All types of media in Cuba are tightly censored and closely controlled by the state. While this means that the range of information and opinion is severely restricted and biased, it has also produced media geared to producing (what the government deems to be) socially valuable content, refreshingly free of any significant concern for high ratings and commercial success.
Newspapers and magazines
There are very few international newspapers available in Cuba, and your only hope of finding any is to look in the upmarket hotels. Tracking down an English-language newspaper of any description, even in the hotels, is an arduous, usually unrewarding task and you’re far better off looking online.
The main national newspaper, Granma openly declares itself the official mouthpiece of the Cuban Communist Party. The stories in its eight tabloid-size pages are largely of a dry political or economic nature with some arts and sport coverage. Raúl Castro’s speeches or Fidel Castro’s musings are often published in their entirety and the international news has a marked Latin American bias. Articles challenging the official party line do appear, but these are usually directed at specific events and policies rather than overall ideologies. Hotels are more likely to stock the weekly Granma Internacional. Printed in Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Turkish and Portuguese editions, it offers a roundup of the week’s stories, albeit with a very pro-Cuban government spin. There are two other national papers: Trabajadores, representing the workers’ unions, and Juventud Rebelde founded in 1965 as the voice of Cuban youth. Content is similar, though Juventud Rebelde, in its Thursday edition, features weekly listings for cultural events and has more articles that regularly critique social issues.
Among the most cultured of Cuba’s magazines is Bohemia, the country’s oldest surviving periodical, founded in 1908, whose relatively broad focus offers a mix of current affairs, historical essays and regular spotlights on art, sport and technology. The best of the more specialized publications are the bimonthly Revolución y Cultura, concentrating on the arts and literature, and the tri-monthly Artecubano, a magazine of book-like proportions tracking the visual arts. There are a number of other worthy magazines, such as La Gaceta de Cuba, covering all forms of art, from music and painting to radio and television; Temas, whose scope includes political theory and contemporary society; and Clave, which focuses on music.
US-based On Cuba magazine and website, is one of the best resources for up-to-date impartial news and views on Cuba and particularly Cuban-US relations and cultural projects. Many journalists are Cuban-based and articles give a welcome insight into the intricacies, pleasures and anomalies of life on the island.
Havana Live website is a good resource for of-the-moment news stories about the capital and beyond, and listing and tourist information.
There are nine national radio stations in Cuba, but tuning into them isn’t always easy, as signal strength varies considerably from place to place. You’re most likely to hear broadcasts from Radio Taíno, the official tourist station, and the only one on which any English is spoken, albeit sporadically. Playing predominantly mainstream pop and Cuban music, Radio Taíno can also a useful source of up-to-date tourist information such as the latest nightspots, forthcoming events and places to eat. Its FM frequency changes depending on where you are in the country.
Musically speaking, other than the ever-popular sounds of Cuban salsa, stations rarely stray away from safe-bet US, Latin and European pop and rock. The predominantly classical music content of Radio Musical Nacional is about as specialist as it gets; the frequency varies around the country.
Of the remaining stations there is little to distinguish one from the other. The exception is Radio Reloj, a 24-hour news station on air since 1947, with reports read out to the ceaseless sound of a ticking clock in the background, as the exact time is announced every minute on the minute; and Radio Rebelde, the station started in the Sierra Maestra by Che Guevara in 1958 to broadcast information about the rebel army’s progress.
There are five national television channels in Cuba: Cubavisión, Telerebelde, Canal Educativo, Canal Educativo 2 and Multivisión, all commercial-free but with a profusion of public service broadcasts, revolutionary slogans and daily slots commemorating historical events and figures. Surprisingly, given the sour relationship between Cuba and the US, Hollywood films are a TV staple, sometimes preceded by a discussion of the film’s value and its central issues. The frequent use of Spanish subtitles as opposed to dubbing makes them watchable for non-Spanish speakers.
Cubavisión hosts a longstanding Cuban television tradition, the staggeringly popular telenovela soap operas, both homegrown and imported (usually from Brazil or Colombia). There are also several weekly music programmes showcasing the best of contemporary Cuban music as well as popular international artists. Saturday evenings are the best time to catch live-broadcast performances from the cream of the national salsa scene.
Telerebelde is the best channel for sports, with live national-league baseball games shown almost daily throughout the season, and basketball, volleyball and boxing making up the bulk of the rest. As the names suggest, both Canal Educativo channels are full of educational programmes, including courses in languages, cookery and various academic disciplines.
The newest channel, Multivisión, began broadcasting in 2008 with a schedule of predominantly foreign-made programmes, including films, Latin American soap operas, National Geographic documentaries and US cop shows and comedies. It has become enormously popular with Cubans.
Officially, satellite TV is the exclusive domain of the hotels, which come with a reasonable range of channels, though you won’t find BBC or VOA. Cuba’s international channel is Cubavisión Internacional, designed for tourists and showing a mixture of films, documentaries and music programmes.