The Cuban regime signed into law a bill that seeks exclusively to regulate the media system on the island and to continue restricting freedom of expression of independent news outlets.
Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power approved on May 26 the Law of Social Communication, the first press and media regulation on the island. The law stipulates that news agencies, radio, television, and print and digital media "are socialist property of all the people or of political, mass and social organizations, and cannot be under any other type of ownership," leaving out the independent press.
At the same time, it gives the power to restrict content that is used "to make propaganda in favor of the war of a foreign state hostile to the interests of the nation" or that is used to "defame, slander or insult people, organs and agencies of the State."
The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) condemned the approval of this law because, according to the society's president Michael Greenspon, "it is clear that the regime is increasing new forms of censorship against the media and journalists through administrative and legal restrictions to defuse social discontent."
LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) seeks to explain below the four most important points to know about the approval of this new Cuban regulation and its consequences for press freedom.
The Cuban constitution already states that all "people have the right to request and receive truthful, objective and timely information from the State, and to have access to that which is generated by State bodies and entities, in accordance with established regulations." However, according to journalists and organizations, this is not fully complied with.
This new Social Communication Law does not establish guidelines for public information requests. However, it does talk about the right to "complaints and petitions from the people about the management of the organization," without inquiring as to which complaints or petitions are valid.
In general terms, the new regulation states that public information is only available through the State media, which act as a go-between. "The fundamental means of social communication are the media organizations that have a strategic character in the construction of consensus, fulfill public service functions and are political, ideological and cultural mediators," states the law.
It took 34 drafts of the Social Communication Law for the bill to be approved. However, the population only knew about the draft of three bills.
In November 2022, a second draft was released, which included the evaluation of the Secretariat and the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Government Party, as well as the Council of Ministers and the Council of State.
Even so, in December, it was decided to postpone the discussion and approval of the bill in order to carry out, between January and March 2023, a new consultation with the representatives and to take into account the criteria of the Ministries of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, the Interior and Foreign Affairs.
The law was finally approved at the end of May 2023. Experts on the subject have said that these changes to the law may evidence tensions within the Cuban regime. "Cuban power continues to maintain an important monolithic political capacity, but there are tensions within and this communication law is an expression of that," said lawyer Eloy Viera Cañive on the YouTube channel "No nos callarán Cuba" (We will not be silenced Cuba).
Cuba's Social Communication Law has a section that sets restrictions on content to be published.
In democratic countries, public media are one of the main sources of information due to their capacity for mass broadcasting and, in some cases, they are also the main source of republication of other media. However, the new regulation states that any republishing can only be done with the media outlet's authorization.
Article 51 of the law, in a chapter on "social communication in cyberspace,” states that "the content and its use by third parties, both national and foreign, must be protected, unless there is express authorization of users; consent is always revocable by the user or competent authority."
It also prohibits "the use of content made from already existing images, text, audio and video, to create distorted realities with any aim or purpose."
Lastly, the new law introduces the possibility for the State media to obtain funds through "socialist advertising" and also through international funds. These elements could seem at odds with the anti-capitalist vision of the regime.
Article 81.1. establishes that "radio, television, news agencies, and printed and digital social communication media may insert advertising according to their editorial profile and business management practices, prior authorization of the Institute of Information and Social Communication."
While Article 38.1. states that financial support may be received from "national and international joint projects and other channels, provided the fulfillment of its public function is not compromised."
This clause is at odds with the Cuban penal code, which prohibits independent media groups from receiving foreign financing. The regime opens the possibility of new forms of financing in its own media, while it continues to criminalize foreign financing of news outlets that oppose it.
"The development of advertising and sponsorship takes place from licit and transparent sources of financing that can be audited, and whose origin does not have the objective of subverting the constitutional order established in the country," states the law.