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CNN's Havana Bureau: "Megaphone for a Dictator"
In 1997, CNN became the first U.S.-based news organization with a full-time news bureau in Cuba in nearly 30 years. CNN’s mission was to transmit the reality of Castro’s dictatorship to American audiences. But instead of enlightening the public about the regime’s repression, the network mainly provided Castro and his subordinates with a megaphone to defend their dictatorship and denigrate their democratic opponents.
For a May 2002 Special Report, MRC analysts examined five years of CNN’s Cuban coverage. They found CNN aired six times more soundbites from communist leaders than from non-communist groups such as the Catholic Church and peaceful dissidents. Only about three percent of CNN’s Cuba coverage focused on Cuban dissidents, and less than one percent dealt with the harassment and intimidation of independent journalists in Cuba. Fidel Castro himself was treated more as a celebrity than a tyrant, with stories about his 73rd birthday party and an in-depth look at his office furnishings in a segment called "Cool Digs." (With WMV video/MP3 audio)
In January 1998 on CNN’s The World Today, Havana bureau chief Lucia Newman even managed to put a positive spin on Castro’s rigged one-party elections: "Cuban President Fidel Castro cast his vote in Sunday’s national and provincial assembly elections with enthusiasm. No dubious campaign spending here, no mud slinging, and even less doubt about the outcome in elections where there is no competition. That is because there are as many candidates as seats to be filled, all of them by supporters of the Communist government — a system President Castro boasts is the most democratic and cleanest in the world." (With WMV video/MP3 audio)
Newman also put a positive shine on Cuba’s policy of sending young teenagers to work as forced farm labor. In a May 26, 2000 report, CNN quoted just four sources — two 13-year-old girls, a camp official, and a father — all of whom praised the practice. Newman declared the program instills "respect" for "hard work" and that while students "say at first they were homesick," they soon boast that they "are having a great time" and learning "the importance of camaraderie." But as the screen showed a boy with his arm around a girl, Newman warned that "some parents are concerned their children may be learning more about the birds and the bees than about agriculture." (Special Report, "Megaphone for a Dictator," May 9, 2002) (With WMV video/MP3 audio)