Fri Sep 8, 2006 11:24am ET148
MIAMI (Reuters) - At least 10 Florida journalists received regular payments from a U.S. government program aimed at undermining the Cuban government of Fidel Castro, The Miami Herald reported on Friday.
Total payments since 2001 ranged from $1,550 to $174,753 per journalist, according to the newspaper, which said it found no instance in which those involved had disclosed that they were being paid by the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
That office runs Radio and TV Marti, U.S. government programs broadcast to Cuba to promote democracy and freedom on the communist island. Its programming cannot be broadcast within the United States because of anti-propaganda laws.
The Cuban government has long contended that some Spanish-language journalists in Miami were on the U.S. government payroll.
The Herald said two of the journalists receiving the payments worked for its Spanish-language sister publication, El Nuevo Herald, and a third was a freelance contributor for that newspaper, which fired all three after learning of the payments.
Journalism ethics experts called the payments a fundamental conflict of interest that undermines the credibility of reporters meant to objectively cover issues affecting U.S. policy toward Cuba.
They compared it to the case of Armstrong Williams in 2005, when it was revealed that the Bush administration had paid the prominent conservative pundit to promote its education policy, No Child Left Behind, on his nationally syndicated television show.
Jesus Diaz Jr., president of the Miami Herald Media Co. and publisher of both newspapers, said the payments violated a sacred trust between journalists and the public.
"I personally don't believe that integrity and objectivity can be assured if any of our reporters receive monetary compensation from any entity that he or she may cover or have covered, but particularly if it's a government agency," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
The other seven journalists worked for Spanish-language television and radio stations and newspapers in the Miami area. They reported for their organizations on topics ranging from Cuban culture to exile politics and U.S.-Cuban relations. Many appeared as guests or hosts on TV Marti and Radio Marti programs, the Miami Herald said.
Pedro Roig, director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting since 2003, said he had sought to improve the quality of news by, among other things, hiring more Cuban exile journalists as contractors. He told the newspaper it was the journalists' responsibility to adhere to their own ethics and rules.