In a direct manner, we need to grill them about this so that they feel guilty when people are waiting for and expecting information while those news professionals remain silent.

They need to feel tormented by the fact that people buy newspapers but usually do so only by inertia, because day after day they won’t find anything of interest in them.

What ever happened to the underwater cable from Venezuela that they promised would so greatly improve our internet situation? Why are they taking so long without reporting on the corruption trials?

How is it that our foreign minister gave an interview on the issue of relations with the Cuban émigrés and our press didn’t publish anything?

Why do we have to follow the corruption case surrounding Chilean entrepreneur Max Marambio in the foreign press?

Why hasn’t there been any information about what happened to the deputy from Las Tunas who was protesting cuts in education?

Why did they publish such a ridiculous article recently reporting that there was cholera in Cuba?

In fact, when I wrote my first article about corruption (“Corruption: The True Counterrevolution?,” in April 2010), I had an astounding experience. It allowed me to completely understand that if we want to continue being revolutionary during this turbulent stage of our country, “we need to fight our own war, fight our own battles and take the risk that they will come down on us.”

Otherwise we can stay at home every day, or hide under the bed for even more security.

It wasn’t easy. There were stupid statements made — and not just any old stupidities —accusing me of “throwing something into the ring that the party wanted to keep secret” and said that I had “wrote something that wasn’t consistent with the status of a party member” or that I had “taken a dump” on the party with what I wrote.

Some people said I was “giving arms to the enemy for them to attack the revolution.” This went on to the point of word spreading that the author had turned into a dissident. Some even were worried that I could fill the gap in the lack of leadership to internal dissent.

Image: ecured.cu

Fortunately, into this debate stepped the general/president, who was already talking about those same issues and had previously said that “corruption is equivalent to counterrevolution.” More recently, our national comptroller said, “Corruption is one of the most dangerous forms of counterrevolution.”

Where are all those not-so-sharp individuals sticking their faces now? …those who were most interested in not asking for trouble so as to help save the country from an issue affecting its national security?

Therefore there’s nothing to fear. What we need to be convinced of is whether or not we are contributing to the revolution, and that we are not alone in those battles.

The problem is that when our media doesn’t report on what is happening domestically, the people remain ignorant as to what’s occurring in their own country. What’s more, those supporters of the revolution (whether intellectuals or not) who want to defend the revolution find themselves at a disadvantage in the face of those who attack the revolution, as they’re left looking like true “fools” due to their lack of information.

As far as we know, (if it’s not pure demagoguery, and I’m confident that it isn’t) the media in Cuba is not anyone’s private property.
(*) Visit Esteban Morales’s blog (in Spanish).


4 thoughts on “Who Can We Ask?

  • Last week 6 unarmed indigenous protesters were shot dead in Guatamala, yet this wasn’t generally reported in the corporate media. You can imagine the coverage if the same happened in Cuba. However I agree with Esteban that the media needs to be invigorated in Cuba and potentially it could be a far better media outlet than the American/UK model. In the UK the vast majority of newspapers are owned by a single proprietor and the power he has is frightening. Tony Blair admitted recently that this proprietor was dictating policy and that Blair didn’t dare contradict otherwise the criticism would be unrelenting. A singer was told that if she waived her fee to perform at his birthday party, she wouldn’t be criticised by the newspapers.

    The standard of reporting is also extremely poor. I sort of agree with you Moses – what you describe is on the one hand there is the corporate bias of the news, but also there is an extreme mercenary aspect as well, which will print anything in order to sell. Sometimes this means exposing things like Watergate. But you also have examples of a paper which prints a photograph reportedely of missing schoolgirl Madelaine McCann under the heading “Madelaine spotted at last”. A couple of days later another photograph from the same photoshoot and the heading “Turns out it wasn’t Madelaine”. Ie totally immoral lies. Another example is during the Hillsborough disaster one of the papers said “Liverpool fans stole from the dead corpses and urinated on them” which was a complete fabrication.

    However there are examples of news outlets that provide fair and unbiased reporting. For example the BBC which is funded by a licence fee, which is neither mercenary nor under corporate dictats and is also independent of government. Also there is Havana Times. Myself, I get my news on Cuba from BBC, Granma and Havana Times.

  • Despite your obvious distrust and dislike for corporate media, you can not deny that every major story that breaks will be covered by that very same media you choose to bash. This is owed to the sole characteristic that ultimately differentiates corporate media as you have described it and the government Cuban media that Raul controls…that is to say competition. Competition between the NY Times and the Washington Post will compel them to publish a story that may reflect poorly on that elite 1% you so love to castigate. But for that reporting, you would not have heard about Watergate, or Monica Lewinsky, or Goldman Sachs. In Cuba, for lack of competition, we seldom if ever read a comparable story in Granma. I prefer a story ¨spun¨ to silence because I would like to think I am intelligent enough to see the spin and decipher the facts for myself. Silence denies me that choice.

  • Hello again, Esteban,

    I commented on your last article – “Some Challenges Facing Cuba’s Press” – that mostly compared the media situation you write about with the one in my country, Canada, where there is little difference from US media.

    From my jaundiced, cynical perspective, living under capitalism all my life, what you expect from your media sounds wonderful, but incredibly naïve if you were living in a capitalist country. The fact that you have hope there can be change is like a breath of fresh air, one of the things people find so attractive about Cuba and Cubans I think.

    You wrote about “how useful it would be if our press felt allied with the many revolutionary intellectuals in Cuba”. That cannot happen here. One of the most outspoken critics here is a former New York Times journalist, Chris Hedges. His personal appearances are immensely popular but he is persona non grata in the corporate media – the only mainstream media we have.

    There is no difference between your national press that “refuses to publish our work” from the corporate media here that does the same. What appears to be a wide variety of choices here is deceptive. They all follow the same line and service the same privileged class.

    Noam Chomsky has written about the process in the US. Prestigious newspapers, like the New York Times, determine what is ‘newsworthy’ and the rest of corporate media follows along. Canada uses the same procedure.

    You would like your press to “use sources that make critical analyses, such as those reflected in many articles circulating on the Internet.” It is the same here – I have to rely on the internet for critical analysis. I’ve given up in frustration on the corporate press whose mandate, to present the ‘official story’, no matter how ridiculous, I find too anger-provoking to endure.

    The effort required to ‘read between the lines’ is immensely more difficult than reading Granma where, rather than putting a spin on stories, Granma simply omits material it doesn’t want to deal with as you have noted.

    You write that independent writers “need more than a little courage to defend [their] articles before their censures.” Due to the hopelessness of the effort, there are no independent writers in the corporate media. They all service the corporate agenda and bottom line. “My way or the highway” is the standard here.

    I’ve personally talked to several members from corporate media, ones who I expected to have the equivalent of a “revolutionary consciousness” – in effect, talking truth to power. In very short order, it became obvious they would no longer be employed if they stayed true to their values.

    The Jorge Gomez Barata expression you quoted, “The problem is not the journalists, but the structure,” rings true but here, it’s more all-encompassing, beyond structure It’s the basic system itself that is the problem.

    Your press may be “unquestionably losing the battle with unofficial journalism” but that’s not happening here despite a wave of corporate media stories bemoaning how they were losing out to the net. Chomsky has pointed out the real clients of corporate media are the advertisers. Newspapers are sold to their readers for less than print and distribution costs. Newspapers are increasingly given away here as the more copies that are distributed, the higher the price that can be charged for advertising.

    The quality keeps going down. Sensationalism becomes the rule to attract people, the news content decreases to accommodate more ads and to cater to the shorter attention spans of readers. This seem more superficially “attractive”, as you write, but it is definitely not “respectful of reality” and always does “make concessions to dogmatism,” capitalist style, and never fails at providing an “apology” for government and business interests in the name of ‘balanced reporting’. “Bureaucratic control”, as I wrote earlier, goes without saying.

    You write, “we must not stop asking our press why it doesn’t publish articles about certain things.” I think that’s a very good point to discuss. In my case, as I wrote, asking the corporate press to do anything is a hopeless cause unless you are a member of the privileged class, which is quite happy with the media it owns.

    There is no way to “to grill them”, make them “feel guilty”, “torment” them, or bombard them with material. A key characteristic of a class-based system is the dominant class is immune, at least until the subordinate class decides to take matters into its own hands as happened in the Revolution.

    In your case, where the press is the government, it may be different but I think there is something to think about. I noticed some time ago that, unlike in Cuba, government figures here NEVER ignore a subject, even when the subject is embarrassing to them. Actually, when it is embarrassing, they are more likely to issue a statement or press release as quickly as possible.

    It’s known as ‘damage control’. The assumption is it’s better to get out your version as quickly as possible, no matter how ridiculous it is, spinning it as best you can. It works because it’s known psychologically that first perceptions stand a better chance at getting fixed in peoples’ minds. It also works because silence gives the impression that ‘you have something to hide’.

    I think we can assume that if the Cuban government decided to speak on every subject, they would also follow the same strategy. Is this any better? I don’t know. I think it would be better for them, not for truth. I don’t know why they don’t use it. Are they too honest to use this cheap tactic? Or too arrogant?

    Personally, I have little tolerance for those that try to deceive through words – some may have noticed it in my writing – so I prefer the Cuban government’s silences to rhetoric, designed to take me in using deception.

  • We are all eternally endebted to Esteban, for his tireless efforts in educating, guiding us in difficult times and by laying the groundwork for these inescapable transformation, that so many are too entrenched in their foxhole, afraid of loosing some prerrogatives or pretending to be what they are not.

    Whatever the underlying causes of these persistent reticence to move our country forward in the right and only direction it must, does not matter. There will always be a handful of leaders and masses of followers.

    Esteban and many more, may get frustrated at times, with the slow pace these urgent changes are implemented. Only in the Bible was so many things done in such a short time!!!!

    We have made incredible advances, advances that I did not expect to see in my lifetime. Therefore, whenever we may feel down, frustrated or assume we have been raking sand in the wind, please look back where we were just 5-7 years ago.

    May these few lines of gratitude encourage Esteban and hundreds of other thinkers, that are in and outside of Cuba, to keep our beloved Cuba in mind, never stray away from what is best for its people, make this issue our guiding light and never tire, never give-up and never fear what anyone may say or do.

    Jose Marti thought us the power of trtuth and to always be consequent with our principles and beliefs

Comments are closed.