[Marxism] Cuba's eternal dilemma: annexation or independence (freedom of the press)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 12 13:58:03 MST 2007

>HOWEVER, the sentences that are reportedly being sought for these 'reporters'
>are a bit harsh. I am unsure what to believe, of course, but Reporters Sans
>Frontiers, while they don't have all the answers, are surely not an arm of US
>imperialism, unless I am being naive.

The CPJ, the RSF, Cuba and press freedom
posted to www.marxmail.org on July 16, 2003

Most people have probably heard of the Committee to Protect Journalists 
(CPJ), a US based outfit that generally does good work defending 
journalists against repression. If you go to their website at www.cpj.org, 
you will find links to a number of cases they are involved with. Most are 
worthy, such as the item decrying the murderous US attack on journalists 
during the Iraq war. Unfortunately, there is also an item defending the US 
agents in Cuba under the specious heading "Crackdown on the Independent 
Press in Cuba".

To give credit to the CPJ, they at least present the Cuban government's 
case on their website, which is filled with testimony about the buckets of 
payments made by both the USA and the Spanish based Hispanic-Cuban 
Foundation to the opponents of the Cuban government. Since the CPJ makes no 
case made against this kind of funding, one must assume that they view it 
as legitimate. One can only wonder what would happen to a radical newspaper 
in the USA that was discovered to rely on Cuban funding. They would not 
throw the staff in jail. They would throw the staff under the jail.

Let's try an intellectual exercise. Turn the clock back to 1941. The 
Japanese has attacked Pearl Harbor, which was not even part of the USA but 
a colonial outpost to guard economic and military interests in the Pacific. 
Only eight days after the attack, Roosevelt established the Office of 
Censorship which asserted the power to control all international 
communications. So why should Cuba, which has been the victim of a 
full-scale invasion, economic blockade, repeated assassination plots 
against government leaders, skyjackings winked at by the USA and probable 
biological warfare including Dengue Fever be held up to a higher standard 
than the host country of CPJ?

The corporate press was happy to join Roosevelt and exercise the kind of 
self-censorship that was on display during the Iraq War. With outfits like 
CNN, Bloomberg Inc. and Viacom/CBS serving as major donors to the CPJ, one 
might expect them to have a blind spot on such questions. After all, if you 
have the freedom to buy a newspaper like Rupert Murdoch or Mort Zuckerman 
does, why would one deny that freedom to the Cuban people?

Of course, the CPJ is not solely the creature of the big corporate funders 
who pay the rent, salaries and other expenses. There are good "lefties" on 
the Board of Directors like Victor Navasky of the Nation Magazine. But our 
friends at the Nation have also exhibited a blind spot on such matters in 
the past. Freda Kirchney, the editor of The Nation at that time of Pearl 
Harbor, claimed, "Disloyal publications should be exterminated exactly as 
if they were enemy machine guns in the Bataan jungle." My, oh, my!


As has become obvious, the measures taken recently by the Cuban government 
to defend the revolution have become a 'cause celebre' for liberals 
worldwide. The other day I posted a response to the Committee to Protect 
Journalists (CPJ), a group that had taken up this cause despite the fact 
that its corporate funders (CNN, Bloomberg et al) are among the world's 
biggest enemies of freedom of the press. The CPJ's model only takes into 
account the kind of repression visited on reporters in third world 
dictatorships typically. If CNN and the Murdoch press can swamp the TV's 
and newsstands of that same country drowning out the local competition, it 
would hardly raise an eyebrow in these quarters.

You find the same exact mind-set at the Paris-based "Reporters Without 
Borders" (Reporters Sans Frontières--RSF), a group that seems inspired by 
"Doctors Without Borders", which also got started in France. You'll recall 
that this group was very involved in pushing war against Yugoslavia and 
that its director Bernard Kouchner was rewarded with the post of colonial 
administrator of Kosovo.

In keeping with a general softness on the world's biggest threat to 
democracy, RSF includes a map of the world on their home page with colors 
ranging from pure as the driven snow white to shocking and sinful red, with 
various shadings of pink in the middle. White signifies a "good" situation, 
while red stands for a "serious" situation. It should come as no surprise 
that the USA is a satisfactory gray, while Cuba is the deepest shade of red.

Venezuela is another country singled out for repression against reporters 
by both the CPJ and RSF. Since they have no concept how privately owned 
media can represent as much of a threat to the free flow of information as 
government censorship, they take sides against Hugo Chavez who was the 
target of a general strike fomented by the ruling class and the newspapers 
and TV stations they own. Naomi Klein took them to task in a February 18, 
2003 Guardian article:

During the recent strike organised by the oil industry, the stations 
broadcast an average of 700 pro-strike advertisements every day. Chavez has 
decided to go after the TV stations in earnest, with an investigation into 
violations of broadcast standards and a new set of regulations. "Don't be 
surprised if we start shutting down television stations," he said in January.

The threat has sparked condemnations from the Committee to Protect 
Journalists and Reporters Without Borders. And there is reason for concern: 
the media war in Venezuela is bloody, with attacks on both pro- and 
anti-Chavez media outlets. But attempts to regulate the media aren't an 
"attack on press freedom", as CPJ claimed - quite the opposite.

Venezuela's media, including state TV, needs controls to ensure balance. 
Some of Chavez's proposals overstep these bounds. But it is absurd to treat 
Chavez as the principal threat to a free press. That honour goes to the 
media owners. This has been lost on groups entrusted to defend press 
freedom, still stuck in a paradigm in which all journalists want to tell 
the truth and all threats come from nasty politicians and angry mobs.

Every so often, the naked hostility of RSF to challenges against the "free" 
corporate media is bared. In their 2003 Annual Report, they fulminate 
against UN bids to address this problem:

 >>A new example of the spineless attitude of Western democracies towards 
authoritarian regimes are preparations for the UN World Summit on the 
Information Society. . .In fact, the idea of the information society summit 
quietly harks back to what was known in the 1970s and the 1980s as the New 
World Information Order, when a rag-bag alliance of communist regimes, 
African and Asian despots and Western Third-Worldist intellectuals used the 
presence of an African at the head of UNESCO to try to bring the flow of 
international news under the control of governments, officially (of course) 
for the benefit of the people.  They said the world's news was dominated by 
the corporate media of the capitalist West and aimed to rein them in, 
leaving ordinary people in ignorance. It reeked of the old totalitarian 
notion of the "supreme guide" who knows better than you what's good for 
you. The whole repressive concept led the United States and Britain to 
withdraw from UNESCO. This was enough of a jolt to kill off the idea.<<

Can't you see the bitter resentment against 3rd world radicalism working 
itself into a proper lather here? A rag-bag of communists and 3rd Worldist 
intellectuals under the banner of UNESCO sought to challenge the "corporate 
media of the capitalist West". What a totalitarian idea, that CNN and the 
Murdoch press are inimical to the interests of people struggling to free 
themselves from the domination of US imperialism and its junior partners.

It might be useful to revisit this controversy. The US and Great Britain 
pulled out of UNESCO for the same reason it is in Iraq today. This should 
have been obvious to any student of the media, especially the late Herbert 
Schiller whose "Culture Inc" was reviewed in the July/August 1990 
Multimedia Monitor when people like George Bush were fulminating--like 
RSF--at the subversives in UNESCO:

 >>Cultural industries have both followed and fueled other corporate drives 
to dominate world markets. Information industries circulate data and 
capital around the world, allowing them to change the international 
division of labor and to shift production sites worldwide. The cultural 
industries have also expanded internationally for their own direct material 
gain. Television networks pressure autonomous state-run broadcasting 
systems across Europe and the Soviet Union to include transnationally 
supplied broadcasting under threat of being bypassed with satellite or 
other technology.

The United States actively assists this transnationalization. By promoting 
privatization and deregulation, the United States works to diminish or 
destroy the international public communications sector. Schiller supplies a 
telling example: in 1985 the United States unilaterally withdrew from the 
United Nations Educational, Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The 
pullout followed a furious and, Schiller shows, unjust campaign waged by 
the U.S. government in cooperation with the U.S. media against UNESCO, 
which had promoted some moderate proposals for a New International 
Information Order (NIIO). The vague principles underlying the NIIO urged 
respect for nations' right to control national culture and offered support 
for national public broadcasting systems.

At stake was more than a heavy import of Anglo-American media material by 
the rest of the world. Fundamental economic data are also transferred 
internationally, ranging from travel reservation information to banking and 
insurance transactions to engineering and architectural design. These sorts 
of data transfers, combined with cultural flows, have created a system 
dominated by multinational companies. "The essential point is that an 
entire broadcast, information, and cultural system, privately owned and 
managed, often helped by government policy but mainly dependent on 
transnational advertising on behalf of corporate sponsors (or corporate 
users in the case of electronic data flows), is being set in place. When 
such a system is consolidated, the utility of analyzing the effects of 
*one* program or medium is futile. The entire social mechanism has been 
transformed into a corporate exhibit or channel."<<



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