14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 August 2018 — How to evaluate the risks? What to do in the face of physical aggression? How to better protect information? These are some of the questions answered by the Holistic Security Manual for Cuban Journalists, recently published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR). With a simple language, the document is an essential “toolbox” for reporters on the island.
For decades, the Cuban independent press has experienced innumerable abuses and has had to adapt to frequent difficult and dangerous situations. This long experience has served as the main source for the IWPR in writing the current manual, presented in PDF format, inspired by the day-to-day of all those reporters who have chosen to narrate their country outside the official media.
Along with the experiences collected among these protagonists of free information, the manual has also relied on the advice of experts and various international organizations committed to freedom of expression and the protection of journalists. Hence, the final result is a compendium of recommendations sharply focused on the Cuban reality, with its peculiarities and its particular legal context.
The pages of the manual integrate advice for physical, psychological, digital and legal security, and also suggestions on how to act in times of danger. “The objective of the manual is to strengthen the capabilities of prevention, self-protection and security while exercising any information activity on the island,” say its editors, to which must also be added that it is a manual marked by awareness of civic matters and journalistic ethics.
The pages of the manual integrate advice for physical, psychological, digital and legal security, and also suggestions on how to act in times of danger
Responding to repression with a greater promotion of transparency and more professional work are some of the practices promoted by the 112-page document. This is a real challenge to a government that prefers to have “a mute, deaf and blind country,” as the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) denounced at its meeting in Colombia in July.
In a society living under hyper-vigilance, with State Security increasingly dedicated to computer espionage, it is worth reminding reporters that they should never “leave notes or information from sources” nor fail to use encryption applications, which encrypt the messages from the moment of sending, as explained in great detail in the manual.
The flexibility when it comes time to adjust the advice, according to the subject on which the journalist is working or the characteristics of each medium, is also inscribed among the virtues of this volume. Its capacity for amendment can be infinite given the new challenges faced by reporters every day, which is why the IWPR insists on keeping the content “alive, subject to changes as the context changes.”
Beyond the recommendations for the safeguarding of the journalist, the media and the information collected, the text also becomes a glossary of the most common vulnerabilities suffered by the press in Cuba. A list to be taken into account at times when pressure is being applied from various sectors to have a Press Law in the country.
The fact that the manual was published soon after the end of the Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union, also helps to check it against the statements made in that conclave by professionals linked to official media, in which they demanded more access to institutional sources and better salaries. These demands stand in contrast to those of the independent sector, which is not even legally recognized that suffers from frequent arbitrary detentions and confiscations of tools of the trade.
It would be worth the effort for the editors to review some technological tips, such as the recommended use of WhatsApp in the Cuban context
It would be worth the effort for the editors to review some technological tips, such as the recommended use of WhatsApp in the Cuban context. The tool, very popular in other nations, faces several obstacles on the Island that don’t recommend it for journalism. With forced and data-heavy updates, it performs far below what Telegram can offer national users.
On the one hand, using the desktop version of WhatsApp requires a connection to the internet via mobile phone, something very difficult to achieve for those in Cuba who use a single browsing account in the public Wi-Fi zones. Telegram Desktop, meanwhile, can be used independently of cellular, which, together with the possibility of editing the messages after sending them, makes it more recommended for the press.
It is no wonder that Telegram has come to be called the messaging service of “the dissidents and the persecuted.” An added bonus is that it does not belong to Facebook, like WhatsApp, which was purchased by the social network giant. Mark Zuckerberg’s company has been shown to have serious vulnerabilities in terms of management of its clients’ data, while Telegram shows a greater commitment to security, and for this reason it has been blocked in Russia, where it was created.
Although the manual is intended for the Cuban press beyond the control of the Communist Party, many of the advice included in its pages can also serve those who work in media authorized and financed by the authorities. Even this media must be required reading for foreign correspondents living in Cuba, who are not exempt from surveillance and punishment for their work.
The manual closes with the text of Law 88, also known as the Gag Law, under which 75 activists were tried in 2003, in what came to be called the Black Spring. At least a third of the accused activists exercised independent journalism. A shocking epilogue that recalls that, despite the advice and recommendations regarding security, an independent Cuban reporter is at the mercy of the repressive caprice of the regime.
The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.