Literate Society With No Print Medium p.16

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Cuba has the government party paper, Granma, but
little else in the way of newspapers or magazines sp.

CUBA MAY BE a highly literate society, but that is of little use when there is nothing to read.
"I think that Cuba may be the only society in modern history, in all of history, that has a literate society but that does not have a print medium," said John Nichols, associate professor of communications at Pennsylvania State University. "It is almost impossible for a typical Cuban to find a newspaper or magazine."
The party newspaper, Granma, "is the only newspaper that is published more than once a week, and it has cut way back the numbers of pages.
"They reported to me that their press runs are now about a fifth of what they were three years ago, although I doubt that statistic," Nichols said. "I think it's probably even lower than that."
There are other examples, he said, but basically, "there are far fewer publications publishing far fewer pages far less frequently in Cuba than there were a number of years ago."
Things are not much different for Cuba's electronic media, Nichols added.
With "television, for example, the power is off much of the time so you couldn't receive Cuban television if it was on the air, and the number of hours and the amount of programming have been dramatically cut back."
Nichols noted the "paradox" in Cuba of a "society that has been successful in taking a large portion of its population that was illiterate and getting them the basic tools of literacy
. . . . But there's nothing for these educated people to read, and the audiovisual media are not far behind in this regard.
"Which leads us to a fundamental question, of course: What is the ability to read for a person who has nothing to read? What is the freedom to write for a person who doesn't have anything to write with or anything to write on?"
Nichols' observations were part of a panel discussion about the media in Cuba, hosted by the Freedom Forum in Arlington, Va.
Noting a move, albeit reluctant, by Cuban President Fidel Castro to allow the privatization of some Cuban companies, even in some cases by foreign investors, in the wake of the nation's economic malaise, Nichols said there is no sign of that happening with the media.
"If Cuba sticks to its utopian principles, such as universal access to the media, using the media for education and for raising the cultural level and so on, it undoubtedly will go into economic collapse, and it's probably pretty close to that already," he said.
"On the other hand, if it institutes the free-market reforms, privatization and foreign investment that it needs to survive, it will at the very least have to compromise on its standard utopian principles," Nichols said.
The media was privatized in Cuba primarily to limit dissent against the government but, Nichols said, there also was an affirmative goal.
"And the affirmative goal, according to Castro, is that the media are a scarce resource and they must be used in an organized and rational way to achieve certain socially responsible ends," Nichols said.
"Very high on that list of socially responsible ends is education. The media played a very important role in the literacy campaign in 1961," he said.
Newspapers were used to "print literacy primers, teachers' manuals and so on. Broadcast media were used to support that cause with direct instruction, morale and support . . . . The literacy campaign, at least in quantitative terms, was quite successful."
Nichols explained that anyone who challenged Castro's decision to nationalize the media was given his stock answer: "What is freedom to write for a man who cannot write? What is freedom to read for a man who cannot read?"
But, as Nichols pointed out earlier, there is nothing to read.
Jorge Dominguez, a visiting senior fellow at Inter-American Dialogue and a government professor on leave from Harvard University, said there are three categories in which Castro has been reluctant to make any significant change: elections, parties and the media.
Cuban radio has become extremely lively, although it still does not feature discussions on topics such as "Do you approve or disapprove of the president's performance?" Dominguez explained.
Few in number, books and academic journals, "within the constraint of resources, are now publishing a wider variety of titles that diverge more from what had been the official canons," he added.
"But daily newspapers, all the newspapers published on a schedule that keeps changing from time to time, are terrible. They have been terrible for a long time and, with honorable and very occasional exceptions, . . . have not improved much," Dominguez said.
There nevertheless is good news for the "expression situation" in Cuba, said Roberto Fabricio, world report editor at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
"As a result of the economic and political crisis that we heard described, the expression situation in Cuba is moving on to a search, in various different levels, for a change, dramatic change," he said. "That is occurring within the established official media and that is happening outside the official media in a small but active and growing segment of independent journals."
Fabricio said there have been a handful of articles published in Cuba in the past six months that could have been published in a U.S. newspaper.
"There have been six or seven instances of stories dealing with social problems, such as prostitution, the black market issues, lack of resources in a number of industries and so on," he said, adding that there also is "a ferment among the official previously controlled journalists for a change, a dramatic change, and there is no doubt that those . . . media workers are very much ready for a change."
Despite the optimistic outlook, Fabricio said, his sense from talking to Cuban journalists is "that there is no chance in the near future that the government would allow any significant variation.
"Just like in the areas of the economy and the politics, they will basically use whatever retaining power they can over those media to keep any further change from taking place," he said.
"The bad news, of course, is something that's generally well known,"
there probably have been more than 180 "writers and journalists in Cuban prisons because of what they wrote or because of what they did not write," Fabricio said, noting that others are accosted and threatened.
In addition, he said, "for every 10 foreign correspondents who request a visa, one gets it. There is a black list of foreign correspondents who are not allowed to enter Cuba. It is a difficult country to report [on] from the outside and it's obviously far more difficult to cover from the inside."
USA Today foreign affairs reporter Juan Walte has been to Cuba close to a dozen times since his first trip with President Carter in 1977.
"In my case," he said, "I would like to say that I have not had that [visa] problem. Most of the time that I have wanted to go to Cuba ? sometimes within days, sometimes it has taken months ? I have gotten" a visa.
"I must say that, within the limits of the system, I have had the run of the place," Walte said, adding that he's "under no illusion" about the situation.
Nevertheless, "when I've been in Havana, I've gone out on my own, I've spoken to people who have said as much as they probably wanted or could say, which is now a million times more than 10 or 15 years ago," he said.
Walte has tried to persuade Cuban officials to grant more visas but to no avail.
"One of the reasons that I think there has been a reluctance to grant visas, especially to American media, is because . . . the situation has gone from bad to worse. And they know that we know that they know what the stories will be like."
An example of the irony of the Cuban media situation can be seen in a radio broadcast statement made at the end of a congress of Cuban journalists in December, Fabricio said.
The statement said, "There are many concerns in our class. It is not easy to be a journalist in the midst of all these great difficulties. It is a difficult country to live in at this point where what is news many times is a secret of state."
As Fabricio noted, "I think that the fact that was broadcast is an indication of both." They were free to make a statement about how they are restricted.


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