Journalism and popular control
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.Which is most important in a modern, interconnected society: the prevalence of a broad system of public ownership of the media or the confidence of its recipients? Does the type of media ownership itself guarantee the much-contested credibility? These, like others, are among the questions we must ask ourselves in Cuba, which has begun the path towards updating its model of socialism.
Or perhaps the question should be rephrased: does the monopoly of public ownership of the media guarantee it a monopoly of credibility, influence and authority?
The degree of public exposure and information currently available requires that discourse, in order to be effective, legitimize itself before public opinion.
Julio García Luis, Doctor in Communication Sciences, maintained that, of course, there are monopolies on media discourse, big monopolies, part of a grotesque tyranny, with different scales, local, regional, world-wide; but these subsist for their apparent porosity, for their ability to blend, for their feigned independence from the real power. On the contrary, what is difficult today would be a monopoly of airtight claims such as those already known.
He added that ideology, whether or not carried out through discourse, is what allows the world to be perceived –with deforming prisms or sharpness-. It is what makes it possible to organize the power and exercise of hegemony, and it is what gives the capacity to control the components of society.
In the Cuban case, he said, this control cannot be based on deception, on the manipulation of symbols, but on adequate information, interpretation, persuasion and conviction of the great majority of the public.
Social networks, citizen journalism, among other phenomena, are radically changing the traditional ways in which so-called public opinion and consensus is formed.
So, other questions we must ask ourselves are: How do we build consensus in the information society in which we inexorably enter? What role does journalism play in the construction of an authentic and credible hegemony of revolutionary ideology? How can communication systems appropriate the new tools to move towards more democratic and participatory forms? How can we guarantee greater authority and influence in front of increasingly dispersed audiences?
The truth is that [today] Cuba’s public communication system is challenged to reformulate its authority before the public, based on the only thing that guarantees it: credibility. It is something that is possible not only with a change in the media model, but in the entire communicational model of society, and with a truly revolutionary conception that would define the press as one of the forms of popular control.
Research in recent years shows that this structural weakness has different dimensions, and therefore what is at issue in the new conjuncture is to consider a structural change, as was outlined on the last congress of the Union of Journalists (UPEC) and on successive professional and political meetings.
In order to overcome these tendencies, in addition to trained professionals, we have the strength of a journalistic and revolutionary tradition based on the deepest vocation of service inherited from the nation’s founders. Among them was Father Félix Varela, who, in approaching the function and scope of journalism, pointed out: “I renounce the pleasure of being applauded for the satisfaction of being useful to the fatherland”. His brilliant and faithful follower, José Martí, though the press should be the keeper of the country house: “He must disobey the appetites of personal good, and pay impartial attention to the public good”.
That legacy should also be useful for those accustomed to apology, silences and the twists and turns that never failed to arise in the complex path of building socialism.
There are basic reasons to consider the unfeasibility of our continuing with the model of institutional dependency and reaffirmation journalism that prevailed as a rule until today, and to grow towards another one of confrontation of the best revolutionary ideas.
Verticalist and reaffirmation journalism*, –although it allowed the great consensus that the country needed to forge against the aggressiveness of the US, and to structure a model of society under very specific historical conditions– distorted media’s function as a check and balance, which occurred alongside that of other structures of democratic confrontation in the country.
This happens at a time when the Revolution is updating its economic model, as the first step towards gradual transformations, on which, as we are already doing -not without difficulties and misunderstandings. We have a historical responsibility to help create the necessary political consensus and professional vigilance, in order to avoid distortion of its scope.
We cannot ignore the fact that the Revolution is about to go into its toughest test of fire: the relay of the historical generation, while the Cuban media gradually, albeit inexorably, loses its monopoly of influence, as a result of the rise of new technologies.
In this readjustment, the Cuban public press must have an expedited path to support civic debate and revolutionary counter-attack.
Verticalism means, roughly, decisions made from above.
Reaffirmation, means, roughly, supports the Revolution.