Wednesday, August 31, 2016

For an Uncomfortable Journalism

For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, 26 August 2016, Havana — It's been said that
radically opposite ends end up looking alike. That truism has become
irrefutable for those of us who are dedicated to independent journalism
in Cuba, especially those who practice the basic right of free
expression through opinion columns and end up subjected to relentless
crossfire, both from the dictatorial power with its powerful monopoly of
the press, and from the anti-Castro opposition, and even from
"colleagues" of the profession, who are supposedly champions of freedom
of expression.

Specifically the press, whose Cuban origins date back to 1790 with the
emergence of the newspaper Papel Periódico de la Habana, founded by La
Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País*, was one of the most solid
pillars of the 1902 Republic, where dozens of newspapers and magazines
circulated. In 1922 the first radio station emerged, and by 1930 the
number of stations had grown to 61. Television, meanwhile, arrived in
Cuba in 1950, and included new informational and news programs.

Somehow, over half a century a twisted and pernicious political system
has ended up undermining the social foundations so deeply that perhaps
the same amount of time will be needed — if not more — to recover, at
least partially, the weak republican civic fabric that was taken from us
since the "Revolutionary victory."

If we add to this the newsreels that existed previously, it can be
concluded that Cuba had a strong media tradition that promoted the
development of public opinion and political formation of a good part of
the population through a range of views of the most diverse trends in
different subjects of interest to national life.

With its lights and shadows, journalism during the republic enjoyed a
healthy development until Castro I took it over and "nationalized" it to
found his private press monopoly and place it at the service of the
government's power, its role today. Nevertheless, its counterpart —
independent journalism — emerged in the 90's, and in recent years,
driven by the use of new information technologies and communications,
has managed to gain space and even grow under truly precarious and
hostile conditions, against repression, harassment, and other adversities.

The history and ups and downs of Cuban independent journalism are too
extensive to address in this text, since we would stray from the
essential issue, which could be summed up in one cardinal question: are
parties and opposition leaders prepared to assimilate the democratic
paradigms which the Castro dictatorship is presumably facing? Or, more
directly, do they have a clear awareness that freedom of expression is a
basic, inescapable element of any society that aspires to be considered
as democratic?

Judging from my personal experience and the reactions I've received from
some leaders and their staunchest followers when I questioned their
proposals, attitudes and methods, I fear that not all "democratic
fighters" in Cuba and in exile are ready to take on the challenge of a
free press. In addition, I would argue that the dangerous virus of
"intransigence" has undermined the proto-democratic corpus of Cuba's
independent civil society and — together with the miasma of autocratic
government, authoritarianism, and its evil companions — is replicating
patterns of the system it iss trying to topple.

For certain "illuminati," criticism of the opposition it is not only
harmful, but practically an act of "treason" – a term very much in vogue
in the media — as it "panders to the dictatorship" or "discredits"
leaders "who are really doing something." As the General-President Raul
Castro always points out, some opponents consider that there is "a right
place and a right time" for criticism. That moment, in his view, has not
come, and since they feel personally attacked, they react with insults
and reproaches, not with arguments, in an unadulterated Castro style.

A frequent accusation launched against any question or opinion that
differs from one of these illustrious champions of democracy is that
criticism tends to "divide" the opposition, and unaware individuals
might think that it was once united. It is also the position of another
obstacle: the opportunists; who, in the absence of their own limelight
take the opportunity to pose as practical and as conciliators,
paternally scolding the transgressor journalist and brandishing one of
the most inaccurate phrases often repeated in the corridors: "at the end
of the day, we are all on the same page."

As if instead of politicians and journalists, positions commonly in tune
in fairly healthy Western societies, we were school children who bicker
for a treat at summer camp.

However, what is most alarming in this senseless contrapuntal — since a
truly democratic leader infused by a truly democratic sense should be
more interested in the well-argued criticisms he gets than in the
servile adulations always at hand — is that reality is being reflected
in the self-censorship on the part of some independent journalists, who
often, with greatest dishonesty and hypocrisy, silently approve the
criticisms that their boldest colleagues publish, so they utter low and
furtive congratulations and keep quiet their own disapproval, for fear
of being branded "politically incorrect" or "agents," this time from the
antipodes of the Castro regime.

There is also no shortage of neo-chiefs who get offended when some
irreverent journalist, like this writer, refuses to be of service or to
become a chronicler of his personal scrapbooks. They can't imagine how
anyone could be so "lacking in solidarity" that she decides to
prioritize other topics rather than their heroic campaigns and
unparalleled demonstrations of patriotism and bravery.

If, to be exact, the journalist of yore prefers to avoid in his writings
such bombastic phrases as "the hyena of Birán," "the blood-spattered
tyranny" or other similar theater affectation to qualify the autocrats
of the Palace of the Revolution, he becomes de facto a suspicious subject.

Is any similarity to the anointed of the olive-green dome pure coincidence?

It feels like something trivial, however, it is really worrisome for the
health of journalism that tomorrow's censorship is taking shape in
certain niches of the opposition today. If it continues, the end of the
Castro dictatorship would only mean a change in the color of the
political power's muzzle over the free expression of citizens, and the
beginning of an authoritarianism with a different emblem, but equally

Barring our having chosen the exercise of opinion in the press as a
profession, let's have enough sense of ethics and respect for ourselves
and for our readers to continue doing that uncomfortable journalism that
keeps politicians today and tomorrow under the rigor of public scrutiny,
just as they should be in a democratic society.

Personally, I reject sappy and complacent journalism, journalism's
subordination to any leadership, and, particularly I reject impunity.
That may not be what is expected of independent journalism by the very
controversial "servants of the people"; but it certainly is what good
Cubans expect.

*Translator's note: Sociedades Económicas were established in the
Spanish colonies (Havana's is the only one that still survives to date,
since 1793) whose mission was that of promoting local economic
development, Members were generally drawn from the local aristocracy,
scholars, professionals and skilled artisans. Some of the groups strayed
into activities that bordered on the political, and were punished by
having their legal licenses revoked.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya –
Translating Cuba -
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