Written by Antonia Paal

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  • Area: 109,884 square kilometres
  • Population: 11,239,000 (2016)
  • Capital: Havana
  • State form: Marxist-Leninist one-party state
  • Official language: Spanish
  • Religion: Roman Catholicism (85 per cent)

  • Flag of Cuba

    The current Cuban media landscape developed after the revolution in 1959. Since then, the media are owned by the communist party or affiliated organizations and steered and controlled with regard to political topics, especially other than the socialist ideology. The legal framework asks for journalists to work as a mouthpiece of the government and support the national values. Only small radio stations or internet blogs are not included in this task. In this context, blogs which are independent from the government started to write about critical topics. Though there are repressions against independent journalists, the Cuban blogosphere keeps growing, as not only professional journalists but also citizens run blogs. In the society, journalists are not very prestigious, since the official media in general are not very trusted. Hence, the public knows the media steering, many journalists resigned themselves to the rules and work by the book. However, a certain transformation in the field of online media can’t be denied as the new generation of journalists is more curious and open-minded regarding new forms of media as well as a diversity of new topics – although still within the framework of socialism. Besides NGO reports (Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders), other documents and literature, the following portrait is based on four expert interviews conducted in May and June 2015.
    Communication policy and regulations
    In order to understand the Cuban media system one has to look at the political situation and the history of the country first. Cuba has a history of oppression. After being a Spanish colony, the island attained nominal independence in the Spanish-American War in 1898. De facto, the USA were in charge in Cuba. This barely changed in the 1950s with the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, who established a cruel regime consisting of torments of his opponents (Blum, 2014: 86) and a strong censorship of the media. In 1959 after unrests and instability, the revolution led by Fidel Castro and his companions, including Che Guevara, resulted in Batista’s deposition. In the beginning, the revolution was not socialist nor communist – these labels were given by US Americans afterwards – it was just Cuban and left national (ibid.). Castro’s socialist politic, for example the nationalisation of companies, worsened the relations between Cuba and the USA, and led to sanctions as well as the imposing of a trade embargo by the US. To ensure a certain economic stability, the government got closer to the Soviet Union and, thus, communism. Since 1965, the Republic of Cuba is governed by the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC), which is the only party in the country.

    Legal framework
    In Cuba censorship is neither prohibited nor established by law. The constitution determines freedom of speech and of the press “in keeping with the objectives of socialist society”. To assure that, “organs of the mass media are state or social property and can never be private property” (Article 53) as well as the legislation in Article 62 specifies that “none of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be exercised contrary to what is established in the constitution and the law, or contrary to the existence and objectives of the socialist state. Violations of this principle can be punished by law”. Therefore, the PCC is not only “organizing and guiding the common efforts aimed at the highest goals of the construction of socialism and advancement toward the communist society” (Article 5), but also controlling the role of the media in Cuba. Thus it appears, that Cuban media not only are owned and published by the the PCC or affiliate organizations, but also have a mission to support the socialist ideas in Cuba. “Although the media is censored especially with regard to political topics, there are no media laws or regulations,” German news agency correspondent Isaac Risco-Rodriguez said. Mostly journalists are limited by “unwritten laws” as “there is no real scheme of regulations. People try something, others try something else and sometimes it works. Hence rules are established depending on what journalists dare to do” (Bert Hoffmann, a professor at GIGA Institute Hamburg). There are of course taboo topics like the persons of Fidel or Raúl Castro as well as the socialist system in general, which should not be criticized. In charge of controlling media content, execute pre-censorship and authorizing reports is the Department for Ideology (Departamento ideológico) of the National Assembly of People’s Power (Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular). In that regard and as the department is working in and from Havana, “small local media outlets with small audiences or readership are granted more freedom as these usually report on local problems and don’t criticise the system” (Isaac Risco-Rodriguez).

    To guarantee the state’s monopoly on information, internet access was restricted by the government. In a law decree of 1996 it is determined that internet access will be employed “according to the interests of Cuba, giving priority to juridical persons or institutions that are of greater relevance to the life and development of the country” (Access from the Republic of Cuba to Information Networks of Global Reach, 1996). Considering all that, it becomes clear why Cuba only ranks 171 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index (Reporter Without Borders, 2016) and is rated ‘not free’ in the Freedom of the Press Index (Freedom House, 2015). Nevertheless, especially the legislation regarding internet usage was softened as in 2013 internet cafés with computers and access to the Cuban internet were opened, while later in 2015, ETECSA, a communications company owned by the Ministry of Communications opened several Wi-Fi Hotspots that allow non-professional Cubans to connect to the internet with their smartphones and laptops (Nelson, 2016: 17). Even though “connections are maddeningly slow by U.S. standards” (ibid.) the hotspots tend to be crowded as anyone who purchased an internet access card can use it.

    Journalists’ Union
    The only Cuban journalists’ union is ‘Unión de Periodistas de Cuba’ (UPEC), where journalists have to join in order to work for an official media outlet. Therefore, most of the journalists are members of UPEC. Those who aren’t, are independent and often dissident. UPEC actually is a non-governmental organization, but still it promotes the socialist values the Cuban government sustains. Moreover, there exists a Code of Ethics (código de ética del periodista), in which journalistic ethical values similar to western ones can be found. However, in Article 14 of the Code one can read that “a journalist has the duty to follow the editorial line and informative politics of the press organ in which he works” – as most of the media are owned by the PCC, the editorial line is to promote the socialist system – and in Article 9 it is made clear that the “journalist contributes with his work to promote the best national values, the full knowledge of the laws and the constant improvement of our socialist society” (Code of Ethics, 2013). Though the young generation of journalists is curious about the rest of the world, using the internet in their newsrooms or travel around the world (as travelling for Cubans is allowed since 2013), there are just little changes in the journalistic work. As a young journalist working at Trabajadores explained in 2015, there are UPEC congresses, where problems in Cuban journalism are discussed. Yet, there isn’t much change because some elder editors don’t want to change their way of working.
    Media offers
    The current Cuban media landscape practically developed in 1959, after the revolution. As some media were closed and others were nationalised, the media market existing before 1959 was abolished. However, Cuba has a quite thriving media landscape for a country that size with no commercial, private media outlets. In general, “the state has an information monopoly,” as Andreas Knobloch, who is correspondent for the German paper Neues Deutschland, puit it, and “the government knows what’s good for the people, because they can’t recognize manipulations” (a Cuban journalist). As there is no market, there is no economic pressure on the media to change anything. Thus it appears consistent that “the only transition in the media system is in terms of new media, like blogs or unofficial magazines” (Risco-Rodriguez). Furthermore, interpersonal communication is not just but the only way for citizens to spread independent information. In consequence, there are many rumours – “the Cubans even have their own word for this effect: ‘radio rembla’ [engl. rumour]” (Risco-Rodriguez).

    Print market
    In Cuba, there are three national newspapers: Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores. Besides, there are regional newspapers in all 14 provinces of the country – for example the Havana-oriented paper Tribuna de La Habana – as well as several magazines on special topics, mostly published by different unions close to the PCC. On the national level, Granma is the official news organ of the PCC that is published daily since 1965. It was merged from Hoy and Revolución, which were founded by the new regime in the offices of two expropriated papers in 1959 (Morgan, 1975: 15).

    Though it is a mouthpiece of the government, Granma is the most popular newspaper. “People don’t really believe what it says. However, they don’t have a choice so they read it” (Risco-Rodriguez). Due to paper shortage, many newspapers were closed since the 1960s and even the main sate newspaper Granma is really thin, as it has only eight pages (Andreas Knobloch). In addition, there is a weekly version called Granma International that is available in print and as online version published in different languages.

    The ‘youth’ version of Granma is the so called Juventud Rebelde, which is published weekly, that not only writes about official political topics but also tries to bring the socialism as well as Cuban socialist heroes to life and give the younger generation an understanding of it. The third national and weekly published newspaper is Trabajadores. It is the official press organ of the Cuban national trade union, ‘Central de Trabajadores de Cuba’ (CTC). Even though, there are many different media, “sometimes, especially when reporting on official events, there is often duplicate content” (a Cuban journalist).

    Broadcasting market
    There are six national radio broadcasters in Cuba: Radio Rebelde, Radio Progreso, Radio Taíno, Radio Reloj, CMBF National Music Radio, and Radio Enciclopedia having different focuses. For example, Radio Rebelde, founded by Che Guevara in 1958, is mostly informative, while Radio Progreso has a particular emphasis on cultural or musical programs (Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión, n.d.) and all broadcast from Havana. In addition, there are many small, regional stations, that mostly have a range of only one province – for example Radio Ciudad de La Habana that accessible just in Havana. Those regional broadcasters are granted more freedom in matters of expressing criticism. Isaac Risco-Rodriguez: As “small media outlets mostly report on local problems, they are allowed to criticize more than national available media – however, only on a low level like regional corruption scandals”. The only non-Cuban media that are available on the island are Radio Martí and TV Martí, which are broadcasted by Cuban exiles from Miami. The radio station is blocked on several frequencies but can be received in shortwave and is the second most heard radio in Cuba (Blum, 2014: 93). The “overseas voice of the Cuban government” (Sussmann, 1993: 204) is the international Radio Habana Cuba, which represents and portraits the country as well as its ideology to the world. Radio Habana Cuba broadcasts in nine languages and shall be “a friendly voice that travels around the world.” (Radio Habana Cuba, 2015)

    In terms of television, the market has grown in the last years. Cuba has five national TV stations of which the two newest are educational (Canal Educativo and Canal Educativo 2). The other three are Canal Cubavisión, Canal Tele Rebelde and Multivisión (Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión, n.d.). The same way like radio, the different TV stations have a particular focus – Canal Cubavisión broadcasts 24 hours and the content varies from news to drama or children’s programmes, while Canal Tele Rebelde airs amongst other things sports like the National Series of Baseball (ibid.). In 2013 the Latin-American international news channel teleSUR was permitted by the Cuban government (Freedom House, 2016). As Cuba holds a 19 per cent share of the Venezuelan broadcaster (García, 2015) and the two countries share a friendship and in parts also the socialist ideology, “the channel does not criticize the Cuban government” (ibid.). The interviewed Cuban journalist asserts, “People watch teleSUR, because the channel reports from a different angle – different from the monotone Cuban television. However, the standards of teleSUR are similar to the Cuban, but still different. I watched a programme on teleSUR about the situation in Yemen. There was a lot of criticism on the role of Iran. That surprised me, as this would be impossible in a Cuban production. From a political-strategic view, Iran has an important role for Cuba. So it was quite unusual, even though it was broadcasted at a time only few people would watch it.” However, teleSUR is not available 24 hours a day in Cuba. It broadcasts at the channel of Canal Educativo 2 from 8 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. the next day, while in the other three and a half hours the programme of Canal Educativo 2 is aired (Government of Venezuela, 2013).

    In a 2011 speech, Raúl Castro made a call for change in the media – as there is “pressure on more freedom in the media and on more freedom regarding different forms of media” (Bert Hoffmann). A possible result of Castro’s speech are “criticism sessions”, where citizens can complain about for example public service or local problems. However, “problems are usually only reported superficially” (Andreas Knobloch).

    The internet has a special role in Cuba. As the last country on the American continent, the internet was introduced on the island in 1996 (Vicari, 2014: 1002). As the Cuban governments’s approach to media freedom is based on a state monopoly over mass media, “any media beyond the reach of the nation-state’s authority signify a political challenge” (Hoffmann, 2011: 13). Then again, the internet has an inherently cross-border character which compromises the states authority. Therefore, it requires “filtering and censorship efforts to keep undesired information out” (ibid.). Many institutions’ computers, hence, only have access to domestic Cuban networks and not the World Wide Web. To ensure this, the Cuban internet is controlled by two state-owned providers (Blum, 2014: 92). A journalist working at Trabajadores confirmed this by saying “only few people have internet access at home – these are mostly bloggers that work for the government”.

    Despite all efforts of the government to maintain their information monopoly, the spread and use of digital media could not be prevented. In 2007, a young resident of Havana named Yoani Sánchez started the blog Generación Y that drew international attention (Vicari, 2015: 1497). The blog, which was switched off by the government for three years, “has become one of the most dynamic and visible communicative spaces of that country’s political landscape since its appearance” (Rubiara, 2013: 153). Generación Y started a change “in the definition of the public opinion’s agenda within Cuba” as the website covers topics like restrictions on civil and political rights or the existence of a crisis of values, that were not mentioned in the Cuban mass media before (ibid: 154). As blogs and websites run by ordinary citizens, not journalists, the content is beyond the direct control of the government. Since the launch of Generación Y in 2007, “the number of personal and collective blogs has kept mushrooming” (Vicari, 2014: 1003).

    The government’s reaction to the blogosphere was twofold. On the one hand, there are repressions against Sánchez and other unauthorised bloggers as their websites are blocked or they are denied permission to leave the country (Hoffmann, 2011: 21). At the same time, however, the Cuban government uses the internet to counter dissent, ‘anti-Cuban’ content by engaging journalists to write “blogs about the real Cuba” (Cuban journalist). Consequentially, there are two kinds of blogs: those that run with official state consent or openly support politics like e.g. La Joven Cuba and Bloggers Cuba, and those which aim to offer alternative media, focus on citizen journalism and offer a platform of criticism like Voces Cubanas, Havana Times, and many others (Vicari, 2014: 1003). Isaac Risco-Rodriguez said, “There are many, many bloggers like for example Paquito de Cuba that are supported by the state. That way the government can build an opposition to Cuba-critical blogs”. Even though internet access is very restricted, pro-governmental bloggers would be granted free internet at home. In addition, there is the website Cuba Debate (, which is officially independent but supported by the government. The governmental patronage went as far as publishing Fidel Castro’s opinion pieces called ‘Reflexiones del Fidel’ first on Cuba Debate, and later in Granma (Hoffmann, 2011: 21).

    Since the internet still is restricted in Cuba for home use, there is a black market for information from the World Wide Web. People trade flash drives called ‘El Paquete’ with magazines or TV series from other countries. “Every week online content is sold. Mostly TV series. As this is primarily non-political, the buyers don’t get in trouble” (Risco-Rodriguez). However, there are also magazines and news spreading over ‘El Paquete’. As a Cuban journalist puts it, now “information gets to the people and that’s a development that can’t be stopped or controlled by the state”.

    Additionally, since there still is the possibility for Cubans to use the internet via official hotspots with their smartphones or laptops, people use social networks and are “able to access an increasing number of foreign news organizations online […]. But the government still blocks access to many dissident voices, both domestic and exiled” (Nelson, 2016: 18).
    Journalists' autonomy
    As Cuba is a socialist country, studying journalism at university is for free. The Cuban Ministry of Labour and Social Security is responsible to make a 5-year employment plan to ascertain the number of students that is needed in every discipline. In regard to that planned economy every graduate is provided a job. “All students that study journalism can work at a newspaper, or radio or broadcasting station after they have a degree” (a young journalist working at Trabajadores). There is an entrance exam for the journalism programme, where language skills and general knowledge is tested. Even though, journalism is not well paid nor journalists have a high reputation in the society, the profession still is popular to study (ibid.). While at university, journalism students have to do many internships in order to get to know all fields of journalistic work and different media. After graduation, every graduate has to do a so called ‘social service’ as compensation for their free of costs degree. In these two or three years, graduates “are expected to work at a state-assigned job. There are many, who are not very happy with their given jobs – but that doesn’t matter as you have to do it. This is good, on the one hand, as the state is responsible to get you a job, but on the other hand, you can not choose where to work in the first years” (ibid.).

    Moreover, many journalists are frustrated “as the style does not change. And the style mostly is horrible – proclamation journalism” (correspondent Risco-Rodriguez). “There are just news, no features and no investigative journalism. The main topics are the revolution and the achievements of the socialist government like education or the Cuban health care system” (Andreas Knobloch). The new generation of journalists, however, is more curious, wants to change things and works the best they can with the mostly old equipment provided. Since there is internet on the island, newsrooms are allowed to use the internet and “journalists know what’s going on in the world” (Risco-Rodriguez).

    Hence being online, there is the possibility for Cuban journalists to compare their work to the rest of the world’s ideas of journalism. Thus it appears that journalistic values are quite similar to those in Western countries. “You learn that good journalism is objective, content is double-checked by different sources and information has to be verified. However, in practice this does not happen because the access to sources is limited. For example, companies don’t feel obliged to answer requests. Regarding documents, it’s even worse. There is no culture of maintaining in Cuba. You use things and then you throw it away. This also happens with documents or historic pictures” (editor, Trabajadores). Nonetheless, according to this editor, besides journalistic values there are still socialist values which take effect in media coverage – informative journalism “that criticises on a certain degree, but not too directly and not against the state and its decisions”.

    ABesides the regime steering (political) content as well as being owner and master of the editorial line, there is also self-censorship “regarding news stories that could be used by the ‘enemy’ against Cuban people” (Phillips, 2008: 128). Of course there are differences from newsroom to newsroom as there are more progressive and more conservative editors. Some topics are becoming more customary in Cuban media like the improvement of the relationship to the USA or gay rights. However, there are still some unwritten rules for journalists which are widely respected: “If you don’t like to do it by the book, you have to, bluntly said, write telenovelas” said a Cuban journalist. In general, journalists are not only selected but also broadly conform with the socialist ideology. There are journalists, though, which were subject to repressive measures by the state. In comparison to other for example Latin American countries, these repressions are “harmless in the beginning as no journalist gets killed in Cuba” (editor, Trabajadores). Still, regime-critical journalists and their families are threatened by the state. There are short-term arrests, terminations, or confiscating of equipment and deleting the data they contain (Freedom House, 2016). However, according to Isaac Risco-Rodriguez, if foreign journalists would write too critical there are, at worst, complaints at the embassy. Thus it appears reasonable that the government tries to separate international correspondents and national journalists at for example press conferences and minimise the contact.

    In view of the regime-control over media content, official media enjoy a really low prestige in society. However, as there are still very popular journalists – especially those working on non-political topics in TV broadcasting, overall, the relationship between the media and the people can be considered “a love-hate relationship” (a Cuban journalist). As there are no alternatives regarding media, most people resigned and a certain “acomodación” came up (Bert Hoffman).
    Interviewed experts
    • Isaac Risco-Rodriguez, correspondent of the German news agency dpa in Havana
    • Andres Knobloch, correspondent of the German newspaper Neues Deutschland
    • An anonymous young journalist, who works at Trabajadores
    • Bert Hoffmann, a German politics professor who conducts research in the field of political and social development in Latin America
    Recommended citation form
    Antonia Paal: Cuba. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date).

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