Generally, journalists are “daredevils.” To get the news we expose ourselves to physical and emotional hazards. It seems like we are attracted to danger or that we like adventure, so we live somewhere between the routine of the newsroom and the uncertainty and risk of coverage or investigation of a precarious subject.
But in the face of repression we can also get anxious because we are sensitive, or afraid, or we don’t want to be humiliated, overwhelmed, beaten, tortured, or imprisoned. We don’t want to be prevented from leaving the country or have our passports taken away at a border post.
Fearing repression, we can act rashly, or pretend we don’t care, be irresponsible and report as if there were no danger in going up against the forces that could hurt us in so many ways. Given our commitment to the profession, we may try to fulfill our societal function even when everything indicates that there is no room for recklessness.
Fortunately, we are not that careless, and our survival instinct is quite rational when risks are involved, especially very dangerous ones, and even though we may not want to, this instinct superimposes a need to protect our family and ourselves, and we surrender certain aspects of what we are used to doing, that is, investigating and informing.
In most cases we journalists don’t yield, but, rather, we take precautionary measures, including closing some informative spaces like some media owners have done, or “lowering” the tone, or not using certain words to describe the prevailing system, or not addressing certain issues.
Everything described in the previous paragraphs calls up an unpleasant and embarrassing word for journalists: self-censorship, an appalling but efficient mechanism by which we make enormous concessions, and with it we lose – due to the prevailing repression – a part of our freedom.
To say that a journalist without freedom is not a journalist may sound extreme. But it’s not. It’s the truth. They are not a journalist or are only a half-journalist. They are crippled or have duct tape closing off most of their mouth, or they’re in a fog that prevents them from clearly seeing what’s happening around them. It is a wretched condition that can seriously affect the women and men of the press because it is a severe injury to their nature and essential instincts as hunters and communicators of relevant issues.
A regime can be so oppressive that, in effect, it forces journalists to stop writing opinion articles in newspapers. This then carries over to people from other disciplines who used to comment on national events but have now retreated en masse, as if obeying an unspoken mandate. On television, talk shows once saturated with pundits, are now in short supply of such analysts. Pundits are keeping their noses to the grindstone. They are taking care of “their health” and that of their families.
It is a grim and somber matter when a journalist finds their face distorted and twisted with fear and begins to make concessions in their reporting and opinions. Each concession is painful like an irritating thorn wounding the skin, for the purpose of avoiding a police patrol coming to their home, raiding their house, and imprisoning their family in a cloud of uncertainty, pain and sadness.
Here the term “he-man” – men who don’t cry or fear anything and can drink alcohol without being affected—does not apply. The adverse context must be factored in because we cannot ignore it, we are part of it, we notice it, it influences and affects us and forces us to react, which is why some colleagues even take the route of unimaginable sacrifice and leave the country.
There are laws that swing like a guillotine above the heads of journalists and others in the media, and there are many crimes categorized under the law that can be indiscriminately applied at the convenience of the accusers. This is why members of the profession suffer, are afraid, nervous, full of doubts, surrounded by threats, have experienced prison, torture, beatings in the street, destruction of their equipment, raids, confiscation, and even death as in the case of Angel Gahona.
On the other hand, there are those who deliberately cause this situation: those who oppress and repress, destroying freedom of expression and freedom of the press. They are undisputedly responsible for having dishonored their commitment to uphold both local and international law. Nonetheless, essential information continues to flow on online media and the social networks.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times