By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
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By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
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"Objectivity often goes by the wayside when the programming gets away from straight-top-of-the hour news," said Charles Green.
Noticentro Marti (Marti News Center) was not exempt from criticism. Failure to seek contrary voices detracted from otherwise good reporting. The April 2 newscast carried accusations against the Bahamian government from Cuban refugees, but the Bahamian position was not given. On the same program, the Defense Department report on Cuba as a security threat carried only comments from Washington against the report. Green and Vasquez noted that the otherwise balanced Noticentro Marti newscast May 5 carried a biased attack on [Organization of American States] President Cesar Gaviria, linking him to the death by cancer of activist Sebastian Arcos.
Other examples can be found in the individual reports.
While conceding the difficulties involved in sourcing stories out of a closed society like Cuba, the evaluators felt a greater effort should be made to research stories and to identify sources, if not by name, by position or proximity for the sake of the credibility.... There should be no problems identifying sources in the United States.
Three of the five evaluators flagged sourcing problems with two different stories in the January 29 Tempranito y de Manana program. Vasquez questioned where the Caritas story, which he found interesting, even originated. Green and Bustos found sourcing problems with the cattle story. Diament questioned Perspectiva Económica (Economic Perspective) of March 6 and Tus Derechos, Cubano (Your Rights, Cuban) of April 20. "There seems to be very little evidence of serious research that would allow precise references to substantiate the charges [against Cuba's ambassador to the United Nations' Committee on Human Rights, Carlos Amat Flores]," he said.
Brennan found fault with sourcing in the election coverage and the hunger strike in La Semana en Una Hora for January 12 and the coverage of the sugar yield in Noticentro Marti for May 5.
Vasquez had problems with the source of claims about the destination of humanitarian aid made by Frank Calzon on Desde Washington (From Washington) March 24.
Evaluators found feature stories mixed in indiscriminately with hard news stories, leaving the listener to decide what was what. Cantando Claro (Speaking Clearly) for February 10 contained a feature on a Mexican publisher of religious books sandwiched between hard news stories on Iraq and free trade in Latin America. Encuentros y Comentarios (Encounters and Commentaries) for March 27 carried a commentary on the lack of press freedom in Cuba between hard news stories from Washington and Brazil. The Costa Rican election special ran the commentary before the news it was commenting on. Said Vasquez: "[T]he general rule is, first the news, then the commentary and analysis; here the commentary overwhelms the information to the detriment of the overall program."
On a mock interview on Micrófonos y Personas (Microphones and People) January 28 with long-dead Jose Marti, the host did not explain the nature of the program, confusing some evaluators and probably many members of the audience who heard it originally.
Vasquez found speculative and therefore not newsworthy an item on Cantando Claro for February 10 about a poll showing Cuban exiles who want the Castro brothers to accept a reported asylum offer in Spain. Vasquez and Diament questioned the number of news stories and programs involving the Catholic Church, especially on a government-funded radio station.
The segment on Ventana al Mundo (Window on the World) April 14 involving a former TV dance host turned cameraman was considered irrelevant.
There was disagreement over the appropriateness of the Arte de Vivir (The Art of Living) segments run March 19. Green felt the program sounded like an "infomercial" for a seminar conducted by the speaker. Vasquez questioned whether a government-funded station should be carrying an individual's program on "spiritual and psychological" issues. However, Bustos thought the program represented "truly a public service" for listeners, citing the issue of alcoholism.
Hosts, moderators, commentators and analysis
More than reporters, the above came in for considerable criticism for bias, lack of expertise, and lack of professionalism.
Said Diament: "The general level of commentary is, in my opinion, poor and hardly factual. The same things are repeated time after time, and the fact that the conversations are informal seems to be taken as an excuse for imprecision and unfounded remarks."
Said Green of the soft news programs: "There are problems with balance, sourcing, and proper use of airtime. A lot of this could be cured, perhaps with some off-air training for hosts and moderators on how to handle panelists or how to conduct interviews."
Said Vasquez of the Haciendo Caminos (Breaking Ground) program March 10: "The discussion seemed uneven and lacked focus. This is a continuing problem with broadcasts of this sort on Radio Marti. Perhaps the answer is to find stronger moderators, or outside moderators with stronger journalistic credentials who can keep the discussion flowing and come up with some sort of conclusion. Most moderators know that you don't just open the microphones and let panelists say whatever they will; that way lies chaos."
Said Bustos: "I must criticize Radio Marti for failing to remain objective under the standards set by the VOA. There were several instances where the host of [a] political forum would clearly display his or her opinions instead of serving as moderator."