For years now the mass media in Cuba has been so tightly controlled by the government, that the “mediasphere” has been caught frozen in time. Today, the Cuban government still has a handle on most of the news that makes its way to the public. However, there are significant signs showing that media is beginning to emerge from the cracks and is slowly making its way out of being stuck in place.
While it is still early to tell if any of these shifts in the media will make a huge wave, they all seemed inconceivable just a few years ago. Here are some key changes found by journalist Jon Elliston at the Columbia Journalism Review:
1. First things first, Cuban people want a change in their media.
Every movement starts with the desire for change. Last year, a journalism student at the University of Havana shared her thought on government-run news outlets.
“Our reality is not reflected in our mass media,” she said. “Older people are more accepting of it than the young, who want more problems to be addressed in a realistic way.”
Even Raul Castro himself stated that Cuban news programs were too-often “boring, improvised and superficial,” he said, adding that “this habit of triumphalism, stridency and formalism [in the media] needs to be left behind.” Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz Canal, added that Cuba’s news media are too propagandistic.
“We can’t lay the blame entirely on journalists or entirely on the media,” he told a meeting of the state-run Union of Cuban Journalists. “We must lay on the blame on the [Communist] Party, in the first place, and we have to begin to criticize ourselves.”
2. Internet access is finally on the rise.
While Cuba was once one of the least internet connected countries in this side of the world, it is now estimated that about 30% of Cubans have at least semi regular access to the web. Five years ago, it was half that percentage. Most Cubans with regular internet access can only find it at work in there government offices, however, hundreds of new cyber cafes have created public Wi-Fi spots for the average José. For the equivalent of $2, you can get an hour of internet access in a public Wi-Fi zone.
However, with Cuban wages averaging about $25 a month, this is quite expensive. Furthermore, the connection is often times poor with enough Cubans online to drag down the bandwidth and force slow upload speeds. Still, the demand for Wi-Fi connection cards are so high that a black market has developed on the streets with a going rate of $3 per card.
Photo by: Jon Elliston
3. Facebook leads inSocial Media.
It is no surprise that the younger Cubans are racing to Wi-Fi hotspots in order to log into their social media accounts. Research in Cuba shows that Facebook remains prominent in amoungst social media users. In fact, when most young Cubans go online, it is to go on Facebook. The Internet is Facebook. 95% of Cubans using social media are focused foremost on Facebook. It just comes naturally for them. With how easy it is to share photos, statuses and conversations with Facebook, it is the first choice for Cubans to connect with loved ones in America and other countries.
It does appear that the Cuban government is allowing Facebook usage to rise without hinderence, with some exceptions. For example, IT government workers are forbidden from using Facebook during peak hours in order to preserve bandwidth.
How do you think this will effect Cuban culture down the road?
Read the full CJR article here.