Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Radio/TV Marti in action (corrected)

(This was posted 12/13; see correction below, posted 12/17.)

Last week I attended the second public meeting of the State Department’s Cuba Internet Task Force. I didn’t intend to write about it until I saw the coverage from Radio/TV Marti.

At the meeting, two items of business were accomplished. The task force heard from two organizations that were charged with developing recommendations: Freedom House and the Information Technology Industry Council. Then the task force gave the State Department’s Cuba desk the job of writing its report. The report will contain recommendations to the Secretary of State based on its views, the ideas submitted by these organizations, and public comments.

Radio/TV Marti director Tomas Regalado is a member of the task force, and Radio/TV Marti’s story on the task force meeting is all about him. I don’t have verbatim notes, but I think it’s fair to say that he objected to some of the recommendations that were put forward because they involved dealing with the Cuban government and enterprises, and could involve commercial activity.

He moved to have some of these ideas stricken from the report that will go to the Secretary of State, and he announced portentously that if they were not stricken then he would resign from the task force, pick up his marbles, and go home.

He didn’t seem to understand no such motion could be entertained because no such report had been written; there was no draft in front of the members that could be amended. There were two reports from outside groups, that’s all. The deliberation and drafting is about to begin. This was explained by the State Department’s press office here.

This never sunk in with Mr. Regalado, however. Even after the meeting, in the video accompanying the story (at 1:10), he is talking about report already drafted, destined for the Secretary of State and the President.

It’s pretty obvious that this story was pre-planned. The fact that its premise was wrong didn’t stop Radio/TV Marti from running it.

What does this say about the journalism that Radio/TV Marti is practicing?

They didn’t send a reporter to cover a public meeting that was open to press coverage – and if they sent a reporter, either that reporter didn’t understand what was going on, or decided to go with Mr. Regalado’s misrepresentation. The facts were set aside in favor of the pre-cooked story. Pathetic.

The story covered only Mr. Regalado – nothing on the statements of the government officials present, nothing on the representatives of Freedom House and the Information Technology Industry Council who presented their interesting reports, nothing on the discussion that ensued. Real journaIism would present the content of those groups’ presentations, in addition to Mr. Regalado’s criticism – to say nothing of giving a complete sense of what happened at the meeting beyond one person’s interventions. This is more like propaganda.

Mr. Regalado is certainly a qualified commentator. But his personal involvement in a misleading story like this shows he has no place running a news organization.

The story linked above is introduced by two anchors and then cuts to a report from a reporter in the Miami newsroom. The reporter is Mr. Regalado’s son. This isn’t nepotism because the son was there long before the father was hired. But apparently, Radio/TV Marti has no editor to point out that it’s wrong to assign a reporter to cover a story about an immediate family member, in this case his father.

In the video, Mr. Regalado says he felt a responsibility to speak as “the only Cuban voice of the exile community.” It was important to note, he said, that “with the Cuban government one can’t negotiate, with the Cuban government one can’t talk, that the Cuban government is the problem, not the solution, and that in the United States there are brilliant minds, there are people who can design a series of projects to give free Internet to the Cuban people.”

Therein lies the real story from the meeting that Radio/TV Marti completely blew. Current Trump Administration regulations provide ample space for American companies to be involved in Internet and telecommunications, including selling equipment to businesses and consumers and, should Cuban officials and enterprises agree, to help extend the network. Mr. Regalado has a different idea: for the U.S. government to involve itself in “a series of projects” to expand access independent of Cuban networks. Haven’t we seen that movie before?

Some may think I’m writing as part of a campaign to bring down Radio and TV Marti. Not quite. Realistically speaking, I will sooner become President of the United States than Congress will end this waste.

But Congress could do us a favor: divorce them from the Voice of America and call them the Voice of El Exilio. That would end the association with poor Jose Marti and diminish the association with us.

Correction (12/17):

In fact there were two stories on this meeting. There was the one that centered on Mr. Regalado, discussed above, which was the front-page story on the Radio/TV Marti website, and there was another that I missed.

The other story is based in part on reporting from the meeting – so I was wrong to say they didn’t send a reporter.

How did this story cover the meeting?

It notes that recommendations were presented at the meeting and it describes some of them, but for some reason it fails to note that they were presented by representatives of Freedom House and the Information Technology Industry Council. Isn’t it a basic task for a reporter covering a public meeting to identify who said what?

The story notes that “some of these recommendations were rejected by the audience” but it fails to report that some in the audience supported them. What do you call journalism that reports one point of view and omits its opposite?

The story omitted other aspects of the discussion. There was a suggestion that current Treasury regulations should be maintained so as to enable U.S. companies to try to get involved commercially in expanding the Cuban network, and there was another suggestion that the United States use technologies that can expand Internet access in Cuba without any connection to the Cuban network. Neither was mentioned.

It does not report on Mr. Regalado’s confusion, discussed above.

So that’s the correction. I stand by the rest of what I wrote.

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