The Private Press In Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Newsagent in Cuba. (Luz Escobar)
Newsagent in Cuba. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Miami, 30 June 2016 — In a recent discussion among colleagues of the national press, the issue of ownership of the mass media came up. With the firmness that characterizes those convinced that something is wrong, comments were made that in Cuba the media is social property and the idea was expressed that it could never be private property.

Perhaps the essence of the concept of property is explained by the capacity of the owner to make decisions about the object they possess. There is no value in titles and legal registrations that certify that a house, a business or a bicycle belongs to an individual if they can’t sell it, modify it or use it as they see fit, respecting the law of course.

The mass media in Cuba, in particular those that define themselves as “official,” cannot be classified as social property, because there is no channel that allows a citizen to make an individual decision about their workings, nor can even delegates chosen for this responsibility do so.

Since the 1960s there has been, in the structures of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), an entity dedicated to such things. At first it took the feminine gender in Spanish, under the name Commission of Revolutionary Orientation, affectionately called “La COR.” Subsequently, its grammatical gender was changed to masculine and it was transformed to the Department of Revolutionary Orientation and began to be called “El DOR.”

Among the powers of this entity—whose current name is the “Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the PCC” and which lacks any endearing nickname—is to name the directors of newspapers, magazines, radio stations and television channels. The entity also decides the editorial profile of every medium, what issues should be addressed in each space, and draws up a list of prohibitions where there is everything from people’s names to musical pieces. It also decides the distribution of financial and material resources to the different media.

To “address” the newspaper sector from the cradle, the Ideological Department participates in determining who passes the tests to attend the universities that train communications professionals, and remains close to the programs of study for this career, which is one of two that are subject to this kind of filtering. The other is the Higher Institute of International Relations (ISRI), where future diplomats study.

The media in Cuba have no commercial advertising and therefore are subsidized by the state coffers. It is unclear in what general sector the expenditures for these purposes are accounted for, nor what specific amounts are included.

As the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the PCC is in itself a selective part of an organization that is already defined as selective and, considering that it makes all decisions on information policy, it would not be incorrect to say that in Cuba this means that the mass media are the private property of the Communist Party, as L’Humanité is in France and L’Unità is in Italy.

For the mass media to be social property, its editorial line would have to be closer to that of civil society than that of the state. Its directors would have to be chosen and replaceable, and there would have to be space within them for the full range of opinions that motivate the distinct social sectors. There would have to be debates, and then, opinions contrary to the governments’.

What exists today is very far from fitting into this definition, not only because the media are private, but because they are an exclusive monopoly of the only political party permitted by law.