This is a couple of days old but worth reproducing in its entirety. I have translated the letter below from Carlos Alberto Montaner to the Publisher of El Nuevo Herald. It’s self-explanatory and I have some comments below. Emphasis is mine.
Response from Carlos Alberto Montaner to El Nuevo Herald
(This letter was sent by the author to the publisher of El Nuevo Herald)
I’ve read on the the Internet, in Madrid, that I have been included in a report about of a supposed conflict of interests involving local Miami journalists that work for The Miami Herald, at El Nuevo Herald and simultaneously collaborate with Radio-TV Martí. All of those mentioned in the report have well-earned reputations for being honorable and serious people that would never sell the power of their pens to anybody.
Why has my name been included in this report? I don’t live in Miami and I don’t work at the Miami Herald or at El Nuevo Herald, nor am I subject to their regulations. I am not even a freelancer for those organizations. El Herald, like another sixty outlets from Europe, the United States and Latin America, among them some radio stations, purchase my column from Firmas Press, the agency that distributes my writings.
A few years ago, Radio Martí, like any other media vehicle, was interested in my column and the subjects which it covers, and so they contracted me to, once a week, by phone, for 20 minutes, comment about these issues for the benefit of some Cuban listeners that do not have access to a free press nor the column which is reproduced by El Herald. For those comments they would pay $100, which is the official and obligatorily stipulated, almost symbolic, amount, certainly very much below the amount paid by some of the media that reproduce my articles. Of course, I would not have accepted the offer had there been the slightest conditions: I have as much freedom as I do with my weekly column. As you can understand, contributing to the breaking of the information blockade, far from being a conflict of interest, is the responsible work of any Cuban journalist that really loves liberty. To repeat a phrase from Juan Manuel Cao, rather than a conflict of interests, what existed was a “concurrence of interests.” Radio-TV Martí wants Cubans to be informed freely. Me too. What’s the problem?
The way this information was reported, as if a dark criminal plot had been uncovered, leaves the impression that my honesty as a writer has been compromised by those commentaries that I make for the Cuban people. That is something so unjust, laughable, offensive and and false, that it’s as if someone alleged that my opinions about social and economic matters that appear in El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald should not be taken seriously because I’ve been bought by big business and banking interests since I’m published (and compensated for it) in The Wall Street Journal, a firm that publishes stock quotes from the New York Exchange.
I beg you to reproduce this letter, first, because I owe an explanation to my readers, and secondly, because my respectability and credibility is in question, which is the the essence of this profession that you and I have dedicated our lives to.
Carlos Alberto Montaner
September 9, 2006
I’ve been reflecting on this story a lot. Especially since the blowback from it prompted me to create a new blog called Herald Watch. The original Oscar Corral article explains that it would not be a violation of journalistic ethics for these journalists to moonlight for other traditional media outlets, it’s the government connection that makes it wrong. But Montaner brings up a very important point which is that perhaps if Cubans had access to free information from around the world, as we do, as people in any other country in Latin America do, that this would have never happened. But Radio-TV Martí are the only professional media outlets targeting the captive Cuban audience. There is no independent alternative. Oh, the media like CNN and Reuters (whose Havana reporter Marc Frank previously wrote for an American Communist Party newspaper) have Cuba bureaus but their reports are not available to Cubans. They are also not permitted to report freely on Cuban events thanks to the Faustian bargain they have struck with the regime. To me that’s a much more egregious violation of journalistic ethics.
One has to ask oneself if the story really would have been any different if these journalists had volunteered their time rather than being compsensated for it? Until someone shows me evidence that these journalists were paid to change their opinions or voice opinions that they did not agree with, I’m going to give them a pass.
As for Montaner, it’s obvious that the only thing he’s guilty of is being a brilliant writer that is in demand.
Update: (Val Prieto) Ernesto Betancourt, Radio Marti’s first director, has severed ties with the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald and you can read his smackdown of Oscar Corral and the Miami Herald, etal, right here.