Cuba newsprint shortage sounds alarm for economy

The last time the Cuban government cut back on newspapers because of a lack of newsprint was in the early 1990s. (AFP)
Updated 07 April 2019

Cuba newsprint shortage sounds alarm for economy

  • The last time the government cut back on newspapers because of a lack of newsprint was in the early 1990s
  • Cuba is facing difficulties once again, with President Donald determined to tighten US’s six-decade trade embargo

HAVANA: The newsprint shortages which forced Cuba’s Communist daily to run a trimmed-down edition on Friday would pass off as a simple supply glitch in most other countries, but in Havana they carry chilling memories of the not-so-distant past.
The last time the government cut back on newspapers because of a lack of newsprint was in the early 1990s, when Fidel Castro ushered in a “Special Period” of drastic belt-tightening in the wake of the collapse of his main sponsor, the Soviet Union.
Today, the Caribbean state is facing difficulties once again, with US President Donald Trump — who has lashed out at Cuba for its support of Venezuela’s socialist regime — determined to tighten Washington’s six-decade trade embargo.
Meager growth of 1.2 percent is not enough to cover the needs of an island nation that imports 80 percent of what it eats.
Amid shortages, the government is being forced to ration basics like flour, cooking oil and chicken, leading to long lines outside stores.
Tania, a 49-year-old nurse, has come to buy rice at a Havana grocery store but she’s going away empty-handed.
“It’s like that with everything. Sometimes you look for a product and you can find it in one place, then you go somewhere else and you can’t get it,” she said, summing up the average Cuban’s daily struggle to fill their shopping basket.
“What’s happening now doesn’t look like the Special Period, because at that time it was really a disaster,” she said.
Suddenly deprived of its big brother in Moscow — responsible for 85 percent of Havana’s foreign trade — the economy on the Caribbean archipelago ground to a standstill as it struggled to absorb the shock of Soviet collapse in the early 1990s.
Cubans suffered shortages of food and fuel and the emergence of diseases linked to malnutrition. Thousands fled, if they could.
For long since, the country has relied on medical and teaching services supplied to countries like Brazil and, in particular, Venezuela, in return for cheap oil imports. But trade with Caracas has plummeted as sanctions-struck Venezuela’s economic crisis deepens.
Tourism has been a bright spot but that has suffered after hurricane damage and a new US sanctions squeeze.
“For three years, Cuba has been trying to offset the impact of the slump in trade with Venezuela and the rise in tourism, private activity and foreign investment projects have helped cushion the economic shock,” said Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist at the Javeriana University in Colombia.
“But the measures and threats of the Trump administration are posing obstacles to these three factors that have helped keep the economy afloat.”
Cuba recently defaulted on a portion of its debt to Brazil, a big supplier of poultry.
At the end of 2018, Havana had accumulated short-term debt of $1.5 billion, according to former economy minister Jose Luis Rodriguez.
“There is a level of debt that we will not be able to pay (in 2019) and that’s affecting the smooth running of the economy,” the current portfolio-holder Alejandro Gil said.
In Havana, 90-year-old Leandro Lopez has seen it all before and isn’t overly concerned, expressing confidence in President Miguel Diaz-Canel — elected in 2018, the first of a new breed of leaders born after the revolution.
“Diaz-Canel is trying to strengthen the economy so where he can reduce costs, we reduce them, so much the better. I do not think it will hurt the news.”
The cuts, announced on Thursday, saw Friday’s edition of the mouthpiece Granma daily slashed from 16 pages to a pamphlet-thin eight.
The measure will mean drastically shortened editions twice a week and also affect other publications.
“Yes, there are shortages, long lines, especially for chicken, soap, these kinds of things,” said Nelson Flores, turning away from a long line of shoppers waiting to buy poultry.
So far, the crisis has spared the sacrosanct “libreta” — the ration book which entitles Cubans to buy basics like rice, beans and bread at subsidized prices, though in insufficient quantities to last a month.
Worryingly, the tourist industry is beginning to feel the pinch. A hotel manager in one of the outlying island beach paradises said that tourists on all-inclusive holiday packages were unhappy about a lack of eggs, fruit and bread.


YouTube ‘creators’ fret over impact of new child protection rules

Updated 17 September 2019

YouTube ‘creators’ fret over impact of new child protection rules

  • The move marks the latest twist in a series of controversies over online content for young audiences

SAN FRANCISCO: Samuel Rader quit his job three years ago to work full time on his YouTube channel, “Sam and Nia,” featuring videos of his family life.

The channel created by the Texas-based couple — with videos of their Hawaii vacation, setting up their backyard pool and other content — has become one of the stars of the Google-owned video service with some 2.5 million subscribers.

But the future is now uncertain for “Sam and Nia” and other YouTube “creators” as a result of a settlement with US regulators that will make it harder to get ad revenues from videos and channels directed at children.

“I went into a minor panic attack when I heard,” said Rader, whose channel has taken in a reported $2 million from ads placed along the videos. “I thought we would have to find a new source of revenues.”

YouTube earlier this month agreed to pay a fine of $170 million and change how it handles collected data from children under a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission.

YouTube will treat data from anyone watching children’s content on YouTube as coming from a child. It will also stop serving personalized ads on this content entirely, and bar features such as comments and notifications.

The new rules, set to go into effect in four months, have stoked fears in the YouTube community of creators and “vloggers” like the Raders, who live off the advertising revenue.

“There’s a lot of shock, grief and fear. For many creators, this is their only source of income,” said Melissa Hunter of the Family Video Network, a consultancy which also operates a group of channels on YouTube.

“They are people making content in their houses, not huge companies; they’re small homemade businesses.”

Many questions remain as to how YouTube will define children’s content — intended for kids up to age 12 — which will be subject to the new rules.

Rader said he has been advised that “we are a low-risk channel because our content is not targeting children.”

YouTube is believed to have millions of content creators on its network, who share in the service’s ad revenues, estimated to be more than $10 billion annually, though it is unclear how much of YouTube’s content is directed at children.

In announcing the new policy, YouTube Chief Executive Susan Wojcicki acknowledged that “these changes will have a significant business impact on family and kids creators who have been building both wonderful content and thriving businesses, so we’ve worked to give impacted creators four months to adjust before changes take effect.”

Wojcicki added that YouTube is “committed to working with them through this transition, and providing resources to help them better understand these changes,” and would also establish a $100 million fund “dedicated to the creation of thoughtful, original children’s content.”

Critics of the internet giant said YouTube marketed itself as a destination for children and benefitted by selling advertising to toymakers and others.

FTC Chairman Joe Simons said the settlement “prevents YouTube and Google from turning a blind eye to the existence of kids-directed content” on its platform.

Hunter said the creators of family content may collect anywhere from $30 to $100,000 per month, but that “those families are going to make almost nothing on Jan. 1” when the new rules come into effect.

YouTube and creators may still be able to generate revenue from video ads as long as they are not targeted based on data collected from children, although these are far less lucrative. “Advertisers do spend more for trackable, measurable placements,” said Nicole Perrin, an analyst at the research firm eMarketer.

“I’m not sure there is a way to comply with this for kids without limiting some of the revenues on that side.”

Shaun McKnight, whose Dallas-based M-Star Media has created several popular YouTube channels which have attracted millions of subscribers, said he and his wife anticipated changes were coming. “My wife and I thought it was too risky so we pulled back,” he said.