by Ted Lipien

FreeMediaOnline.org Free Media Online, Dublin, CA, December 15, 2006 — The National Public Radio (NPR) Morning Edition report Friday on the visit to Cuba by a U.S. Congressional delegation ignored human rights and press freedom issues and focused almost exclusively on the U.S. embargo against the Castro regime. FreeMediaOnline.org, a California-based nonprofit organization, which supports free media worldwide, expressed disappointment in the glaring lack of journalistic balance in NPR’s treatment of this story. According to FreeMediaOnline.org, ignoring human rights and press freedom issues in U.S. media reporting on Cuba helps the Castro regime to keep independent Cuban journalists in prison. [Link to NPR report]

The NPR Morning Edition program host’s interview with the Chicago Tribune bureau chief in Havana Gary Marx was almost totally devoid of any references to human rights violations and suppression of independent journalism in Cuba. The exchange between NPR’s Steve Inskeep and Gary Marx focused entirely on the issue of removing U.S. economic sanctions against Havana. Neither the program host nor the American journalist being interviewed tried to link the sanctions to human rights issues, although at one point there was a passing reference to the word “dissidents” and to a scheduled meeting between the delegation and the Roman-Catholic cardinal.

Both the NPR program host and his guest devoted some time to speculating as to whether Fidel Castro’s brother Raul would meet with the Congressional delegation. They failed to suggest or speculate that its members may also try to meet with those human rights activists and independent journalists who not currently in Cuban prisions.

When asked whether the official Cuban press was reporting on the visit, Mr. Marx said that there was a total media silence in Cuba about this, but he again failed to address the issue of human rights and press freedom. He described the members of the U.S. Congressional delegation as opponents of the U.S. embargo and pointed out that the Bush Administration is not likely to agree to its lifting.

The NPR program host and the Chicago Tribune correspondent speculated extensively about the state of Fidel Castro’s health and Raul Castro’s reported willingness to engage in negotiations with the United States. They failed, however, to express any concern about the treatment of journalists and political prisoners in Cuba even though this issue plays a major part in any discussions about the eventual lifting of the U.S. embargo.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, another nongovernmental organization which defends press freedom, reported that Cuba ranks second after China among world’s nations which imprison journalists. The organization wrote that “in Cuba and in China, journalists are often jailed after summary trials and held in miserable conditions far from their families.” According to CPJ, most of the “24 Cuban reporters, writers and editors who are now behind bars, were jailed in the country’s massive March 2003 crackdown on dissidents and the independent press.” The CPJ reported that “nearly all of those on Cuba’s list had filed news and commentary to overseas Web sites. These journalists used phone lines and faxes, not computers, to transmit their reports; once posted, their articles were seen across the world but almost never in Cuba, where the government heavily restricts Internet access.” [Link to CPJ report]

FreeMediaOnline.org pointed out that Western journalists based in countries run by dictatorial regimes have an obligation to provide balanced reporting and need courage to raise issues which may result in them being expelled. NPR program hosts based in the United States risk nothing by asking probing questions about human rights violations in countries like Cuba and have an obligation to their listeners to do so, especially if human rights are a major part of the story.

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