Cuba's slick TV channel that supports 'more revolution'

By Will Grant
Cuba correspondent, BBC News

image captionCanal Caribe has young presenters and modern sets

Slick new graphics, drum and bass theme music and young presenters: at least in its presentation, Cuba's latest state television channel is a break with the past.

Called Canal Caribe, it is an attempt to stand out from the stiffly presented, heavily scripted newscasts that have aired on state TV for decades.

The channel is trying out different formats. They include live link-ups with international correspondents via Skype and the use of social media sites like Twitter - simple devices that are common on most other news channels but new for Cuban TV.

image captionThe channel wants to appeal to Cuba's youth

The channel's news director, Ovidio Cabrera, showed me around the station.

As one of the founders of another left-wing Latin American news service, the Venezuelan-funded Telesur, he says this new venture will be unique in Cuba because it will run outside the fixed midday and early-evening slots.

"The key difference is that this will be a news and information channel that's on air for 18 hours a day," says Mr Cabrera.

"And the vast majority of our coverage, around two-thirds, will be live."

'More revolution'

A live, round-the-clock television news channel might not sound particularly innovative, but in Cuba such changes happen slowly.

image captionOvidio Cabrera says Canal Caribe is a channel "for more revolution"

The state-run newspaper and mouthpiece of the Cuban Communist Party, Granma, has barely changed its typeface in 50 years of revolution.

The question is whether editorially Canal Caribe will be any different from other channels on the Communist-run island and if criticism will be broadcast.

"This is a channel for more revolution," says Mr Cabrera, immediately squashing any suggestion that Canal Caribe will be anything less than 100% pro-government.

"We won't shy away from criticising what isn't working, from making suggestions, from analysing and discussing social problems, but always through the prism of supporting the revolutionary process, not against it," he explains.

The young journalists at Canal Caribe insist that, despite the restrictions on them, they will report issues that matter to ordinary people.

"As an intern [working in state media] here, I was told a lot of rules I found to be nonsense," says news anchor Luis Miguel Cabrera in fluent English.

image captionLuis Miguel Cabrera says some rules have been relaxed

"And I'm really proud that I've experienced how those rules have been - I can't say 'changed' exactly - but certainly made more flexible."

Not yet in his thirties, Mr Cabrera presents The World Now programme and believes that Canal Caribe is evidence of changing media attitudes in Cuba.

"I have personally experienced that I could report the sort of issues that one couldn't do in the past. So I think that we have that responsibility to push hard in order to change things that we don't find representative of what is going on, not only in Cuba but in the world as well."

That said, he is a realist and knows the editorial environment in which he works.

"You have to keep in mind that this is a state-owned channel. But I believe that we can responsibly show on TV what is going in Cuba and what is representative of the Cuban people," he says.

Change under way

The way Cubans are consuming their news is undoubtedly changing.

image captionCanal Caribe will have to compete for the attention of youngsters with the Internet

"I haven't watched state TV in years", a young music video producer tells me.

"I get all my information from the Weekly Package" he adds, referring to an offline form of file-sharing in Cuba using hard-drives which is both cheap and hugely popular.

There are also now about 100 public wi-fi spots dotted across the island and most young people would rather pay for an hour of Internet access than tune into the nightly news.

Canal Caribe may be the Cuban Government's attempt to tackle that, but they will find it hard to engage the island's youth.

A pilot scheme has just ended to allow Internet connections in private homes and theoretically should soon become more widely available.

Essential message

One Cuban blogger, Ariel Montenegro, thinks the days of the Internet being perceived as dangerous by the authorities may now be numbered.

"I don't believe that the Cuban Government believes right now that the Internet is bad and is going to be bad for the country and for the revolution and for socialism and so on," he says, sitting in a public wi-fi spot.

Although getting online is still slow and expensive, he says, he is broadly optimistic about the future of the island's connectivity.

Part of the Canal Caribe newsroom is a building site as they construct a completely new set while inside the on-air studio, the young team of journalists is preparing to broadcast live again.

image captionCanal Caribe's message still very much reflects the government's line

In a rapidly changing media environment, the Cuban government is acutely aware that the slogans of the past no longer appeal to many young people.

With a round-the-clock news channel, they are hoping to become more relevant to their audience again while still delivering the same essential message.

Related Topics