Frank González is the director of Cuba’s Prensa Latina news agency. This article is based on a December 2006 interview with Gloria La Riva. It provides background on Prensa Latina and the theoretical and practical considerations of revolutionary journalism, including the distinctions between “objectivity” and “impartiality,” top-down and dialogical journalism, and bourgeois and socialist journalism.
For more than 47 years, Prensa Latina has been in the midst of all the important news developments that have taken place in Latin America and the rest of the world. In the 1970s and 1980s, it reached its greatest reach, with global coverage.
We had 40 offices in an equal number of countries with information services in text, radio, television and photography.
At the start of the 1990s, Prensa Latina experienced a very difficult economic situation. We went through the disappearance of the socialist camp in Europe and the Soviet Union, with whom we had a special relationship of exchange and collaboration. We had to reduce our operation from 40 offices worldwide to 14 offices, all operating at a much reduced level of personnel and with a lot of sacrifice.
But the agency survived.
Our recovery began at the end of the 1990s. Today we have 23 offices abroad in addition to our headquarters in Havana. We have plans to expand by two offices per year.
Prensa Latina has a presence in Luanda, Angola, as well as in China and Vietnam. We are in Madrid, Moscow, Paris and Istanbul. And we have 16 offices in Latin America, practically in all parts of the continent. This year we will open in Kiev, Ukraine, where we will cover events in Moldova, Georgia and Poland.
The agency transmits more than 400 daily dispatches and news stories in Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and, most recently, in Turkish. We have a strong presence on the Internet with 12 websites. This year we have had some 14 million visits to our sites.
About 50,000 media institutions and individuals in 147 countries receive Prensa Latina’s news. Our multimedia division has produced more than 150 titles in CD-ROM, DVD and Super DVD formats.
We are currently moving towards the use of open-source software, specifically Linux, to operate within the Intranet, Extranet and Internet.
The reach of our websites is constantly expanding.
‘Objective, but not impartial’
The reasons that motivated the founding of Prensa Latina more than 47 years ago are more relevant today than ever.
Today, the flow of international information is in the hands of five large media conglomerates. If just 20 years ago there were 50 U.S. news organizations that controlled more than 90 percent of the international information flow, today there are only five. And of those five, four are U.S.-controlled and one is German. I say four from the United States because Fox, even though its owner, Murdoch, is Australian, is really a U.S. corporation.
And those five media conglomerates do not only tell us what we should see, read or listen to. They tell us how we should see, read or listen.
Prensa Latina is more important than ever. We are very conscious of that. We journalists at Prensa Latina produce revolutionary journalism, but journalism of a very high quality.
The bourgeois press presents itself as the defender of objectivity. The concept of objectivity arose in the 19th century as a feature of the U.S. elite’s journalism, specifically at The New York Times, as one of the attributes of supposedly independent journalism at that time.
The concept of “objectivity” evolved in the 20th century not just as an attribute but also as a standard. We also defend the concept of objectivity, but not just to defend it. We ourselves say that we are objective.[Prensa Latina founder Jorge Ricardo] Masetti used to say, “We are objective, but not impartial.” All discourse, including the media’s discourse, implies intent.
In terms of the media, it means an intent that is motivated by the relations of power, by market relations and by other such considerations.
Prensa Latina promotes a journalism that is different from that being produced today [by the media monopolies]. When we speak of alternative communication, we are not talking of just substituting one content for another. It is not simply a matter of journalism that is counterposed to the media monopolies. What we are talking about is creating a new form of journalism.
The journalism of domination, of bourgeois journalism, is a top-down, uni-logical and uni-directional journalism, in which an enlightened person becomes a transmitter issuing a message.
But we have reached a point where now everyone recognizes that the persons transmitting and receiving are constantly exchanging their roles in a communicative process, where both interact and enrich each other.
That is the journalism in which we place ourselves. When we speak of journalism that presents an alternative vision of reality, we are talking of a reality that is based on the truth.
It is the truth that José Martí spoke of, but it is also the truth that Bertolt Brecht spoke of. He said, “We have to search for the truth wherever it is, no matter how much they try to hide it. We have to convert the truth into a weapon, and to see in whose hands that truth is placed, so that truth reaches where it should.”
The role of alternative media
For us, the alternative vision of reality is an anti-capitalist vision. What is the capitalist vision? The objective of capitalism is surplus value.
The system and the laws of the market create the institutions that make up capitalist society—the family, the church, the school, the youth and community associations and the means of mass communication.
All of this is meant to provide the system with the ideological support that prepares the citizens from birth to be raised and behave according to the laws of a system and the representation of reality that that system requires those citizens to have.
It would be naïve to think otherwise. The idea of an independent media and an objective press is a fantasy. I am not even referring to Marx in this case, but to Berger and Luckmann’s “The Social Construction of Reality,” to the sociologists who study knowledge, and to the philosophers and theorists of communication.
Therefore, each time that we in Prensa Latina witness the debate about “freedom of the press,” “freedom of expression,” “the independent press” and “objectivity,” in reality these terms are being used in a discourse whose only aim is to conceal the class character of those institutions.
We do not have to conceal the class character of our journalism. What we do oppose and reject is the idea that there is a division between, on the one hand, professional journalism, and on the other, what is called militant or activist journalism.
We believe there is only one type of journalism and that we should defend journalism as a profession. We believe that just posting something on the Internet does not make one a journalist, although it is correct to say that the person who does so is carrying out an act of communication.
But the journalist has to have command of the narrative technique, command of the new technology of information and communication as a professional.
Now, in this struggle to promote an alternative vision of reality, we believe that we cannot be exclusionary. That is why we call it an anti-capitalist vision. All those who are in favor of promoting a vision of reality that is polemical, that develops critical thought, that is a vision of totality, not totalitarian, that embraces all human thought in a general sense, we believe that all of us who believe in this should join together.
And we should make links, because there is something very important that can help us confront the enormous economic power and reach of the large media monopolies, and that is networking.
Information is circulated throughout all the interstices of the Internet. It allows us to establish alliances and exchange with each other, but in a flexible manner, where one does not direct or dominate others.
Latin America and the media
The relation between the United States and Latin America is key. Latin America is emerging as a new pole of attraction. Latin American integration is on a course that is definitive and determined with the new processes taking place in the continental South. It is very important that the alternative U.S. press be aware of what is happening in Latin America and to see it from different angles to avoid stereotypes.
What the so-called “independent press” and “objective press” has tried to do throughout its history is to create stereotypes and make false claims.
For the “objective press,” President Hugo Chávez is not a new Latin American revolutionary leader, inheritor of the best traditions of struggles of the peoples of our continent, but rather a putschist militarist who took power, who presides over a pool of petroleum, and who has a close relationship with Fidel Castro. And they present that relationship not as a great merit, as Chávez describes it, but as a stigma.
There is a very interesting alternative press in the United States that does good things and gives us the key to interpret what is happening in United States society. If you ask me as a journalist, I think that U.S. society is reaching the boiling point.
The political, economic and social conditions are being created that will cause that bubble to burst at some point.
There we see what is happening in Iraq, what is happening in Afghanistan, what is happening in Latin America. The current United States administration insists on creating a false image of prosperity, a false image that the struggle against terrorism has to be fought thousands of miles away from the United States to “prevent them from coming here to attack us.” It is based on the politics of fear and terror.
And within that U.S. society, where there are such a noble and good people, we Cubans and Latin Americans have been able to experience solidarity and affection. We have seen it in concrete causes. If it were not for the solidarity of the people of the United States, Elián González would have not returned to his family as he did in June 2000.
It is the people of the United States who made it possible to stop the war in Vietnam. And it will be the people of the United States who will make it possible to stop the aggression and massacre of the Iraqi people.
A model of dialogue
When we think of alternative communication we do not think of it as substituting one domination for another. It means establishing a model of dialogue that respects multicultural and multi-ethnic diversity, because the wealth of a society lies in its diversity.
In Prensa Latina, there is something we always need to clarify. The dialogue that we advocate is not with all members of society. We call for dialogue with those who are committed to an anti-capitalist vision. Dialogue with those who are committed to a capitalist vision is not dialogue. Such a “dialogue” will always be a struggle for power.
Although we say that the media is a tool of the system to consolidate the hegemony of the ruling class, it is not a simple process. It does not mean that behind each piece of information there is a conspiracy of a small group of millionaires who decide what to publish and how they will do it.
There are very complex processes that have a lot to do with the production routines of the media, that process of “newsmaking” that is so well researched in the United States, within which the hypotheses of “agenda-setting” and “framing” play their part.
Independence and power
There is a generalized idea that the alternative media is an impoverished media, with few resources, not controlled by anyone, with no links to anything official.
Let’s talk about power. Jean-Jacque Rousseau, the French philosopher, wrote of the “natural person.”
The baby, when it is born, is a natural person. But when it relates to its mother and begins to drink milk from the mother’s breast, it becomes a social person. The baby has begun to interact with someone and this creates a dependency on someone else. It is a dependency for food, the primary basic necessity for a human being.
But there also begins a relationship of power. The mother has a certain quota of power, that is, “I will feed you when I can feed you, or when I want to feed you.” The baby cries and demands because it also exercises a quota of power, that is, “You have to feed me now.” The baby becomes a social being.
Therefore, it is not possible to speak of the independence of even small media organizations, tiny ones that are very poor and lacking in resources. You will always depend on the orientation as to where you seek your power.
‘Just doing my job’
One of the things that capitalism tries primarily to present to us or to convince us of is that historical processes do not count. Things are the way they are—simply because that is how it is.
Let’s say I am part of U.S. society. For me the most important thing is me and my family, and that is how it is because it has to be that way. The mentality in the United States that says, “I do this no matter what happens because it is my job.” Your job?
How is it possible that Mrs. Madeleine Albright was the secretary of state of the United States, the sworn enemy of Cuba, and two weeks after leaving that post says the blockade of Cuba makes no sense?
Or Mr. Colin Powell, who stated recently in Dubai that there is a civil war in Iraq and that they committed an error with regard to Iraq. When he was the secretary of state he lied to the world, saying that there were weapons of mass destruction and that there were links between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
I was in New York City once, speaking with an executive of one of the large U.S. media chains. I asked him, “How can that happen?”
He told me, “No, the problem is that they were doing their job.”
Ideology and emancipation
Yes, but what are the roots of that problem? It lies in support for capitalism. I don’t mean a capitalist who literally forces me to work with a whip. Rather, capitalism develops a mentality in the person that the most important thing is work.
But what work? The part they pay me for my support? Of course, the capitalist converted my labor power into a commodity. And for that commodity to be better exploited, I need that mentality inculcated into my consciousness.
We believe that alternative communication has to give the person, the receiver, all the keys to be able to interpret the events. Everything that happens has a historicity, every event has an origin and a process of development. It is not like television, where images overwhelm us but in the end leaves us with nothing, nor does it allow us to interpret events.
It is simply one of the tools that the bourgeois press uses to maintain its rule over the minds of people.
When we in Prensa Latina speak of alternative communication—again, we say alternative communication and not alternative journalism—in our opinion it means critical thought—anti-hegemonic, all-encompassing thought—a liberating and emancipatory thought.
I said earlier that the objective of capitalism is surplus value.
What is the objective of socialism? It is the emancipation of the human being. And we believe that alternative communication should act toward that goal of liberating humanity.