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10 Miami Journalists Take U.S. Pay

At least 10 local journalists accepted U.S. government pay for programs on
Radio Martí or TV Martí. El Nuevo Herald fired two of them Thursday for conflict of interest.

OSCAR CORRAL / Miami Herald 8sep2006

 

Radio Martí
From Wikipedia

Radio Martí is a radio and television broadcaster based in Miami, Florida, financed by the United States government (Broadcasting Board of Governors), which transmits Spanish radio broadcasts to Cuba. Radio Martí was established in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, at the urging of Jorge Mas Canosa, with the mission of fighting communism. Today, it broadcasts a 24-hour radio program on short and medium wave. In 1990, TV Marti was created to broadcast television programming to Cuba.

History

In the early 1980, the U.S. Government planned to create a radio station to be known as Radio Free Cuba, modeled on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, with the hopes of contributing to the fall of Cuban president Fidel Castro. Existing North American broadcasters objected strenuously to these plans, fearing that they would lead Cuba to retaliate by jamming existing commercial medium-wave broadcasts from Florida. These fears were based in part on Cuba's occasional past interference with U.S. broadcasts, in attempts to prevent them from being received within Cuba.

Thus, on May 20, 1985, broadcasts to Cuba from the United States began. The first day of broadcasting was chosen to commemorate the anniversary of Cuba's independence from Spanish colonial rule, May 20, 1902. The station came to be named Radio Martí after Cuban writer José Martí, who had fought for Cuba's independence from Spain and against U.S. influence in Latin America.

Radio Martí today

Today, Radio Marti transmits over shortwave transmitters in Delano, California and Greenville, North Carolina and a medium-wave transmitter in Florida. Cuba jams both the medium-wave and shortwave signals, but the shortwave program is heard throughout Central and South America. On occasion, the mediumwave transmitter at 1180 kHz can be heard as far north as Washington, D.C.

Radio Marti operates with about 100 employees and a budget of $15 million. Its mission, in its own words, is to provide "a contrast to Cuban media and provide its listeners with an uncensored view of current events." Former prisoners in Cuba and Cuban exiles often speak on Radio Marti; and on Saturdays a Spanish version of the U.S. president's weekly radio address, as well as the opposition's response, are transmitted.

There is much debate about the effectiveness of these broadcasts. As with Radio Free Europe during the Cold War, there is no way to judge the station's true audience through the usual listener surveys. Thus, the actual number of listeners is open to speculation. Even Cubans travelling abroad will report both that everyone listens, and that nobody listens.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the budget for all U.S. government-run foreign broadcasters, with the exception of Radio Marti, was sharply reduced. In 1996, its studios were moved to Miami, Florida from Washington, DC. The move, in addition to placing the station's studios closer to its target audience, also underscored its growing independence from the Voice of America, another government-run foreign broadcaster with which Radio Martí had previously shared studios.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Mart%C3%AD 8oct2006

At least 10 South Florida journalists, including three from El Nuevo Herald, received regular payments from the U.S. government for programs on Radio Martí and TV Martí, two broadcasters aimed at undermining the communist government of Fidel Castro. The payments totaled thousands of dollars over several years.

Those who were paid the most were veteran reporters and a freelance contributor for El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language newspaper published by the corporate parent of The Miami Herald. Pablo Alfonso, who reports on Cuba and writes an opinion column, was paid almost $175,000 since 2001 to host shows on Radio Martí and TV Martí. El Nuevo Herald freelance reporter Olga Connor, who writes about Cuban culture, received about $71,000, and staff reporter Wilfredo Cancio Isla, who covers the Cuban exile community and politics, was paid almost $15,000 in the last five years.

Alfonso and Cancio were dismissed after The Miami Herald questioned editors at El Nuevo Herald about the payments. Connor's freelance relationship with the newspaper also was severed.

Alfonso and Cancio declined to comment. Connor was unavailable for comment.

Jesús Díaz Jr., president of the Miami Herald Media Co. and publisher of both newspapers, expressed disappointment, saying the payments violated a ''sacred trust'' between journalists and the public.

''Even the appearance that your objectivity or integrity might have been impaired is something we can't condone, not in our business,'' Díaz said. ``I personally don't believe that integrity and objectivity can be assured if any of our reporters receive monetary compensation from any entity that he or she may cover or have covered, but particularly if it's a government agency.''

Other journalists receiving payments from the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which runs Radio and TV Martí, included: Diario Las Americas opinion page editor Helen Aguirre Ferre and reporter/columnist Ariel Remos; Channel 41 news director Miguel Cossio; and syndicated columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner, whose opinions appear in the pages of El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald.

GOVERNMENT PROJECT

Radio and TV Martí are U.S. government programs created to promote democracy and freedom in Cuba. Their programming cannot be broadcast within the United States because of anti-propaganda laws. Radio and TV Martí have received $37 million this year.

The payments to journalists were discovered in documents recently obtained by The Miami Herald as a result of a federal Freedom of Information Request filed on Aug. 15.

OWN RESPONSIBILITY

Pedro Roig, the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting since 2003, said he has sought to improve the quality of news by, among other things, hiring more Cuban exile journalists as contractors. He said it's each journalist's responsibility to adhere to their own ethics and rules.

''We consider them to be good journalists, and people who were formed inside that system who got out [of Cuba] and adapted and made good,'' Roig said. ``In reality, I feel very satisfied.''

Journalism ethics experts called the payments a fundamental conflict of interest. Such violations undermine the credibility of reporters to objectively cover key issues affecting U.S. policy toward Cuba, they said.

Iván Román, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, said the payments from TV and Radio Martí posed a clear conflict of interest.

''It's definitely a line that journalists shouldn't be crossing,'' said Román, a former El Nuevo Herald journalist. ``It's clear the medium has a particular agenda. If they cover Cuban issues, it could be seen as a conflict.''

El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Humberto Castelló said he hadn't been aware that the three writers were being paid by the federal government.

''I lament very much that I had not been informed before by them,'' Castelló said. ``We discussed the situation with them and they were both dismissed immediately.''

POPULAR FIGURES

The journalists involved are among the most popular in South Florida, and many were reporting on issues involving Radio or TV Martí for their news organizations.

Channel 41 reporter Juan Manuel Cao, who received $11,400 this year from TV Martí, made news in July when he confronted Castro during an appearance in Argentina by pressing the Cuban leader to explain why his government had not allowed a well-known doctor and dissident, Hilda Molina, to leave the island to visit her son in Argentina.

During the exchange, Castro openly questioned Cao if anyone was paying him to ask that question. The Cuban government has long contended that some South Florida Spanish-language journalists were on the federal payroll.

''There is nothing suspect in this,'' Cao said. ``I would do it for free. But the regulations don't allow it. I charge symbolically, below market prices.''

DEFENDS ROLE

Ferre, the opinion page editor for Diario las Americas, was paid $4,325 from 2001 to 2005. She said the payments did not compromise her journalistic integrity. She was paid to be a guest on TV Martí shows and said her point of view was never suppressed.

''Guests are being paid for their time that they have to take in order to be able to accommodate the program,'' she said.

Ethicists say that it's common for journalists to be compensated by other media outlets but not by the government, built on principles that espouse an independent press.

''This is such an obvious textbook case,'' said University of Florida journalism professor Jon Roosenraad. 'This is exactly like a business reporter during the day going out and moonlighting as a PR [public relations] person for a local company at night and then going back to the paper the next day and writing about `his' company.''

Total payouts since 2001 range from $1,550 to Radio Mambi commentator Ninoska Perez-Castellón to $174,753 for El Nuevo Herald's Alfonso, the government payment records show. The payments -- which range from $75 to $100 per appearance -- are to host or appear on the government-produced shows.

The Miami Herald's review of dozens of articles by the El Nuevo Herald journalists -- including several about TV Martí or Radio Martí -- found no instance in which the reporters or columnists disclosed that they had received payment.

Two ethics experts compared it to the case of Armstrong Williams in 2005, when it was revealed that the Bush administration had paid the prominent pundit to promote its education policy, No Child Left Behind, on his nationally syndicated television show.

Herald staff writers Jasmine Kripalani, Luisa Yanez, Casey Woods and Alfonso Chardy contributed to this report.

source: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/15466239.htm 8oct2006


U.S. Paid 10 Journalists for Anti-Castro Reports

ABBY GOODNOUGH & TERRY AGUAYO / New York Times 9sep2006

 

The Bush administration’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting paid 10 journalists here to provide commentary on Radio and TV Martí, which transmit to Cuba government broadcasts critical of Fidel Castro, a spokesman for the office said Friday.

The group included three journalists at El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister newspaper of The Miami Herald, which fired them Thursday after learning of the relationship. Pablo Alfonso, who reports on Cuba for El Nuevo Herald, received the largest payment, almost $175,000 since 2001.

Other journalists have been found to accept money from the Bush administration, including Armstrong Williams, a commentator and talk-show host who received $240,000 to promote its education initiatives. But while the Castro regime has long alleged that some Cuban-American reporters in Miami were paid by the government, the revelation on Friday, reported in The Miami Herald, was the first evidence of that.

In addition to Mr. Alfonso, the journalists who received payment include Wilfredo Cancio Isla, who writes for El Nuevo Herald and received about $15,000 since 2001; Olga Connor, a freelance reporter for the newspaper who received about $71,000; and Juan Manuel Cao, a reporter for Channel 41 who got $11,000 this year from TV Martí, according to The Miami Herald, which learned of the payments through a Freedom of Information Request.

When Mr. Cao followed Mr. Castro to Argentina this summer and asked him why Cuba was not letting one of its political dissidents leave, Mr. Castro called him a “mercenary” and asked who was paying him.

Mr. Cao refused to comment Friday except to say on Channel 41 that he believed the Cuban government knew in advance about the article in The Miami Herald. Most of the other journalists could not be reached. Ninoska Perez-Castellón, a commentator on the popular Radio Mambí station here, said she had received a total of $1,550 from the government to do 10 episodes of a documentary-style show on TV Martí called “Atrévete a So”ar,” or “Dare to Dream,” and saw nothing wrong with it. Her employer has always known about the arrangement, she added.

“Being Cuban,” Ms. Perez-Castellón said, “there’s nothing wrong with working on programs that are on a mission to inform the people of Cuba. It’s no secret we do that. My face has always been on the shows.”

But Al Tompkins, who teaches ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, called it a conflict of interest for journalists to accept payment from any government agency.

“It’s all about credibility and independence,” Mr. Tompkins said. “If you consider yourself a journalist, then it seems to me it’s an obvious conflict of interest to take government dollars.”

Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Republican congressman and one of Miami’s most stridently anti-Castro voices, said he believed editors at El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald had known that the three writers for El Nuevo had worked for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. He pointed to articles from both papers in 2002 that describe Mr. Alfonso as a moderator for a program on Radio Martí and Ms. Connor as a paid commentator for the station.

But Robert Beatty, vice president for public affairs at the Miami Herald Media Company, said the editor of El Nuevo, Humberto Castello, learned only on Thursday. The Herald, long owned by Knight Ridder, was acquired in March by the McClatchy Company.

Mr. Beatty said that Jesús Diaz, publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, had decided to fire Mr. Alfonso and Mr. Cancio and to sever ties with Ms. Connor, a freelance journalist who wrote about Cuban culture.

“Journalism’s ethical guidelines are neither subjective nor selectively enforced,” Mr. Beatty said. “Where conduct of this sort is brought to our attention, we act decisively.”

Mr. Cancio said Friday evening that his supervisors had known and approved of his appearances on Radio and TV Martí, during which he said he always expressed his own opinions and not the government’s.

“It is for these reasons that I deny any conflict of interest in my professional behavior,” he said, “and I believe my termination to be an unfair and disproportionate decision made in bad faith.”

Pedro Roig, director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, could not be reached for comment. But he told The Miami Herald that hiring Cuban-American journalists was part of a broader mission to improve the stations’ quality.

Joe O’Connell, a spokesman for the government’s International Broadcasting Bureau, which oversees the Office of Cuba Broadcasting as well as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, said the bureau did background checks on journalists who contributed to its programming but had no ethics code for them.

After Mr. Williams admitted in 2005 to accepting money from the Federal Education Department through a public relations company, federal auditors said the Bush administration had violated the law by disseminating “covert propaganda.”

A few months later, The Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon had paid millions of dollars to another public relations firm to plant propaganda in the Iraqi news media and pay friendly Iraqi journalists monthly stipends.

Government spending on Radio and TV Martí — $37 million this year — has long been the subject of criticism because the broadcasts appear to reach only a minute number of Cubans. The Cuban government jams the signals. This year, the Bush administration spent $10 million on a new plane designed to transmit TV Martí more effectively.

source:  8oct2006

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