Isbel Díaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — On March 13, a new version of Cuba’s Granma newspaper website went online. The most attractive feature of the new, more dynamic page design is the possibility of posting comments on published articles.
Till now, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party had a website with a static and visually awful platform, far behind other Cuban government pages, such as Cubadebate, Cubasi and newspaper sites such as Trabajadores and Juventud Rebelde.
The digital version of the weekly Granma Internacional, which came online in August of 1996, was the first Cuban Internet press site. The online edition of the newspaper (which has now been fused with Granma International) became available as a digital publication in July of 1997.
According to Granma, the new staff of designers sought to make the site “modern, respond to the demands of new information and communication technologies and any platform used to convey news, in order to inform the public quickly and truthfully, sharing news content in such a way that users aren’t mere passive receivers of information, but also the main sources of such content.”
The current Internet platform of Cuba’s official newspaper relies on a “dynamic framework” that employs a modern “content manager”. This allows for updating from different places, regardless of circumstances. Tablet and smartphone versions of the site have also been released.
The new website also affords a range of editorial solutions that “allows decision-makers to act, not only expediently, but also intelligently. This holds for the editing of a given text and for the way it is presented to the user, with emphasis on the classification of the materials to be uploaded.”
In addition to improved design, better content organization, responsive design, performance, increased cache and the availability of 2.0 applications, a portion of the published news can be read in English, French, German, Italian and Portuguese.
The Face and the Body Aren’t Always the Same
Granma’s new young staff introduced itself to readers through an article titled “Granma.cu, nuestra nueva cara en la red” (“Granma.cu: Our New Face on the Internet”).
On this occasion, Granma journalists didn’t quote Marx, Lenin or Fidel Castro. Rather, in keeping with the new times, they turned to the East and invoked Mahatma Gandhi, in a phrase that reads: “We would do many things if we believed that fewer things were impossible.”
As though that weren’t enough, the communist staff of Granma shared a phrase written by Confucius in 551 AD: “whoever aspires to constant happiness and wisdom must adjust to frequent changes.”
Fortunately, the information acknowledges the fact that “these new tools facilitate the management of the site but do not of themselves write, investigate or express opinions. These, it said, require the professionalism and commitment of a higher form of journalism,” in keeping with the appeals made by President Raul Castro.
The impact Cuba’s recently appointed First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel working towards a change in the methods of the national press, is fairly obvious.
That said, the newspaper continues to be prepared at Poligrafico Granma (“Granma Publishing House”), where all the country’s national newspapers, including those read in Havana, Mayabeque and Artemisa, are published.
Nor has Granma changed its fundamental objective, which isn’t to inform the public (as one would expect of a newspaper), but to “promote, through its articles and comments, the work of the revolution and its principles, the achievements reached by our people and the integrity and cohesion of our people around the Party and Fidel,” as the page “About Us” announces.
Another indication that the “body” hasn’t changed is that the initiative to modernize Granma will be extended to Juventud Rebelde, through the same team of designers, commented Diaz-Canel in a recent interview.
I must acknowledge that slightly fresher articles written by young people can now be found in the newspaper’s Opinions column. These, however, aren’t published in the privileged spaces, which are still reserved for the familiar praise for the current state of things on the island.
The Communist Party Now Accepts Comments
After two weeks online, it is clear that the editors of Granma are willing to publish comments expressing criteria opposed to those of the article and even opinions that are fairly critical of the government’s general policies.
An article that announced the appointment a new chair of the National Association of Small Farmers, for instance, showed several comments criticizing the PCC’s meddling in an autonomous farmers’ organization and the Party’s tendency to appoint leaders who had no direct experience in the field.
Flattering comments continue to be the immense majority for the time being, though a group of cybernauts seems to have discovered this new possibility and timidly begin to post their criticisms.
Generally speaking, Internet users supportive of Granma have acknowledged that the change was necessary and appear to be pleased by the opportunity to share their comments.
In addition, Granma designers have implemented a number of changes suggested by readers and replied to a number of comments, giving signs of a willingness to converse with the public (at least on matters that aren’t explicitly political).
Cuba’s extremely limited Internet access could be the reason these new spaces have been opened, in one of the few sites that didn’t allow for public participation until recently.
It is worth pointing out that several users who use Cuba’s national health network connection (Infomed) left comments expressing their dissatisfaction with the slowness of the connection and the amount of time it took to open the different news pages.
That dissenting opinions are still treated with a measure of apprehension is revealed by the fact that, once articles are published on the main page, only a selection of the comments made are left – the majority are positive and a small number of them (usually the worst arguments) are negative.
Regardless, we should pay attention to these shy steps and what they could mean for the future: a move towards an acceptable model of free press for the island, or a mere disguise used to conceal the censorship mechanism we know so well.