Cuban Journalists Demand Greater Access To Sources / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

In Cuba, where only the circulation of the official press is allowed, the illegality in which the alternative media exists makes its work difficult. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 14 March 2017 – Whether they are independent or official, reporters share the same complaint against institutions, which they accuse of hindering access to information and hiding data. And for this reason all informants have the same requirement: greater access to sources.

Gabriela Daihuela studies journalism and dreams of dedicating herself to investigative reporting, a specialty she considers missing in Cuba’s current press. Every day she likes her career more, she says, because “there are many issues that are worthy of being addressed that are not addressed.”

The student is currently preparing a reporting piece that has taken her to the Ministry of Education. “They have given us a huge runaround,” she confesses. “When we go to the institution, which is in charge and we know they should be able to tell us what we want to know, they say there is no data or they can’t share it or they can’t find it,” she complains.

Daihuela believes that “the press should have more freedom,” not only “at the time of writing” but also to investigate. “They are closing the doors to us, and given that we are students, I imagine that for a journalist already graduated and recognized it must be much worse because they must be afraid.”

In the middle of last year, a group of young journalists from the newspaper Vanguardia in Villa Clara published a letter expressing their concerns. They complained that media bosses argue that the ideas expressed in their articles “do not suit the interests of the country at the current time,” or that their reports and comments are “too critical.”

The reporters believe that “so many decades and so many uncritical media dedicated to presenting triumphalist visions of events have provoked a hypercritical avalanche in Cuba.

For independent journalists the picture is even more complicated due to the illegality in which the country’s alternative media exist

For independent journalists the picture is even more complicated, due to the illegality in which the alternative means exist in a country where only the circulation of the official press is allowed.

Freelance reporter María Matienzo agrees with other colleagues in the independent press that journalism is “a high-risk sport.” The most common obstacles she points out are the confiscation of the tools of the trade – such as phones, recorders, computers and cameras – interrogations and surveillance. “It’s a huge psychological pressure [but] we have to overcome it.”

“Losing friends and winning others” is also part of the side effects of the work of informing. “It’s the classic profession to be declared a pest in certain places.” Always try to approach ” the primary source as much as possible,” and “confirm by all possible means.”

The demand for a Press Law has risen in recent months, among journalists linked to both official and alternative media, but no legislative changes have been announced at this time. At the next congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), convened for 2018, there may be an answer.

University professor Graziella Pogolotti was quoted in Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) saying that the new law “will establish, with mandatory regulations, the institutional commitment to provide journalists with quick and pertinent information.”

In independent audiovisual media, Ignacio González has won a place with his space En Caliente Prensa Libre (Free Press in the Heat of the Moment). The reporter denounces the “ideological filter” that is applied to students applying to be admitted the faculty of Journalism, a requirement that prevents many interested people from becoming journalists. 

New technologies have made it possible to bring activism closer to social networks. 

Autonomous journalists exist in a scenario that makes it “difficult to investigate.” In addition, they are not issued “credentials or permits” to access official events and “cannot knock at the doors of any official,” he laments. Arbitrary arrests and the confiscation of the tools of the trade also add to the challenges they must overcome.

However, Gonzalez feels gratified when he does a report that ends up solving problems. In his opinion, the population “has begun to understand the importance of audiovisual journalism.” However, he must sometimes mask the face of an interviewee to avoid possible reprisals from the authorities.

New technologies have made it possible to bring activism closer to social networks. Kata Mojena is a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and disseminates different information through Twitter and YouTube, ranging from the activities carried out by the opposition organization to social problems suffered by residents of eastern Cuba.

“Twitter is a way to make complaints with immediacy so that the media can then broaden and corroborate the information,” says the reporter. UNPACU’s structure, which is “made up of cells,” facilitates “confirming the veracity of the information received,” she explained to this newspaper.

She also laments the continued telephone hackings she suffers in order to prevent her from publishing content, and the difficulties in accessing official sources to obtain their version of any event. Ultimately, her demands do not differ much from those of a young journalist sitting in newsroom of a state-owned media outlet.