By Luis Sexto
Despite more than three centuries of dust on his work, the philosopher Hegel made a finding that remains current among us: The newspaper is the morning prayer of modern man. Perhaps, however, he did not anticipate that the evolution of the early-morning liturgy would make it the spell of magicians, a cursed profession and especially in extreme circumstances: from the press, deliver us Lord, to the point that some would promise to walk to the leper's corner, El Rincon, in Havana, in order to abolish the press as a necessity.
In a certain sense it is understandable. Because the press, in all languages, is an offense of the first or second degree, as the Mexican Alfonso Reyes said of critiques. But, used honestly and professionally, it remains a prayer in the morning, or a breakfast without which citizens would be prone to an anemia of ideas and information and the social whole would lose one of its antivirus solutions. And as Cuban journalist with 40 years experience in various media – print and electronic – I can say that, inevitably, the constructive role of the press in Cuba has yet to achieve unanimity. It remains subject to the external and internal situations related to and based on Jose Marti’s idea that when the enemy is before you the newspaper is silent.
After 1965, when the printed version of the press, as well as radio and television were reduced and standardized, two sides have battled and alternately held sway. One side tries to use it as an instrument of society’s critical consciousness, opening territory for self-regulation, and the other insists on controlling the press so as to make it propaganda, in other words, a spokesman for apologies and slogans.
Although in 2007 the Communist Party passed a resolution – similar to previous documents – on the need to exercise social and economic criticism in the media, this process of renovation and renewal of the economy is a matter treated as if they were sacred mysteries. What will happen in the near future? Raul Castro, in his main report to the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party, devoted a very explicit paragraph about the usefulness of the press in the reform of Cuban society and in a renewed socialism adapted to the circumstances of the country and the world. But paradoxically, the functions of the government commission that will execute the approved guidelines are to orient the dissemination of such fundamental concerns regarding the process. In other words, the media will be subordinated to the administration in what should be published or kept quiet.
Socialism as a practical institution, including the Cuban one, has not yet found the precise and operational autonomy necessary to provide a press that is not boring or monotonous and deserving credit for the quality and accuracy of its information, articles, images and sounds. This reporter can assure you that the Cuban media do not lie, but it is true that in recent times it has appeared timid, belated, without nuance and, above all, very ‘officialist.’ However, we must take into account a certain approach that blames the collapse of the USSR to the Soviet press, detached from tutelage during perestroika.
Therefore, that perception explains that disaster in the belief that something or someone outside the essence of Soviet socialism was to blame for the extinction of a bloodless country considered stable and invulnerable. The "glasnost syndrome", then, has increased the bias of the role of the socialist press, which some want to maintain strict control over, without its loosening. Of course, by simplifying the set of influences that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union, many are not able to see the true causes. The clearest view to date is that of Carlos Rafael Rodriguez. The late Communist leader and intellectual attributed the collapse of the USSR to “socialism ill-conceived and carried out even worse,” in which the press is based on a theory of social property, but practiced bureaucratically; that is, restricted, which was one of the manifestations that Engels foresaw during his time as the coming distortion of "state socialism" and Marx described as "crude socialism. "
In fact, the "fraternal fight" to apply the guidelines approved and mentioned by Raul Castro in his report to the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party comes alive today around the space and actions of the media. Overall, Cuba has cultivated a group of professional journalists, whose professional and political ideology encompass freedom and an inexcusable responsibility, while believing that propaganda and journalism repel each other and that control and tutelage are opposites. The true journalists regret that they remained silent before deviations and the abuses of power, likened to mere simple clerks dealing with minor issues, and knowing from everyday experience how much the citizenry is in need of information and opinions that describe and judge the society in which they live, work and dream, especially in hope that what has been proposed will become true.
One thing, in particular, demands attention. Any control or regulation imposed from outside the media, which has usually been the prerogative of the Communist Party, requires a political vision whose scope assumes that it will restrict the press’ vision, its sharpness, its ability to guide, move, and convince, which almost amounts to the covering of images and mirrors of society with dark cloths. And when we cannot judge our own face with certain autonomy, we may then never know where to flatten wrinkles and remove blemishes.
Perhaps what Cuban journalists want are trust and a place to say the morning prayer in favor of socialist aspirations. A space where they are capable of admitting and correcting their defects so as to be reborn with greater effectiveness and freedom. Without the press, though, Hegel’s morning prayer becomes a phraseology which no one can explain, or convene, and is not convincing. And the journalistic construction of the facts will appear as a magic mirror which assures us: "Everything's going well; you're the best."