Broadcast Blunder, Part 2

For about five months, complaints have ricocheted around Miami and Washington, D.C., concerning the peculiar news judgment exercised this past April by Radio Martí director Roberto Rodriguez-Tejera. Radio Martí, the official voice of the United States government to the people of Cuba, ignored for almost four hours the dramatic April 22 seizure of Elian Gonzalez from his relatives' Miami home. Even Havana's Radio Rebelde spun the story before Radio Martí mentioned it.

According to a widely circulated version of events, when informed of the raid, 48-year-old Rodriguez-Tejera immediately resigned from his job rather than participate in chronicling an act (by his employer, the federal government) he found reprehensible. Martí newsroom personnel apparently did not think they could interrupt regularly scheduled programming for the breaking news without authorization from their boss. (New Times recounted the incident in “Broadcast Blunder,” August 31.)

Yet according to sporadic news reports beginning in July, when federal overseers decided to take action against Rodriguez-Tejera for the station's lapse on this major story, they encountered opposition from Cuban-American members of Congress. Now, according to sources close to Radio Martí, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has taken the first formal step in what will likely be a long disciplinary process. (The BBG is the federal agency that supervises all government-run broadcasting operations, except military, and is headed by a presidentially appointed board. The board meets monthly and is charged with ensuring that U.S.-sponsored radio and television stations comply with congressional mandates.)

This past Friday, following weeks of speculation and closed-door meetings, sources say the BBG decided to formally notify Rodriguez-Tejera of the disciplinary action to be taken against him. The station director is to be suspended for two weeks without pay, a move that would amount to a loss of approximately $4000 in salary and would constitute an “adverse personnel action” in his record. An accumulation of such black marks, under federal personnel regulations, could constitute cause for dismissal. This is a more punitive move than transferring Rodriguez-Tejera to another job within the federal broadcasting system, a penalty the BBG reportedly had considered earlier.

Rodriguez-Tejera now has the option of appealing the BBG's decree. Calls to him and to his boss, Herminio San Roman, director of the Miami-based Office of Cuba Broadcasting, were not returned. Messages left for members of the BBG board were referred to a government spokesman, who was unaware of any action taken in the matter.


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