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Building Journalistic Ties with Cuba

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Building Journalistic Ties with Cuba

Article excerpt

Building journalistic ties with Cuba

At a hotel entrance in the city of Cienfuegos, Cuba, Murray Fromson argued for 20 minutes with the local Communist Party secretary in a vain effort to allow a group of mostly American and Mexican journalists to visit a nearby nuclear plant under construction.

The secretary was unmoved, saying that plant officials were holding a meeting and could not take time out to host the group.

Pointing out that the plant recently had been the focus of a U.S. media story because of controversy over its safety, Fromson said, "This is your chance to show the United States and the world that you have nothing to hide there."

The request was denied, although it had been on the visiting journalists' tentative schedule.

Later, Fromson, director of the University of Southern California's Center for International Journalism (CIJ) said, "They [Cuban authorities] never told me we could go to the site, but they also never said we couldn't." It was the only time during the CIJ contingent's 11-day June trip through Cuba that a planned interview or briefing had been scratched.

Now in its fifth year, the Center is a fellowship program for working journalists with an interest in foreign news and cross-cultural experience. The participants, who come mainly from U.S. and Latin American media, can choose to work either for a master's degree or a graduate certificate in international journalism during the nine-month program, which involves coverage and study in California, Washington, D.C., Mexico and Cuba.

This year's 11 fellows include journalists who are or recently have been staffers on the Chicago Tribune, AP, CBS News, UPI, Philadelphia Inquirer, Orange County Register, El Universal, El Economista and El Financiero in Mexico City, and the Interpress News Agency of Jamaica.

Fromson's 35 years in journalism include 20 years as a correspondent in the Soviet Union, Asia and Latin America for AP, CBS News and other news organizations. He covered the Korean and Vietnam wars.

In Cuba, the CIJ fellows, accompanied by this reporter, traveled more than 1,000 miles. They interviewed high government officials, media executives, health care professionals, party officials and human rights activists for stories aimed at their publications or free-lance markets. Among the places visited were the site of the Bay of Pigs invasion and a hospital where Soviet children damaged by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster were being treated.

Also tagging along were a Cuban guide, a man from the government press office, and two Foreign Ministry men who cleared the way for interviews but usually sat in on them.

At meetings with media bosses and government bigwigs, the fellows bored in with confrontational questions on human rights, press freedom, Cuba's economic straits, its future relations with the Soviet Union and other political issues. The answers generally followed the party line that communism there will survive and triumph and that the nation's problems have been largely brought on by the United States.

Although Fromson believes the Cuban experience is a valuable part of his program, he also acknowledges that it carries the same inherent weakness of the "parachute journalism" forced on American wire services and newspapers because there have been no permanent U.S. news bureaus in Havana for 30 years. They were closed when the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba and imposed a trade embargo on it.

Fromson, who has made four trips to Cuba with CIJ fellows, puts part of the blame on American news organizations for the current state of affairs. …

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