In Cuba, the government sees the media sphere as wholly political. From its perspective, on the one side there are the state-controlled press and broadcasters setting out a carefully-manicured official line and withholding uncomfortable truths. On the other, there is the enemy – the foreign media out to undermine the state. That leaves little space in which independent journalists can operate. If they are not with the government, then they must be against it, so they are routinely harassed, beaten and arrested.
Working in near-isolation, such journalists face practical limitations like the lack of access to formal training resources, computers and the internet, and difficulties in getting interviews.
IWPR has been working with independent journalists in Cuba since October 2011. Our work is designed to support Cubans’ rights to unrestricted access to information and to freedom of expression. To achieve that, we are equipping journalists to do fact-based reporting; to provide objective, unbiased and accurate information about developments in their country; to question authority and hold it to account; and to work together to create networks of mutual support and protection.
We encourage independent journalists in Cuba to position themselves as a genuine alternative to state media output, but not as a voice for the opposition.
An innovative training programme launched in early 2012 is designed to meet the needs of up-and-coming reporters, with training workshops focused on international standards of journalism and news writing techniques as well as basic digital security protocols. These are followed up by mentoring and feedback on the stories produced by participants, tailored to their individual strengths and weaknesses so that they understand how they can improve their work at every stage of the programme. This kind of personalised, continuing support produces the most significant impact on the quality of the final work. It also has positive effects for the many journalists working in isolation.
The project is also designed to build networks between journalists, news agencies and civil society organisations in Cuba.
One outcome of this increased collaboration has been the creation of a code of ethics for independent journalists in Cuba. Another has been the distribution of press accreditation by the Cuban Press Freedom Association to non-state journalists on the island.
Both of these initiatives are designed with security in mind – if journalists are following strict guidelines, know their rights and are affiliated with a recognised journalists’ union, it should be more difficult to arrest them without causing an international uproar.