Aiding Freedom's Enemies; How CNN's Presence in Havana Has Helped Castro

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

Aiding Freedom's Enemies; How CNN's Presence in Havana Has Helped Castro


Byline: Rich Noyes, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

See if any of this sounds familiar: An oppressive dictator who's an international pariah; a totalitarian regime with an abysmal human-rights record; secret police who harass and imprison local journalists; and the ubiquitous presence of CNN cozily ensconced in the capital, blandly repeating the government's pronouncements, while doing little to highlight the plight of repressed citizens.

Thinking of Iraq under Saddam Hussein? How about Fidel Castro's Cuba, the only communist dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere. In 1997, CNN became the first U.S.-based news organization with a fulltime news bureau in Cuba in nearly 30 years. As an independent news organization, CNN had a chance to show Americans the reality of Mr. Castro's dictatorship. On her first day, incoming Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman promised viewers that "we will be given total freedom to do what we want and to work without prior censorship."

Mr. Castro shouldn't have lost much sleep worrying whether CNN would reveal the awful details of his dictatorship. Last year, Media Research Center Senior News Analyst Geoff Dickens and I reviewed five years of CNN's Cuba news, from March 17, 1997, the date the Havana bureau was established, through March 17, 2002. Instead of exposing the regime, CNN had allowed itself to become another component of another dictator's propaganda machine.

Rather than promoting a diversity of opinion, CNN mainly gave the communists a chance to promote their agenda to an international audience. Yes, the network aired a few sound bites from Catholic church leaders (a total of 11 on-air quotes) and peaceful dissidents (12 quotes), but these voices were swamped by quotes from Fidel Castro and smooth English-speaking propagandists like National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, the Tariq Aziz of the Caribbean (76).

CNN's audience also heard from everyday Cubans, but few were shown saying anything disagreeable to Mr. Castro. CNN showed 61 Cuban citizens praising the communists, compared with only 11 who dared to dissent. To give the misleading impression that Castro's regime is hugely popular among the Cubans is intellectually dishonest, but there it was.

Only once did we notice CNN acknowledging the consequences of candor. On December 13, 1998, reporter Susan Candiotti showed a communist youth rally. A bystander complained to CNN: "Cuba means one party. You see how fanatic the people are." Ms. Candiotti related what happened next: "As he spoke with CNN, a crowd gathered around him. …

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