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Journalists caught taking pay from U.S. government

Michael Hampton | September 12, 2006

The Miami Herald newspaper has fired ten journalists after discovering that the U.S. government had paid them to appear on Radio Martí and TV Martí, anti-Castro propaganda stations run by the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting.

The stations are broadcast to Cuba, but cannot air in the U.S. because of anti-propaganda laws.

The payments reportedly totaled hundreds of 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. . . .

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. — Miami Herald

Most of the journalists said that they saw nothing wrong with taking the payments.

“I don't see a conflict of interest,” said Ferre.

“I liked being on those panels because we could say what we wanted,” said Remos. “For example, we didn't have to call Fidel Castro the president of Cuba. I could call him what he is, a dictator.”

‘'There is nothing suspect in this,'' said Channel 41 reporter Juan Manuel Cao, who received $11,400 for his appearances on TV Martí. “I would do it for free. But the regulations don't allow it. I charge symbolically, below market prices.''

A symbolic payment would be something like $1, rather than $11,400, and wouldn't be likely to have raised concerns of conflicts of interest.

I have to admit I'm not entirely unsympathetic, unlike the left-leaning mainstream media establishment. On one hand, someone does need to be calling Castro what he is, a dictator. Who better than respected community figures such as journalists? Being a journalist doesn't mean that you sacrifice your right to your own opinions. On the other hand, I don't believe they should be taking hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money for expressing their opinions, however correct they may be.

 

 

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