14ymedio, Havana, 24 August 2021 — The Cuban government knows that communication is the priority. After the popular protests of July, the regime has moved at full speed to pass decrees to control publications on the internet and is now trying to shake up the stagnant Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT) which, as of Tuesday, has ceased to exist and has been replaced by the Institute of Information and Social Communication (IICS).
The all-powerful institution, which until yesterday regulated who could appear before a camera that broadcast with national scope, and determined how to count on a few minutes in a cultural program, or whether to show a recent creative project on the set of a news program, has just disappeared. It is not a small thing, it is a huge system anchored to the institutional orthodoxy of propaganda.
The news of the disappearance of the ICRT, just became known Tuesday, from Decree Law 41 published in the Official Gazette. The Decree establishes the creation of the IICS. Shortly after, the broadcast on the Roundtable television program of a large part of a meeting of the governor Miguel Díaz-Canel with journalists, on August 19, has been broadcast to complete the scenario that gave way to the birth of the institution.
The new Institute of Information and Social Communication “has the mission of leading and controlling the Social Communication Policy of the Cuban State and Government; proposing its improvement, as well as contributing to promoting the culture of dialogue and consensus in Cuban society,” say the regulations.
However, the scope of this new institution, and what it will be able to decide, censor or produce is still unknown, even among ICRT employees who were totally surprised by the news this Tuesday. Who will lead the IICS? How much will it be able to regulate the audiovisual content consumed on the Island and what resources does it have? These are still open questions.
Part of these questions — asked by the the professionals of the press not beating around the bush much in the meeting with Díaz-Canel and, despite the triumphalist tone of the meeting — pointed out the deep problems facing the exercise of the press in Cuba and the effects of that deterioration in reality, especially pointed their finger at the social outbreak that swept through the island on 11th July.
“July 11th could be painfully repeated if the press does not communicate better and I say it with tremendous pain, but it is the truth, and if I keep quiet, the truth would be a dishonest act on my part,” said Ana Teresa Badía Valdés, the reporter from the Radio Rebelde station, in relation to the ways in which officialdom and the regime transmit their messages.
“We must transform the way in which our politicians communicate,” the journalist advised at another time about the increase in political leaders and officials in “traditional media and social networks” that have “a discourse that does not reach the expected impact.”
With boring repetitions of the slogan “Continuity,” current party leaders are seen by many Cubans as stagnant and distant, a new generation of officials who have inherited — without going through the polls — the rudders of power in Cuba. But now they too leverage themselves in a more modern way through the press.
Badía also advised looking for “new visual scenarios… avoiding images of meetings all the time, and offices. Politicians have to be in productive spaces and it is essential,” something highly criticized in times of pandemic when they require the population to maintain its distance and avoid social encounters.
The birth of the new entity, with its unpronounceable initials, “IICS”, comes in the midst of a convulsive media scene in which the Government has been rapidly losing audience within the Island. New technologies, the irruption of independent press media on the national scene and the arrival of internet access service on mobile phones in December 2018, have complicated the dissemination of government propaganda.
Some Internet users, writing on social networks, have already baptized the newborn Institute as “the Ministry of Truth,” described in the novel 1984 by George Orwell, a parallel with the totalitarian society alluded to in the text. This entity’s capacity to act could be very limited in the midst of the most severe economic crisis that the country has experienced in the last quarter of a century.
The institution arose due to “the absence of an organism that leads and controls the social communication system to strengthen the country’s institutional framework,” according to the regime’s justification. Over the next 30 days the Council of Ministers will establish “the specific functions, structure and composition” of the new institution, according to the Decree Law that describes its emergence.
For her part, Rosa Miriam Elizalde, first vice president of the Cuban Union of Journalists (Upec), during the meeting broadcast on Tuesday, called the independent media “digital timbiriches” (tiny ’mom and pop’ businesses) that are waging a cultural and symbolic battle and where there is a strategic ‘design’ to generate ‘communication gaps’. She said that the majority of the national audiences “are ours” and that their challenge is to confront the “war laboratories.”
In 1968, Fidel Castro used the term “timbiriches” to denigrate small businesses that were nationalized. Those particular initiatives then fell under nationalization: from the small private cafés that were still operating, to the shoe shiners with their little boxes with brushes and polish. In the speech of March 13 of that year, the use of the word fueled popular anger against local entrepreneurs.
“Loafers, in perfect physical condition, who set up a timbiriche, any kind of business, to earn 50 pesos every day,” Castro said then and immediately added: “The gross entry of the timbiricheros acquires unsuspected characteristics,” referring to the sellers of frita, a meat mixture placed in a very popular bread, among the street foods.
The use of the term, although it has been maintained on the Island to designate the small businesses that have survived economic centralism, has been officially impregnated since that time with a derogatory, elitist and ideological character. However, in the population it is a term used to designate something that manages to satisfy the rigors of putting a bite in the mouth while are out and about.
During the meeting on August 19, Cristina Escobar, a Cuban television reporter, affirmed that “there is a sense of urgency and what needs to be changed within the ICRT.” She regretted that on July 11 “the Cuban press did not cover what happened in the street” and for that reason they had to “take what others said.”
“The directions were to defend the building and not go out into the street, our cameras did not go out and the narrative is defined by others.”
On that day she acknowledged that “the issue of what happened to the detainees is pending” but also “the heroic” nature of the police’s actions. In addition, she pointed out that “there is a Cuba not reported in the media” and for that reason “there are a large number of young people who are proud that they do not watch the news.”
“We do not have hegemony but we have to go fight for that audience,” Escobar added.
14ymedio’s Newsroom, located in a multifamily building constructed 36 years ago by workers who mostly were employees of the ICRT, has received some opinions from our neighbors. Disbelief, surprise, but also imagining that “some of this was cooking years ago and could happen at any time,” are the most listened to opinions.
“This is the new Battle of Ideas but there is nothing left to fight or defend,” said a retired cameraman living in the building. “Get ready, television takes money and a lot of money, if they want to relaunch everything they will have to have many resources because in that building there is no camera that works or even a toilet that works.”
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