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May 9, 2002
Katie Wright (703) 683-5004, ext. 132


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At a Washington news conference today held by Cuba Libertad, Media Research Center President Brent Bozell released a new MRC study that has found CNN’s Havana bureau to be more of a propaganda tool for Fidel Castro’s government than a balanced and fair source of news out of Cuba. The study, Megaphone for a Dictator: CNN’s Coverage of Castro’s Cuba, 1997-2002, reviewed all 212 CNN prime time news stories on Cuban life or government since creation of the CNN Havana bureau on March 17, 1997 through March 17, 2002.

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

     Summary of Findings from
Megaphone for a Dictator: CNN’s Coverage of Castro’s Cuba, 1997-2002

  • CNN provided very little coverage of Cuba’s dissidents, who were the focus of only seven of the 212 Cuba stories broadcast during the past five years, or about three percent of CNN’s total coverage. That’s fewer than half as many stories as CNN produced in just the first three months of 2002 about alleged human rights abuses by the United States against prisoners held at its base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
  • CNN’s stories included six times as many sound bites from everyday Cubans who voiced agreement with Castro and supported his policies than quotes from Cuban citizens disagreeing with the government. This left American audiences with the impression that Castro’s government is overwhelmingly popular among the Cuban public.
  • CNN gave spokesmen for the communist regime a major advantage, broadcasting sound bites from Fidel Castro and his spokesmen six times more frequently than the non-communist groups such as Catholic church leaders and peaceful dissidents.
  • CNN practically ignored Cuba’s lack of democracy, a topic that was featured in only four stories (or just under two percent). One of those reports, in January 1998, consisted of Lucia Newman trumpeting Cuba’s rigged election as superior to those in the U.S. because they have “no dubious campaign spending” and “no mud slinging.”
  • Much of CNN’s Cuba coverage focused on the tiniest slices of everyday life, which created the sense that Cuba was basically a normal country, not one in the grip of a dictatorship’s secret security apparatus. Instead of focusing on the regime’s human rights abuses, CNN showed Cubans waiting for ice cream cones, profiled a promising young ballerina, and interviewed a 94-year old guitar player.
  • On CNN, Castro was treated more as a celebrity than a tyrant. Rather than revealing the dirty secrets of his dictatorship to the world, CNN reported on Castro’s 73rd birthday celebrations and, in February 2000, featured the dictator’s office in the “Cool Digs” segment of CNN’s Newsstand.

Study Conclusion and Recommendations

Conclusion: CNN could have used its unique bureau to add to the American public’s knowledge of the only totalitarian state in the Western Hemisphere. But instead of enlightening the public about the regime’s repression, CNN has mainly provided Castro and his regime with a megaphone to defend their dictatorship.

Recommendations: If CNN is interested in improving its coverage, it should …

  1. Increase the amount of Cuba news.
  2. Commit to doing real investigative journalism in Cuba.
  3. Broadcast regular reports on the welfare and status of political prisoners held by Castro.
  4. Promote the reporting efforts of Cuba’s independent journalists.

     “If CNN will not commit to improving its coverage it should close its Havana bureau rather than perpetuate the myth that it is helping Americans better understand the realities of Cuba under Castro,” Bozell said.




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