Cuba’s Local Television Stations: On the Air ... and In the Air
Most municipal television stations are continuing to broadcast despite the expectations generated during the last week of August, when their imminent closure was announced due to the energy crisis in Cuba.
In response to concerned viewers, and employees threatened with the prospect of "reassignment," an official with the Directorate General of Television at the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT) stated that "reducing the broadcast hours during the last months of the year" had been suggested
"In some provinces," he added, "the provincial Party [Communist Party of Cuba] committees have helped, and the programming has been maintained, with minor variations."
However, uncertainty lingers among the workers affected by the measure. "I know that the letter sent by the ICRT ordered at least a temporary closure," stated a program director from Villa Clara. "If the ‘telecenter’ is still alive, it must be attributed to the controversial nature of the measure, which had a high political cost."
Municipal TV stations were founded over ten years ago, and survive as a media expression of the Battle of Ideas, the last great political campaign undertaken by Fidel Castro. These stations were charged with the sociocultural mission of bolstering local cultural identities in disadvantaged cities, in addition to having the tacit aim of blocking television broadcasts out of the US.
According to investigations conducted by DIARIO DE CUBA, Government and Party bodies in the territories resisted the closing, and to ensure maintenance of the broadcasts allocated more energy funds from local budgets.
The workers themselves, in turn, devised projects adapted to the new phase. "The closure, if it occurs, will be definitive," according to a source close to the management of one of the stations. "This is why we must reinvent programming, reducing it if necessary."
Audience reports obtained in various cities confirm that these small broadcasters have largely given up studio productions due to their higher cost. "We have taken to the streets, camera in hand," says another artist. "If we have to make concessions, in terms of quality, we will, but we will not stop receiving our salaries."
Saguavisión, in the city of Sagua la Grande, is in a more precarious position, as its transmitter, owned by Radiocuba, is installed on the roof of the station, and consumes the same allocation of energy earmarked for the studios and offices.
Radiocuba, the company in charge of the transmitters, only has a contractual relationship with the ICRT, its client. This circumstance complicates the survival of the small television station, which had thus far paid another's electric bill.
A Radiocuba official, consulted about the shift to digital television already undertaken by provincial telecenters, announced unofficially, in reference to the other, smaller broadcasters, that "their technology will not be digitized, if in the end they're going to disappear."
Some radio broadcasters, meanwhile, are also pondering the possibility of reducing their broadcast schedules, at the ICRT's request, as workers and listeners are worried.
Suffering from the effects of their obsolete equipment, with the Battle of Ideas over, and damaged by the centralized focus of Cuban economic policy, Cuba’s municipal television stations are still broadcasting, aware of their uncertain fate and the problems they face, as their destinies remain "in the air."