Cuba restricts international journalistic coverage on the Island

Cuban authorities prohibited the arrival to the Island of a group of journalists who have been selected to participate in a training workshop to cover the Global Forum for Health that will be held from 16-20 of November.

The international Media 21 journalistic organization in Geneva chose 15 journalists to attend the workshop and the forum.

Even though those reporters were already admitted to the forum and despite their request for a “journalist visa” (a document Cuban authorities requests in order to allow free journalistic work on the Island), just two of the professionals (from Haiti and United Kingdom) were granted the document. The representatives from Guatemala, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, France, United States, Uganda and Uruguay did not.

During a telephone conversation Cuban authorities told Media 21 that if journalists tried to enter the Island with a tourist visa, they run the risk to be deported. So, because of that unexpected reaction from the Cuban government, the training workshop was canceled.

Science, Technology and Innovation National Week in Guatemala

Every year since 2004, Guatemalan scientists get together at the Science, Technology and Innovation National Week, that aims to spread amongst the target audience (high school students, university students, businessmen, as well as the general public) the latest research done by local investigators.

This event is a big opportunity both for scientists and Guatemalan society to get informed and to raise awareness that in our country there are people working in that interesting field, and that science does not belong only to developed countries.

The activities carried out during those days are organized by a committee settled by the Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (Senacyt, in Spanish) and the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (Concyt, in Spanish).

Concyt has a god idea of the quantity of people who attend the conferences. People are given a “barcode passport”, so they are automatically registered when they enter the conference rooms.

Also, in Guatemala´s departments (we are divided in 22 departments) there are seven technological community centers, where people who do not have computers or Internet connection can go to watch and listen to the conferences. They can also receive computer courses.

During that week the winners of the School Scientific Olympiam are awarded; the best scientist of the year is also awarded with the Science and Technology Medal. So, students and young people look forward to those contests and the technological week.

The greatest hit is that since 2007 the scientific contents produced during the week are transmitted in real time and all over the world by Internet. Another achievement was the fact that this scientific production was nominated for a World Summit Award 2009, the best in e-Content & Creativity. This award is promoted by the European Academy of Digital Media – EADiM and the United Nations’  World Summit on the Information Society.

Even though the e-content of did not received an award, it was an important step in order to spread Guatemalan science and technology.

Besides, this activity is a great source of information for science journalists, because at this event you can get in touch with scientists and their work. Also, you can obtain the thoughts of the people who attend the conferences, and make a good journalistic coverage: obtain not only the official facts, but also the opinions of the people involved in the subject or who will obtain some benefit of the scientific local advancements.

However, I believe there is still a lack of good coverage of such an event. More than publishing just the new, journalists could write more interesting stories; they could to go deeper into the many scientific subjects the activity offers.

Armando Cáceres, a well-known Guatemalan scientist, who received a grant for his research on medicinal plants, says: “Scientific research is an attitude; an attitude that lets people discover our truths or our lies. That´s the reason why is so important to promote it”.

The image of science

Journalism is an interesting and challenging career, indeed, and practicing a specialization like science journalism is an even bigger one. Especially so when you write for a daily newspaper in a city like Guatemala. The illiteracy is about 40 percent, and many of the people who learned to read or attended only elementary school, after the years, are not used to reading anymore. It is what specialists in education call “functional illiteracy”.

So, journalists must make not only attractive articles, but creative illustrations or photos to catch the attention of their audience.

In printed media the role of an image is crucial. It has to reinforce the written message or must help to explain it deeply. To do so, journalists have to work together with an illustrator or photographer; they have to agree about the right way to grab the readers´ eyes.

The image must be friendly and simple but effective. Sometimes the draws are joined by photos, in order to better explain the message. And the author must remember that his creation is going to be for an audience that will not have a scientific background, or worse, might not even be interested in the subject. So, the challenge is big.

Marvin Olivares, a Guatemalan visual artist, says that the image does not have to be a masterpiece. Even though the illustration structure can be complex, the final presentation has to be easy to understand. The colors do not have to be so dark, because of the low quality of the paper used to print the daily, sometimes they get darker.

The techniques illustrators can use are many. But in many cases, because of its flexibility they prefer to use water colors. At present time the work is easier because of computers.

“About the style, it depends on the subject; it can be a cartoon that in a humorous way explains a complex situation. Also, it can be a technique illustration that shows the inside parts of something. Of course, the final decision is up to the daily editorial focus”, says Olivares.

Olivares says that in the 70´s and 80´s there were artists in Guatemala City like Erwin Guillermo, Moisés Barrios and Carlos Letona who stood out in  making medical illustrations.

For example, they made pieces about how a drug works or how a person experiences a headache. “They had a tremendous flexibility to create an analogy as well as a descriptive illustration”. Of course, many of these pieces were made for pharmaceutical companies.

Until the 90´s, when in Guatemala City some scientific illustrations started to appear in the daily newspapers.

So, in Guatemala and many other Latin American countries alike, there is a big field to explore in illustrating science. There are enormous possibilities for artists, photographers and illustrators who wish to make something different. But the first and most important thing to do is give  science journalism the importance it has and deserves.

We must work hard at opening doors in the media so journalists and creative designers and illustrators can get a better job; we would be growing in a professional way and also, we would be helping society to be more and better informed about science.

Being mistrusted by scientists

Someone once said to me that a journalist´s knowledge is as vast as an ocean, but only five centimeters deep.

I got a little angry when I heard that phrase, but when I thought about the reality of the people who works for the media in developing countries, for example here in Guatemala, it could be true. Many Guatemalan journalists must cover a lot of different issues and because of the pressure of deadlines they do not have the time to investigate.

Besides, at universities there is still not a specific journalistic training in economy, health, sports, or science reporting. We learn and get experience about specialized fields on the job, and because of our personal interest in a subject.

That is why we receive critique from readers and experts in a specific field. They complain about the mistakes we sometimes make when writing about their specializations.

For example, the other day I asked for an interview to a well known doctor who is an expert on HIV. I wanted information about a specific study he did. Without shame he told me that he didn’t want to give me information. He refused to help me despite knowing my experience in the scientific field and that I have covered some activities from the HIV unit he established, about which I have never received a complaint.
He told me that Guatemalan journalists do not understand about science or statistics and that is a big problem. So, as he did not want to get into trouble with the other authors of the scientific study, in case I would make a mistake or misinterpreted the facts, he would prefer not to give me the interview. Also, he told me that his decision was linked to past bad experiences with other journalists.

Despite being disappointed, his answer motivates me to be better each day. I do not want other colleagues to experience a situation like this because of me.

Of course not all scientists are like this, because I know other very good scientists who have a different attitude towards the media.

Being a journalist in Guatemala is a big challenge, especially a science journalist. Not only because of the precision and other abilities a reporter needs to report on that field, but also because we have to build a big net of confidence around the scientific community in order to get first hand information.

We cannot give up. The future is in our hands.