Thursday, September 21, 2006

Montaner: Clash of civilizations instigated by The Miami Herald

In a column appearing in the Wall Street Journal today, Carlos Alberto Montaner, the syndicated columnist who for some reason was named in the Oscar Corral article about the Martí Moonlighters, continues his crusade on behalf of the journalists implicated in the story. Here's the column in its entirety.

Clash of Civilizations
The Miami Herald thinks it's corrupt to undermine Castro's censorship.

Thursday, September 21, 2006 10:00 a.m. EDT

The clash of civilizations began this way. On Sept. 8, the Miami Herald (TMH) and El Nuevo Herald (ENH), both of the McClatchy newspaper chain, published on Page One a sensationalist report, clumsily researched, under a headline that read, in type befitting a major event, "10 Miami Journalists Take U.S. Pay." The initiative for the report had come from TMH; ENH was obliged to publish it, grudgingly. From the way in which the story was presented, it appeared that a great font of corruption had been unearthed, but in reality nothing criminal had happened. All the article said was that journalists of Cuban origin also contributed to Radio and TV Marti, an official U.S. broadcast station similar to Radio Free Europe, governed by the ethical standards of Voice of America, and transmitting to Cuba. Naturally, the journalists accepted for their work the fees (generally low) that the government routinely pays.

Miami's Cuban community was indignant. What was bad about trying to undermine Cuba's censorship? For the Cuban journalists, that was a civic duty. TMH has editorialized in support of Radio and TV Marti. Wasn't it logical that the good Cuban journalists said to Cuba, via Radio Marti, the same things they said in Miami via the McClatchy chain? To add insult to injury, the company fired three reporters on ENH's staff, claiming there might be a conflict of interests if they collected honoraria from the government. Granma, the organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, reported that those who criticized the Cuban government were bought by money from Washington. TMH did more damage in one day to Cuban writers in the democratic opposition than Granma has done in 40 years.

A few days later, ENH reported that hundreds of U.S. journalists have appeared on VOA and received the usual modest $100 per program. To contribute to VOA, PBS or public radio, and to charge for it, doesn't compromise their objectivity. Why a different standard for Cuban writers? TMH did not reprint ENH's report; 1,200 readers cancelled their subscriptions and it became evident that the two newspapers were taking opposing stances. For the "Anglo" journalists, their Cuban colleagues had conflicts. In contrast, the journalists at ENH felt their corporate brothers had ambushed them. To Miami's Cuban- Americans, this was a display of double-standards.

This clash also allows us to reflect on "conflicts of interest." To think that just because a journalist participates in a VOA program and receives $100 he will sell his conscience to the government is to have a terrible opinion of journalists. To think that readers, if they find out, will repudiate the medium where these journalists work, is to have a terrible opinion of readers. Professors at public universities get paid by the government; yet they don't submit to their paymaster for that reason. Because the law enshrines the presumption of innocence, U.S. society is characterized by a presumption of decency. Life is a continuous conflict of interest and one must presume that people -- even Cuban journalists -- act in accordance with reasonable principles and standards.

So what can McClatchy do now? Something very simple: Apologize publicly for the defamatory report and readmit the expelled journalists.
Mr. Montaner, a syndicated writer, is published in the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.

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