First published in Spanish, 25 January 2016.
In October 2015, Catalejo, the platform for the Cuban Journalism Union, invited two members of the editorial team to join a discussion about “Spaces for public debate in Cuban society, their importance and impact in the Press”. Rafael Hernández and Raúl Garcés Corra, director and deputy director, respectively, of the Temas journal, exchanged ideas on these issues over the course of two hours with a live audience.
Here we present an extract from Dr. Raúl Garcés Corra, who was also Dean of the Communication Faculty at Havana University.
… I would like to highlight two aspects, regarding Último Jueves, an experience with which I have become familiar over the three years I have been with the collective on the magazine. Firstly, the fact that there has not been a single UJ event cancelled in 14 years, in a context where many sources have tended to resist debate or being held accountable over their practices, truly demonstrates an act of perseverance.
Sometimes we journalists complain that we don't have enough sources to deal fully with issues and I wonder how it has been possible for Último Jueves to not repeat sources over the course of 14 years. Sometimes as journalists we reduce our work with sources, we limit them according to the limitations of our knowledge about them. We tend to believe, for example, that only five or 10 specialists can speak about the United States or about the issue of participation in society or about other topics of similar interest and we go too far in compartmentalising reality. I believe that Último Jueves has contributed to giving a voice to many people who are not visible in the media, which is not very “mass media”, but who are still at the forefront of the different topics they are working on.
One aspect that we have defended as a collective is that one thing is the debates for one or two hundred people gathered physically in the audience, and quite another is taking that debate to a mass audience. I believe that the media are called upon — it is one of the missions that we have as part of our social commitment — to extend debate, to articulate the different issues that may arise in society and turn it into a wider issue for the whole, so that all citizens can participate in it.
I believe that on account of the nature of the debates and whatever reasons there may be, in our society we are often left with fragments of debates, with atomized debates, which take place in Último Jueves, in Catalejo, in the Hermanos Saíz Association, but these sources do not have a chance to discuss issues with each other and become an issue of interest to the media, with a mass appeal and involving society in a wider thought-provoking debate.
I believe that this society has been increasingly developing the possibility of becoming a deliverative society, without attacking or taking offense with those who are leading the debate. We have come from a very confrontational period, where the very dynamics of the Revolution generated heated debates between the new order embodied by the revolution itself, and the order of the previous society. Fifty-five years later, we have developed a culture of debate in which people understand that debating does not imply demonizing the other because they think differently, nor providing knee-jerk reactions. Listening to the opinion of those with opposing views, especially if it is an carefully-crafted argument which fits in with society's idea of common sense, places us in a position of maturity with respect to what we were as a society twenty years ago. It is an evolution that tends to claim respect for difference, for diversity, for the other, even if they do not think in the same way. That change, even when we don't see it frequently enough, is a significant shift.
Sometimes, journalists are required to better represent debates in the media. I say that the press does not live isolated from the system of social relations wherever it is operating. Sometimes I say, part joking part serious: let's ask the press for the same thing that we ask of the People's Power representatives, the same thing we ask of Government, accountability. If this is not deliberative involving all citizens in the discussion to solve the problems around them, representation in the press cannot achieve it either. Wherever there is ritualized accountability, where decisions are approved without reference to each other, there is a tendency to ritualized debates.
I think that explaining the circumstances of the press, where it is heading, engaging it in dialogue with the circumstances of society is the smart thing to do, because if we want to explain why the press of the sixties reproduced the debates between Alfredo Guevara and Blas Roca and between Che Guevara and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, the first thing we have to accept is that those debates, which took place between essential figures of our country at a time of revolutionary effervescence, responded to the political, cultural, and social circumstances of the sixties, a press model which guaranteed the massive reach that they came to have, and their consequences for the country's cultural policy.
I am not saying that these debates do not take place today, but, in any case, it would be necessary to study if they are as widely reported in the media and if they achieve the results that we would like on the decision-making process.
We have to work towards a deliverative society that also manages to reproduce in the media a debate like this or a debate like Último Jueves, nobody is going to hand it to us on a plate. I believe in the daily struggle to build what Julio García Luis called the discourse of Cuban journalists. I believe in the discourse of Cuban journalists.
No press system is independent from the circumstances of the political model in which it operates. If someone wants to illustrate how political interests frame the mainstream media debates in the US, take a look at how they have started to address the issue of Cuba in the context of 17D. I don't want to get too far into the subject because I'm no expert, but I know that it is no accident that Londoño wrote an article in the New York Times, nor that the New York Times and the Washington Post have framed the debate around Cuba in the way they have done in recent months, after the events of 17D; this was not random. So the relationship between the press and the political system is inescapable.
I believe that some of the issues are entrenched and we hang onto them, others are going to fade away over time without us even noticing. One of them we are familiar with ad nauseam: the famous psychology of the besieged city, which of course has a tremendous base in reality and a misleading component used by some to frame the debate within boundaries that may be comfortable for them. I believe that we have to stop feeling under attack by what another person says to us. What for us probably makes no sense, for the other person makes all the sense in the world. I think you have to look for points to put yourself in the position of the other and try to understand the circumstances that are motivating that person’s position.
Traductora: Jackie Cannon