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José Martí: There is no better scepter than a good newspaper

Published: 2017.04.05 - 15:42:21   /  /  Dra. Ana Teresa Badía Valdés  /  translated by  Luis E. Amador Dominguez  /

The National Hero of Cuba, José Martí, left his vivid prose in articles, chronicles, reports, releases, articles, notes and editorials. "Only those who know about journalism, and the cost of disinterest, can truly appreciate the energy, tenacity, sacrifices, prudence, strength of character that reveals the appearance of an honest and free newspaper", he would write when printing the Patria newspaper (1).

With those words, he defined part of the precepts of what he considered to be journalistic ethics. He later argued, "The newspaper is a sword and its handle is reason, only the good must wield it, and not for the extermination of men, but for the necessary triumph over those who oppose their freedom and progress."

A true synthesis was his notes for the Sección Constante, a chronicle he wrote from 1881 to 1882 for La Opinión Nacional in Venezuela.

Years before in an article for the Universidad de México Magazine, on July 8, 1875, he would say, "It is not the profession of the periodical press to inform lightly and frivolously on the facts that occur, or to censor them with greater sum of affection or adhesion." He would add that ¨it is up to the press to direct, explain, teach, guide, lead, and examine conflicts, not to irritate them with passionate judgment, not to embitter them with a display of adhesion, perhaps extemporaneous, to propose solutions, mature them and make them easy , submit them to consultation and reform them according to it, and finally, to establish and substantiate teachings, if it intends the country to respect it, and that according to its services and merits, protect and honor it.’’

For Martí, the periodical press must have important missions. "The press should explain in peace, and in the struggle it should strengthen and advise; it should study the serious needs of the country, base its improvements (...). The press is not a kind approval or insulting anger, it is proposition, study, examination and advice," said the Cuban National Hero.

He also felt that citizens should find in newspapers what they need to know. "The newspaper must always be as the old mail, with the horse harnessed, the whip in the hand, and the spur on the heel. At the slightest accident, it must jump on the saddle, - shake the whip, and make the horse leave soon and that no one arrives before it. It should, by extracting in books, facilitate its reading to those who lack time, will or money."

He did not neglect the cultural work of the press: "to make people go to the theaters, as if seated in a comfortable armchair, that this effect makes a lined and judicious magazine, to the poor and the lazy. It must disobey the appetites of personal good, and attend impartially to the public good. It must be flirty to seduce, a professor to explain, a philosopher to improve, a little rascal to penetrate, and a warrior to fight.’’

And under the maxim of "there is no better scepter than a good newspaper," José Martí defined what journalistic, ethical, safe and responsible performance should be.


(1) Patria saw the light on March 14, 1892 and was directed by Martí until his death. It is estimated that at least 1,500 copies were published.

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