Journalism as it ought to be

By Diana Barahona

July 15, 2008

La Habana – The Cuban Journalists’ Union (UPEC) is a voluntary association that brings together media workers from all over the country. It has 3,680 members. This year, UPEC held its first congress in nine years. We arrived too late to attend, but information about the proceedings can be found here.

This is what the president of UPEC, Tubal Páez Hernández, had to say about the mission of Cuban journalism: To inform with veracity, without triumphalism or apologetics, in an analytic and deep manner, to help it in its primordial task: to better defend the Revolution and socialism.

We met with UPEC vice presidents Aixa Hevia, José Martín and Juan Marrero González at their office building and in typical Cuban fashion were rewarded with a pile of books, magazines, pamphlets and lists of Internet resources on Cuban journalism. Never forgotten, the Five Heroes were accorded their due and we were given a list of international Web sites about them, such as www.freethefive.org

Some points of interest discussed were the shortage of journalists, the expansion of the journalism schools, journalistic ethics, the social uses of the mass media, and the differences between the careers of journalism and social communications – which are now separate study plans but still together in the journalism schools.

Social communication would have its equivalence in the career of public relations, if it were not for the fact that public relations professionals sell themselves to the highest bidder, whereas social communicators only do PR for the good of society – for example, to inform the public about the new lung cancer vaccine or preventing AIDS.

Juan Marrero said that one difference between journalism and social communications is that journalists maintain a critical point of view, whereas the social communicator is an advocate. They often collaborate on publications, with the SC professional doing the design and the journalist contributing editorial content. In spite of differences between these professions, however, their practitioners work for the public good. Eliminating individualism and thinking about the good of society is a universal characteristic of the Cuban educational system.

That said, one thing these professionals at UPEC are concerned about is the fact that Cuba’s economic recovery, based as it is in economic relations with transnational companies, has created inequality even at the level of primary school students, some of whom may get preferential treatment because their families have more money. This inequality flies in the face of the Cuban communal ideal of judging people by their human qualities. More money circulating has brought back the age-old problem of judging people by how much they have. Marrero called this seeing people as fictitiously powerful when they are actually weak in human qualities.

All Cuban journalists have access to create blogs and are encouraged to do so. The only problem is that they use different servers such as blogspot.com, blogía.com and freewebs.com. Some can be accessed through cubaperiodistas.cu or searched for in Dana Lubow’s Cuban Internet Resources search engine.

Recovery from the Special Period meant the expansion of printing, which had contracted along with everything else. Granma has gone from five days per week to six, with 16 pages on Thursday. There is talk of printing 16 pages every day. At the same time, the Los Angeles Times has cut 200 workers and reduced its pages by 15 percent. The recovery of printing means a flourishing of book publishing, with 42 million copies printed every year.

We did not discuss the thing I like best about Cuba, and that is a total lack of advertising. Flying here, we were not only fumigated like animals by the flight attendants, but we were offered a credit card and duty-free articles, purchased right on board. One has to be here to experience the psychological relief that comes with the absence of commercialism, those omnipresent images telling you to buy, making you feel inadequate if you don’t have things. Cubans want the latest things, but they are not bombarded by messages telling them they have to have it.

Bookmobile to Cuba, From Gentry to Granma

Diana Barahona recently earned a BA in journalism from California State University – Long Beach, where she was disruptive, disrespectful and had an agenda, according the chair of the journalism school. She is now studying sociology at California State University – Fullerton.


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