Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Paying for Castro Criticism: In July, Juan Manuel Cao, a reporter for Miami’s Channel 41, confronted Cuban president Fidel Castro about his government’s refusal to allow a well known doctor and dissident Hilda Molina, to leave the island and visit her son in Argentina. Castro’s response was to ask Cao whether someone was paying him to ask that question.

At the time, the ageing Cuban dictator sounded paranoid, or perhaps confused. Tinpot dictatorships and banana republics pay reporters to embarrass their opponents, but to suggest that someone from a western media outlet was in fact a government agent was absurd.

It was also, as it turns out, true. Because this morning’s Miami Herald reports that Cao was one of at least 10 Miami journalists paid by the U.S. government in exchange for anti-Castro reporting.

The president of the Miami Herald Co., Jesus Diaz, explains why his company severed its ties with three reporters who had worked for its El Nuevo Herald publication: “Even the appearance that your objectivity or integrity might have been impaired is something we can't condone, not in our business. 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.”

I just returned from Saint Petersburg, Russia, where a still maturing public relations industry is striving to eliminate the practice of paying for coverage. The industry leaders understand that pay-for-play can undermine the credibility of the media, one of the most important pillars of democracy. Some of them talked of the importance of conducting their business according to western, or U.S., standards.

Let’s hope they aim a little higher than that.


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