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CNN Called Castro's 'Megaphone'

From the May 13, 2002 Washington Times
By Jennifer Harper

     Is there a different sort of media bias afoot? The Media Research Center (MRC) is pointing a finger at CNN, claiming the news network does not offer fair, balanced coverage of Cuba.

     After analyzing every Cuba-based story that has appeared on CNN since it established a Havana bureau five years ago, the MRC is calling the network a "propaganda tool for Fidel Castro's government" and a "megaphone for a dictator."

     The MRC studied 212 news reports to find that CNN gave "six times more airplay" to Castro or communist spokesmen than to non-communist spokesmen, such as Catholic leaders or dissidents. The study also said CNN gave six times as much airplay to Cubans who supported Castro policies than to those who did not.

     "This left American audiences with the impression that Castro's government is overwhelmingly popular among the Cuban public," the study said, adding that only seven CNN stories reported on political dissidents, two covered the lack of press freedom and four centered on lack of democracy in Cuba.

     CNN had produced more than a dozen stories, the study said, on claims of abuse of prisoners held at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the first three months of this year.

     "CNN is a 24-hour news network seen with 42 different services around the world. [MRC President Brent] Bozell chose only to look at the U.S. feed, and only at our prime-time programming," CNN spokesman Matt Furman countered on Friday.

     "This ignores the fact that in the past six months our reporter Lucia Newman in Cuba has filed more than 20 pieces that have been tough on Castro and his government. In fact, just this past Sunday she interviewed Cuba's leading dissident, who had just been released from prison," Mr. Furman said.

     Mr. Bozell doesn't buy it, however.

     "CNN launched this bureau with fanfare and bold claims about how coverage would be unfettered," he said. "The story out of Cuba is why do people keep risking their lives to flee that country? Our findings show CNN has all but completely ignored that story.

     "If CNN believes it is too dangerous for its Havana-based reporters to be as adversarial with the Castro regime as they are with democratically elected world leaders, it should close the bureau," Mr. Bozell continued.

     The study also faulted CNN for portraying Fidel Castro as a "celebrity rather than a tyrant" and showing Cuba as a charming, normal country rather than one "held in the grip of a dictatorship's secret security apparatus."

     Yesterday, CNN provided extensive coverage of the welcoming ceremony for former President Jimmy Carter in Havana. As a band played "The Star-Spangled Banner," Mr. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, stood beside Mr. Castro.

     The MRC recommended that CNN increase its investigative journalism in Cuba, report on the welfare of political prisoners and update the status of Cuba's independent journalists.

     Meanwhile, the Florida-based, pro-democracy group Cuba Libertad is also annoyed.

     In a May 9 letter to CNN Chairman Jamie Kellner, the group accused the network of becoming "just another tool of Castro's propaganda machine," and recommended closing the Havana bureau unless improvements were made.

     "CNN has failed to live up to its stated commitment to provide comprehensive, fair and balanced reporting in Cuba," wrote Leopoldo Fernandez Pujals, the group's president. "It may be that your organization cares more about Castro's office decor or cigar-smoking tourists than about the ongoing struggle for freedom in Cuba. Whatever your reasons, CNN is regularly out-reported by journalists and news organizations with far fewer resources at their disposal."




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