US government paid journalists to rubbish Cuba

Campaign News | Sunday, 10 September 2006

Miami Herald fires three in pay-off scandal

Miami - Ten South Florida journalists were paid thousands of dollars by the federal government for broadcasts aimed at undermining Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Pablo Alfonso, who reported on Cuba and wrote an opinion column for El Nuevo Herald - the Miami Herald's Spanish-language sister paper - was paid almost $175 000 since 2001 by the US Office of Cuba Broadcasting to host shows on Radio and TV Marti, according to government documents obtained by The Miami Herald, which reported the story on Friday.

Olga Connor, a freelance reporter who wrote about Cuban culture for El Nuevo Herald, received about $71 000, and staff reporter Wilfredo Cancio Isla, who covered the Cuban exile community and politics, was paid almost $15 000 in the last five years, The Miami Herald reported.

Alberto Mascaro, chief of staff of the US Cuban broadcasting office, confirmed to The Associated Press that all 10 journalists had received payments but said he did not have the details and declined to comment further.

Alfonso and Cancio were fired and Connor's freelance relationship with the paper was ended.

Alfonso and Cancio declined to comment to the Herald. The three did not respond to e-mails seeking comment sent by the AP.

Jesus Diaz Jr, president of the Miami Herald Media Co. and publisher of both newspapers, said the individuals violated a "sacred trust" between journalists and the public.

"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," he told the Herald.

Al Tompkins, a professor at the Poynter Institute for journalism, agreed that journalists are obligated to inform their employers before they accept outside work and must avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

But he added that newspapers are responsible for ensuring that everyone in the newsroom understands their ethical standards.

The AP's e-mail and phone messages for Diaz were referred to Robert Beatty,

Also listed as receiving more than $11 400 this year was WJAN-TV reporter Manuel Cao, who got into a videotaped confrontation with Cuban President Fidel Castro in July during the Mercosur Summit in Argentina.

During the fiery exchange, Cao questioned why Castro won't allow a prominent doctor and dissident to leave Cuba.

"Who pays you?" demanded Castro.

"No one pays me to ask questions, that is my job," Cao yelled back.,,2-10-1462_1995904,00.html

From Granma Internaitonal Review:

PABLO Alfonso and Wilfredo Cancio Isla, two of The Miami Herald’s most recalcitrant journalists, have been fired in the wake of a scandal involving them with federal government payments to appear on Radio and TV Martí and transmit anti-Cuba information.

This year Radio Martí and TV Martí have received $37 million to keep broadcasting anti-Cuban programs that cannot be circulated within U.S. territory due to anti-propaganda legislation.

The total sum received by dozens of Miami journalists, including Cancio and Alfonso, in charge of writing vicious articles on the island, amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Pablo Alfonso has received some $175,000 since 2001 for heading up programs on Radio and TV Martí, while Wilfredo Cancio has earned $15,000 in the last five years.

According to The Miami Herald itself, and an item of news picked up by various press agencies, the Spanish-language edition of the paper has fired both journalists and cut their links with Olga Connor, a contributor on cultural matters, who received another $71,000.

The payments were made by the Cuba Transmissions Office, which operates Radio and TV Martí, and other journalists involved include Helen Aguirre Ferré, editor of the opinion page of Diario Las Américas; columnist and reporter Ariel Remos; Miguel Cossío, news editor of Channel 41; Juan Manuel Cao, Channel 41 reporter, who received $11,400 from TV Martí; and the syndicate columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner, whose opinions are published in El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald.

Neither Wilfredo Cancio nor Pablo Alfonso were available for comment, but the president and editor of The Miami Herald Media Co, Jesús Díaz Jr, backed the decision to dismiss them alleging that the payments received violated the "sacred confidence between journalists and the public."

"I do not believe that we can guarantee objectivity or integrity if one of our reporters receives monetary compensation from any agency that s/he has covered, but particularly if it concerns a government agency," affirmed Díaz, quoted by The Miami Herald.

According to The Miami Herald, the payments came to light in documents recently received by the newspaper after an application on August 15 under the Freedom of Information Act.

Experts in propaganda ethics considered that those acts weakened the credibility of the journalists to objectively cover political issue between the United States and Cuba.

For his part, Humberto Castelló, executive editor of El Nuevo Herald, stated that he had no knowledge that the three journalists were receiving direct payments from the federal government. Ferré, editor of the Diario Las Américas opinion page, received $4,325 between 2001 and 2005. Ninoska Pérez-Castellón, Radio Mambí presenter, also received $1,550.

Two experts on ethics have compared this to the case of Armstrong Williams in 2005, when it was revealed that the Bush government had paid the prominent analyst to promote its education reform bill on his TV program transmitted from coast to coast.

"It is exactly as if a business reporter was also working part-time as a public relations agent for a local company in his own time and returns to his paper the next day to write on "his company," affirmed Jon Roosenraad, professor of journalism at the University of Florida.

Cuba has exposed on reiterated occasions that various Miami-based journalists were receiving direct U.S. government payments for keeping up aggressions against the Revolution.

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