14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 14 July 2018 – One has been unemployed for two years, the other went to Miami and works for one of those media the Cuban government calls “imperialist press,” while the third writes ephemera for a local Cuban radio station and dreams of doing investigative reports. The three of them are journalists who are graduates of the island’s universities, and who have in common talent, a desire to do things, and professional frustration.
On Friday, the Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (Upec) opened in Havana, bringing together 267 reporters, editors, photojournalists and news directors from all over the country. The meeting is being held amid expectations that range from one extreme to the other: from its final agreements can come a renewing impulse for the press or a straitjacket closer to the current exercise of the profession.
As in every Upec conclave, the demands to make journalism more incisive and closer to reality, to give newsrooms greater access to official data, as well as a broader editorial autonomy for the local press, are repeated on this occasion, along with the demand to modernize a sector plagued by excessive ideological controls and material instability.
The congress could not avoid offering an obligatory reverence when dedicating the meeting to Fidel Castro Ruz, a tenacious predator of press freedom and the main architect of the biggest problems that have plagued the guild in the last half century. But, in addition to these formalities moved more by opportunism than by faith, the meeting takes place in a complicated scenario.
The journalists gathered at the Palace of Conventions are exchanging opinions at a time when censorship against the ‘weekly packet’ is increasing, new obstacles are imposed on the presentation of artists in private venues and the harassment of independent reporters grows. All these events suggest that the ruling party wants to recover, through intimidation, the ground that has been lost in the distribution of content and news in recent years.
Upec is also meeting with president Miguel Díaz-Canel who, a few weeks after he took office, expressed ambivalent positions towards the media. On the one hand, he has called on journalists to address more deeply issues of Cuba’s reality and, on the other hand, he has emerged as an implacable keeper of the revolutionary press, demonizing and threatening to put an end to media outside the control of the Communist Party.
A new information policy could be enshrined at the meeting, at a point where the system, lacking results to show amid a deepening economic crisis, chooses to continue substituting headlines for realities, strengthening the media’s ideological component and demanding a new commitment from professionals of the press to behave like “soldiers of the pen” rather than as keen informants.
For their part, journalists who work in official media are demanding better guarantees to do their work, but many of them start from the condition that other information sources, which they consider to be inadequately trained or ideologically objectionable, be eliminated.
On the other hand, a part of the union, not represented in the congress and made up of journalists who work for independent media or manage their own information spaces, has been asking for a Press Law for years that guarantees the exercise of the profession beyond the strict official frameworks. They seek legal recognition for their work so they do not end up with their bones in jail.
The latter are the great absentees of the meeting and the most affected by its possible results. What is anticipated from the meeting is an information policy that seeks to close ranks, lash out against those who maintain links with the independent press or who have dared to found blogs, newspapers and websites that touch on taboo topics such as violence in the streets, the excesses of State Security, administrative corruption or environmental pollution, among others.
In contrast, none of the attendees of the Upec congress has published anything about the most urgent problems that have shaken the reality of the island in recent weeks. Did even one of them ask Cubana de Aviación the details of the agreement that led the state airline to rent a plane from a Mexican company plagued by irregularities? Did they inquire about the thorny issue of compensation to the families of the victims?
Which of these delegates bid to sneak into the debates of the new Constitution of the Republic that take place behind closed doors? Or has published at least one line about the theft of thousands of dollars experienced by dozens of Cuban doctors in Venezuela? How many of them have asked for “authorization” from their editorial chief to report about the new migratory route that is taking thousands of Cubans to Chile, Uruguay and Brazil?
This Friday, when the calendar marked the 24th anniversary of the sinking of the 13 de Marzo tugboat, in which 37 people died, people who were trying to escape the country and among whom were children, which delegates to the congress thought of writing a note, promoting an investigation or picking up the phone and calling a ministry for answers? Did any of them ask for an interview with the new head of state to ask him what his program for the government consists of?
All these questions are answered with a single word: none. All the journalists gathered in the Palace of Conventions have concurred in the silence, looked the other way and tried not to inconvenience the powers that be. The motto of the congress states “The truth needs us,” they boast with a certain touch of superiority, when in reality they are the ones who need the truth and who should be running after the facts.
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