Media’s agenda and local development. A challenge in the updating of the Cuban model*

A system of provincial media functions in Cuba that does not assume the communication or institutional models of the local press.

The Finca La Julia mini-industry, in the fruit growing municipality of Ceballos, Ciego de Ávila, is an example of the local productive and innovation potential.

Local development is not frequently dealt with by social sciences in Cuba, especially in those of communication, a lack observed in the daily practice of the Caribbean nation’s press. However, it is an element taken into account in the economic, political and social reforms being implemented to get around the more than 20-year-old economic crisis.

In essence, the measures channelled by President Raúl Castro since 2008 are seeking the decentralisation of powers and raising the local capacities, something that undoubtedly demands linking communication and journalism to show alternatives, the groups excluded from development and contributing to establishing productive chains that raise the quality of local life.

The following work interweaves a description of the principal debates regarding the general changes the Cuban press (in the hands of the State) needs, some notes on the changing Cuban local environment and the presentation of some results of studies on the media’s agenda and local development carried out in 2012 and 2013 in four provincial weeklies (Tribuna de La Habana, Mayabeque, Artemiseño and Guerrillero) and two national dailies (Juventud Rebelde and Granma).

Among the principal causes of the little presence of the focus on local development, the studies identified weaknesses in professional formation, little editorial space and scarce priority given to the subject in the information policies, among others.

They highlight the importance of studying the local media – provincial and municipal, especially the relationship between journalism and local development, and that they vindicate the community press and communication as indispensable and transversal elements in the development processes.

Notes on the changing Cuban local space

Though it is a foreign concept, the Cuban academy has also reflected and contributed on how the development of the country’s localities should be.

In general, the consensus exists that this is a process that involves different “orders of reality,” from which those that make up the economic, political, sociocultural and environmental spheres are inscribed in the so-called “private sphere.”

In essence, the use of the endogenous resources of an area to encourage its growth, raise the quality of life and the general wellbeing of humans must be sought in the economic sphere.

The political sphere covers “the strengthening of the structures and the local powers,”1 the establishment of efficient links between the national, provincial and municipal levels, and the joint participation of the citizens and authorities “for them to become active and responsible agents of their own progress and, therefore, also contribute to the country’s development.”2

The sociocultural sphere includes the plurality and diversity of the subjects that make up the local society, while the environmental refers to sustainable and ecological development.

Diverse authors point out several factors that limit the take-off of the endogenous and sustainable development of the Cuban localities.

In the first place, the local governments lack their own resources due to the country’s centralised economy, little social participation is seen in decision making, there is a great productive potential that is unexplored or unchained and many different ideas about local development coexist. Distortion and sectorialism also abound, as well as the limited application of scientific and technological innovations, especially local innovations.

On the other hand, the public space of the 168 municipalities and thousands of communities has been reduced, the community communication initiatives are almost inexistent and access to important information is very limited.

According to communicator Elena Nápoles,3 there are three fundamental problems in local power:

– the few functions, qualifications and capacities the national government grants them.

– the scarce legal, technical and management training the municipal governments have to implement social and development programmes.

– the limited influence of the local governments in the decisions made by the national authorities.

However, the reforms have been transforming the local in diverse ways.

The first sign of the importance gained by the localities was in the experiment in the organisation of the local governments, which began in August 2011 in the provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque. In essence, the trial separates the leadership of the Administration Councils (Government) and of the People’s Power Assembly (State), as well as other openings in management that tend towards decentralisation.

The test, which will last until 2016, was later extended to the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud, the second largest islet of the Cuban archipelago.

In Artemisa, during the 2014 ceremony for the 26th of July, Day of National Rebellion in the country, figures of the results of the trial were revealed very discretely.

First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (the only party) in Artemisa José Antonio Valeriano said during the commemoration that the putting into practice of the experiment has had its difficulties.

He said that constructive changes are being carried out and changes in the image of the installations of the 11 Artemisa municipalities, where agriculture is the economy’s driving force.

Mercantile circulation in 2013 surpassed by 3.9 per cent the results of the previous year, transportation services grew (state-run and private) – especially in isolated areas of the locality -, and the State budgeted units were reduced from 75 to 37, Valeriano added

He also reported that the business group of the provincial administration council maintains an annual six per cent growth in its sales.

A total of 234 state locales are leased to self-employed persons, which today total more than 59,000 compared to the 37,800 private workers registered in 2010. Moreover, 68 non-agricultural cooperatives operate in the western province.

The Communist Party official affirmed that in late 2013 the homes of more than 700 of the area’s inhabitants were electrified and 800 more townspeople have benefited from this service since then until 2014.

Another advance was the foundation of the local university, where more than 4,000 students are being trained.

The diversification of the energy matrix, which seeks to incorporate more renewable energy sources and reduce the dependence on hydrocarbons, is being prioritised throughout the country. This action has a municipal base, since each one of the municipalities is free to design and choose, according to their possibilities, the energy sources to be exploited.

All the municipal governments are today designing their development plans, taking into account the strategies to minimise damages caused by disasters

Increasing food production, one of the principal challenges of the so-called updating of the model, has led to the authorities following up closely the localities where the principal agricultural clusters are concentrated. In fact, today 17 municipalities have a prioritised treatment due to their agricultural potential.

Though still few, there are new sources of financing and means to equip the local governments with resources.

The so-called Local Development Municipal Initiatives (LDMI), being implemented since 2009 and which are seeking self-sustainability, replacing imports and contributing to the community’s wellbeing, are in this category. Moreover, in 2010 the Government Promotion Fund was created, a source of financing for local projects that meet a series of premises. And the Law on the Tax System levies taxes on the incomes of the enterprises, mercantile societies and cooperatives to swell the budgets of the municipalities.

The reform doesn’t get to the press

While Cuba is on the move, several intellectuals and activists are warning that it is vital to give fresh air to the local press. There is even consensus that the Cuban economic, political and social reform still hasn’t reached the media.

Cuba’s press system comprises some 97 radio stations, 20 newspapers, two press agencies, magazines, websites, one national television network, 31 local telecentres, an international radio station, 104 municipal radio studios, four national TV channels and an international one, 15 provincial telecentres, as well as other publications.

With the exception of some magazines or websites in the hands of churches or civil organisations, the majority of the media are state-run. One can see that recently the authorities have consented to information initiatives with a different profile and under other forms of ownership like OnCuba, Cuba Contemporánea and Progreso semanal. But the majority has an extensive presence on the Internet, therefore their more critical and attractive contents and focuses don’t reach a great deal of the local population of 11.2 million inhabitants, with a limited access to the Internet.

The controversy on the press has its ups and downs.

It especially gained momentum before, during and after the 9th Congress of the non-governmental Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC), held in July 2013.

It was during that new clamour for the subject when the president of UPEC, Antonio Moltó, affirmed that “without the media it will be impossible to achieve the transformations that the Cuban people have proposed to make socialism prosperous and sustainable.” But, professor and researcher Jorge Gómez Barata indicated that “the problem of the press is not functional but rather structural.”

Meanwhile, young journalist Claudio Peláez said that “the Cuba that is changing from its economic aspects and immediately has an impact on the social, needs a journalism in tune with that reality.”

In these analyses it is specified that the press is facing the following fundamental problems:

    Material shortages.

    Lack of professionalization and weaknesses in the professional profile. Around 50 per cent of those in leadership posts in the sector do not have a journalistic formation, an indicator that surpasses the 60 per cent in the case of the radio.

    Excessive regulation.

    The state-run press (though it is also partisan) is put into question as the only form of administration or a new system of relations with the press is demanded.

    Absence of a Press Law.

    Limited access to information sources.

    Research journalism is almost not done.

    The population demands that the country shown in the local press resembles more the real one, that the positive visions not predominate and that more objective and in-depth analyses of the domestic problems appear.4

    Very limited access to the Internet. 

Cuban press and the local development agenda

A system of “local” media functions in Cuba without assuming the communication or institutional models of the local press, which is not able to meet a social demand closely linked to the community and its development needs.

In the debates of the Congresses of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (excluding the 9th held in 2013), issues have been analysed like the need to continue making efforts so that in the local media there exist optimum technological conditions and that its professionals be better prepared, but none of their archives includes the term local development or questions referring to how the press deals with the most community-based concerns.

Following are some results of three studies that analysed the media’s agenda on local development in provincial seminars and the two national dailies:

Frade Brito, I.I.: “Tras la brújula, el tiempo y la agenda. Estudio de la construcción de la agenda mediática sobre desarrollo local en Cuba en los medios impresos nacionales Granma y Juventud Rebelde (primeras 9 semanas de 2012)”. Journalism Diploma Thesis. Faculty of Communication. University of Havana, June 2012.

Monteagudo Cajina, V.: “En la misma dirección. Proceso de construcción de la agenda mediática sobre desarrollo local en los semanarios provinciales: Tribuna de La Habana, Mayabeque y El artemiseño. Un estudio de casos múltiples en el período febrero-marzo de 2012”. Journalism Diploma Thesis. Faculty of Communication. University of Havana, June 2012.

García Cardentey, M.: “Construcción del discurso periodístico con enfoque al desarrollo local. Estrategia de aplicación en el periódico Guerrillero”. Master’s Thesis. Hermanos Saíz Montes De Oca University of Pinar del Río, February 2013.

The samples studied by each one of the authors were different, but all of them were taken in 2012:

Granma and Juventud Rebelde. The editions of each daily, between January 1 and March 4, 2012 (before, during and after the First Conference of the Communist Party of Cuba). Journalism staff and specialists in local development.

Tribuna de La Habana, El artemiseño (sic) and Mayabeque. Eight editions of each one during the months of February and March 2012. Journalistic staff of each one of the weeklies. Observation of a natural week of their productive routines.

Guerrillero. The 52 editions of 2012. All the journalistic staff (including the editors) of the weekly, exactly 25 workers. Professors and students of the career of Journalism in the University of Pinar del Río.

Moreover, the three studies have in common that they analysed the thematic agenda and used the same indicators and items in the content analyses applied to the message sample.

On the other hand, the local development syntagma only appeared four times in a total of 196 works on the subject found in Granma and three in the 147 texts published in Juventud Rebelde. The performance in Mayabeque was of one presence of the syntagma in 119 works, while in Tribuna de La Habana five were registered in 67 texts, El artemiseño referred to it once in 106 news items and Guerrillero used the syntagma on eight occasions in 48 texts.

The local development perspectives that were identified in the items are described as follows.

In Granma, the economic perspective predominated (40.31 %), followed by the endogenous (19.39 %), critical (12.76 %), not identified (12.24 %), strategic (4.59 %) and participatory (3.57 %).

Meanwhile, in Juventud Rebelde the majority of the news on local development had a critical perspective (32.65 %), in addition to economic (15.65 %), not identified (15.65 %), endogenous (12.93 %), participatory (10.88 %) and strategic (6.80 %).

On the other hand, in Mayabeque the economic vision of local development predominated (43.69 %). The performance of the rest of the indicators was critical (36.13 %), participatory (26.89 %), not identified (15.12 %), strategic (12.60 %) and endogenous (3.36 %).

In Tribuna de La Habana, the results were: participatory (56.71 %), economic (38.80 %), critical (34.32 %), strategic (26.86 %), endogenous (2.98 %) and not identified (1.49 %).

In El artemiseño, the economic perspective stood at 45.28 % of the information on local development, the participatory (37.73 %), critical (33.01 %), strategic (26.41 %), not identified (13.20 %) and endogenous (6.60 %).

Lastly, the author of the study in Guerrillero indicates, without contributing data, that there is evidence of a political-governmental, economic and endogenous priority, the latter to a lesser degree. She added that there were few participatory, critical and strategic aspects.

Other indicators of the presence of the local space in the studied dailies and weeklies were the scopes present in each of the news items (community, municipal and provincial) and the represented spheres (rural and urban). Following, two graphs are presented, drawn out by the author based on the data collected for each study.

It should be emphasised that in all the investigated media the causes for this phenomenon came out and they include the shortage of fuel and transport to make tours and coverage of the most complicated places.

Another interesting indicator is the fact that a national daily like Granma has a high indicator of 39.29 per cent of the rural sphere on its agenda.

Conclusions

    Local development is not a priority in the media’s agenda of Granma and Juventud Rebelde, and is even scarce in the provincial weeklies of Mayabeque, El artemiseño, Tribuna de La Habana and Guerrillero.

    A tendency toward paying more attention to some of the matters related to local development like food production was detected. The interviewed journalists indicated that it is due to the so-called updating of the model.

    There isn’t a clear strategy in none of the media studied to show the community and territorial capacities.

    The journalistic works don’t usually capture the wealth of the development processes: the partial visions were present in the perspectives (a predominance of the economic, though in Juventud Rebelde the criticism through the Our Mailbag section was stronger).
    Coverage of disperse actions, without a clear vision of the process and with little presence of conflicts.

    The treatment of events concerning the political-governmental sphere and the economy prevails.

    Predominance of the provincial scope. The municipal scope has great deal of presence, but the view of the community space is almost non-existent in each one of the analysed dailies and weeklies. This provided evidence of a reduced treatment of what local development implies, a process marked by the participation and self-management of all the local subjects.

    The urban abounds in the press and the rural spaces – though they are a majority in the territories of Pinar del Río, Mayabeque and Artemisa – almost don’t appear or do so in the productive sphere.

    Weak theoretical-methodological preparation of the journalistic staff to tackle the construction of the journalistic discourse with a focus on local development in all the analysed media.

    Priority given to the institutional actors to the detriment of the local, community and natural leaders.

    There was also little comparison of sources and an uncritical attitude of the journalist prevailed when faced by them.

    The news items dominated over the rest of the genres, even in the weeklies. This genre does not allow for reporting the news events in all their complexity.

    Staff deficit and the subsequent overloading of hired personnel, which limits the specialisation of the journalist.

    Another factor that has a great incidence in the process of establishing the agenda on local development is the lack of supplies and means. Basically, problems were detected with the technology, accessibility to the Internet, shortage of computers and means of transportation.

Recommendations

Based on the analysed studies, it is recommended that this type of studies be extended to the rest of the provincial newspapers and printed press with a community or municipal scope, as well as the radio, the means of communication with the greatest reach in rural areas.

Moreover, it would be necessary to consolidate specific subjects in the career of Journalism and transverse in its curriculum the local development focus.

It is also proposed that the academic and scientific sector carry out studies that construct strategies on how to include the local development perspective in specific media, like the one carried out by García Cardentey. (2014)

*A part of this work was presented in LASA’s XXXII International Congress, held May 21-24, 2014, in Chicago, the United States.

1 Caño in Plasencia Pons, A.: “La comunicación social en la gestión de proyectos comunitarios. Reflexiones sobre el tema, en Colectivo de autores” (Ed.), Selección de lecturas Comunicación Social. Planeación estratégica, Vol. III, Havana, Félix Varela publishers, 2008, p.:131.

  1. Portal Moreno, R., E. Nápoles Rodríguez, Y. Leiva, T. Pino Más and G. García Graña (Eds.), Comunicación para el desarrollo. Selección de lecturas, Havana, Félix Varela publishers, 2009, p.:12.

3 Nápoles Rodríguez, E.: “Cómo, con quién y para quién. Dilemas de la participación para el desarrollo”, in R. Portal Moreno, E. Nápoles Rodríguez, Y. Leiva, T. Pino Más and G. García Graña: ob. cit.

4 Fonseca Sosa, Claudia: “Building de cebolla. Estudio de la agenda mediática nacional e internacional del periódico Granma (1999-2001)”. Journalism Diploma Thesis. Faculty of Communication. University of Havana, 2011; Gallego Ramos, José Raúl and Arailaisy Rosabal García: “Las cartas sobre la mesa. Un estudio sobre la relación entre agenda pública y mediática en Cuba: caso Granma”. Journalism Diploma Thesis. Faculty of Communication. University of Havana, 2010; Jiménez Hernández, Mayte María: “La noticia confiesa. Trascendencia, inmediatez, seguimiento, veracidad e intencionalidad en las informaciones de las páginas nacionales en los periódicos diarios cubanos”. Journalism Diploma Thesis. Faculty of Communication. University of Havana, 2009.

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