14ymedio, Havana, 3 November 2023 — Under the watchful eye of Rogelio Polanco, ideological guardian of the Communist Party, Cuban journalists tried this Thursday to bell the cat without being too critical. The situation of the official press, however, is serious. The worst salaries in its history, “loss of credibility,” “bureaucratic language,” mediocre training of its staff and an increasingly impossible mission: “Support consensus and national unity around the Party and the Revolution.”
Some 275 delegates from all over the island attend the congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (Upec), held in Havana, to resolve, they say, the loss of “muscle” of the official press. The organization, which has 3,660 registered members in the country, faces another dilemma: the flight of “talented people, many who were considered a paradigm,” not only abroad, but also to other labor sectors.
“They are usurping our spaces,” was the phrase with which José Alejandro Rodríguez summarized – without directly alluding to it – the other thorn in Upec’s side: the independent press. Although all the delegates recognized that officialdom has lost its voice, talking about independent newspapers and platforms was the great taboo of the congress.
“This country no longer has a way to wall itself off and that’s good, because this scenario is challenging us and constantly putting us to the test,” Rodríguez said optimistically, although he insisted that the situation — “serious, complex” and “a crisis” – is depressing for the union.
“This country no longer has a way to wall itself off and that’s good, because this scenario is challenging us and constantly putting us to the test”
However, the real life of Cuban journalists lies elsewhere, far from the guarantees of the newly elected Upec board. “Five of us graduated and three are already outside the country,” a journalist who recently graduated from the Universidad de Oriente, in Santiago de Cuba, tells 14ymedio. “One of my classmates didn’t even go to graduation. As soon as she handed in her thesis, she took the ’volcano route’,” to the United States.
The university functions with such reluctance that there is a rumor that the diplomas will be delivered in digital format, so that those interested can print them on their own, he points out. The disenchantment with communication, he adds, is basic. “They have practically eliminated the requirements to study journalism, which was once so elusive.”
The once severe aptitude tests – a general knowledge questionnaire, a writing exam and an oral interview – are now “just a grind,” admits the young man interviewed by this newspaper.
While the training of professionals reaches its lowest point, Upec asks to “do a study” of the Cuban audience, where so much ground has been lost, to understand what interests them. To do this, they ask for more money, since the only platform that works well on the Island is Ideas Multimedios, the all-around propaganda of the regime led by Randy Alonso, which includes media such as Cubadebate, and television programs such as Mesa Redonda (Roundtable), Con Filo and Cuadrando la Caja (Squaring the Box).
Alonso stressed that his project does not operate with the “mediocrity, ignorance and burden” that affect other official platforms
Alonso stressed that his project does not operate with the “mediocrity, ignorance and burden” that affect other official platforms. Ideas Multimedios “began to be financed with the entity’s own resources,” he said without specifying the origin of those funds, and now constitutes a “global entity” that sets the pace of the official press, thanks to its “innovation committee.”
However, even the implacable Alonso conglomerate – which has come to dethrone the official State newspaper Granma in the regime’s front line of propaganda – faces difficulties. Every month, Ideas Multimedios launches a call to find workers, which is unsuccessful, judging by the insistence of the request. The salary, which barely exceeds 5,000 pesos ($20 in the parallel exchange market), is not enough to attract anyone to the most guarded newsroom in Cuba.
During the congress, attendees also showed their unanimous alignment with the Government’s international policy with a minute of silence for the Palestinian journalists killed during the conflict between Hamas and Israel. In addition, they assured that the official press needs “leaders, not directors,” since “it is not only a mechanism of political control but of popular control.”
It is necessary to make changes, on this all the delegates agree. “We need a transformation because we are losing audiences and we are not showing the truth with a comparison of sources and research,” warned the leader of Upec in Matanzas. However, the motto of the meeting clarifies, so that there is no confusion, that “changes, yes, revolutionary changes.”
Rogelio Polanco, who occupied the center of the main table of the event, intervened to make that last aspect clear: although there is “a lot to resolve,” the loyalty of the “revolutionary press model” to the regime that created it is “inalienable.”
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