Features

Castro's megaphone

Media | Five years after opening a bureau in Havana, CNN has offered viewers an essentially sugar-coated view of life in Cuba

Issue: "Osama's witnesses," May 18, 2002

Five years ago, the U.S. government and Fidel Castro agreed to let CNN open a news bureau in Havana, the first permanent American news presence in almost 30 years, with the understanding that "news-gathering activities within Cuba be unconditioned and unrestricted." Sen. Jesse Helms supported the CNN presence, saying Mr. Castro was accepting "the rope with which to hang himself."

But the Media Research Center will soon release a study of evening news coverage of Cuba over those five years, and the conservative media watchdog is suggesting that the Cuban dictator hardly had anything to fear.

In reviewing a panorama of 212 news reports, the MRC found only four actually focused on the harsh political realities of Cuba, with one-party elections and domestic intelligence services arresting dissenters for speaking out. CNN put Cuba's homegrown dissidents on camera in only seven stories over five years, or less than 3 percent of the total. Instead, CNN's main reporter in Havana, Lucia Newman, reported without irony in 1998 that one-party elections had "no dubious campaign spending here" and "no mud slinging ... a system President Castro boasts is the most democratic and cleanest in the world." Most stories offered CNN viewers in the United States and around the world the notion that Cuban life wasn't much different than life in other countries.

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