Why Do Independent Journalists Matter?
Oftentimes while traveling in other countries, independent journalists are challenged for, as some say, being “hyper-critical” and “lacking objectivity.” Thus, their dispatches are received with doubts and skepticism. But it turns out that the detractors of Cuban independent journalism do not harbor good intentions.
Among those most critical and skeptical can be found many of the foreign correspondents accredited in Cuba. This should not be so because they know, from their own experience, under what conditions and rules that they themselves – despite the immunity that they supposedly enjoy – are forced to comply with in order to practice their profession. They know that when they try to interview people on the street, these subjects act evasive and seldom really and truly say what they think.
Despite their press credentials, these reporters have little or no access to government functionaries, and they collide with laws that guarantee official silence. Besides, they are under the surveillance of State Security, informants for the CDR and rapid-response brigades – and even by their colleagues in the official press, who tend to provoke and lay traps for them.
So, why are these foreign press members so critical and demanding, for example, with respect to sources and official data cited by independent journalists who are doing their work under much more disadvantageous and difficult conditions than they?
The foreign correspondents accredited by Havana’s International Press Center (CIP) find it much more convenient and secure to ignore reports by independent journalists, and to quote Granma newspaper and Cubadebate when saying that the majority of Cubans voted “Yes” to the new Constitution, that the update to the economic model is proceeding full steam ahead, that Cubans are happy as clams with cuentapropismo (self-employment or entrepreneurship) – along with repeating the usual refrain about “the fragmented and State-Security-penetrated opposition” that “lacks convening power” and is “incapable of garnering the mass support of the population.”
For a long time, and not just from the official media, there were those who affirmed that the majority of independent reporters were unprepared, individuals of low educational level, who lacked a command of the rules of grammar and composition, and who confused political activism with journalism.
We made ourselves vulnerable to such attacks because of the paternal solidarity (a legacy of socialism’s false paternalism) towards individuals who regrettably demonstrated from the start that despite their great desire and enthusiasm, they would never be journalists. By tolerating ersatz practitioners in the ranks, all we gained was to be discredited. And also to be infiltrated by moles, like that dopey Carlos Serpa Maseira, who turned out to be Agent Emilio.
Not just anybody can be a journalist, just as not just anybody can be a physician. The profession deserves respect. But some of us long-time veterans cannot forget how we got our start in independent journalism. Reporters will always be needed to cover the activities of the opposition and to denounce human rights violations. It can’t all be political analysis, opinion pieces, and columns worthy of Tom Wolfe. We would run the risk of turning into a reduced and exclusive club of snobs. It appears that such a coterie is not what is most needed to win the struggle for democracy and freedom of information in Cuba.
Within the last decade, the quality of independent journalism has improved extraordinarily following the addition of bloggers who are outside of state control, writers who have broken with UNEAC and have joined CubaNet, journalism students, and journalists who have unleashed themselves from the official media to write for alternative sites such as El Estornudo and El Toque.
We independent journalists have no need to invent or exaggerate, to publish diatribes in the style of Granma – on the contrary: we write about what we live daily, not what people tell us or what we suppose.
The topic that the majority of foreign correspondents accredited in Cuba report on the most is the “flourishing private restaurant sector in Havana.” As if there were no blackmailing inspectors and obstacles of all kinds. It’s as if the exceptions were the rule. As if all paladar [private restaurant] owners had the good luck of the proprietors of La Guarida, the setting where some scenes in Fresa y Chocolate were shot and where various pop celebrities have dined.
Who cares about what we independent journalists – hypercritical and overly passionate as they accuse us of being – have to say, given that regarding Cuba, everything that needs to be said and should be heard is said by the international press?
Therefore at times we become discouraged. We know that, in our situation – lacking access to official, trustworthy statistics and relying on sources who will probably retract when facing State Security officials – it is very difficult for us to produce the great news reports we dream of writing.
There is no need to be so pessimistic. There are always subjects that are a few degrees beyond the grasp of foreign journalists and which are not covered in the magical statistics that they cite. We still have the stories about jineteras [female prostitutes] and pingueros [male prostitutes], the garbage dumpster divers, the transvestites who haven’t been coaxed by CENESEX to dance in their conga, the artists who oppose Decree 349, the palestinos who struggle to make it to the capital, the inhabitants of the peripheral shantytowns and the tenements of Centro Habana and 10 de Octubre. But there will always be those who consider these depressing stories to be fiction – and even those who opine that Pedro Juan Gutiérrez does it better in his novels. And then they will again seek in the foreign press the fable of the successful and prosperous entrepreneur, the administrator who is given to reforms, and the soulless and corrupt bureaucrats who hamper her efforts while never showing their faces.
Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
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