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Questions About TV/Radio Marti Contributors Beget Questions About "Voice Of America"

(CBS/AP)
The swath of attention that Miami Herald-TV Marti flap is generating appears to be affecting more than just the journalists who are moonlighting at TV and Radio Marti.

It was Josh Gerstein of The New York Sun who noted last Tuesday, just as the TV Marti issue was heating up, that the controversy raised some questions about other similar arrangements: "A flap over government payments to Cuban-American journalists in Miami is prompting similar ethical questions about payments Washington reporters receive for appearances on the Voice of America," he wrote. VOA is a "multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors," according to its Web site. "VOA's charter calls for editorial independence," wrote Gerstein, "but the organization is overseen by the International Broadcasting Board, the same body that manages Radio and TV Marti." Journalists who appear on the weekly VOA program, "Issues in the News," are paid far less than what the El Nuevo Herald journalists were receieving for their work for Radio and TV Marti -- between $100 and $150 a program.

However, journalism ethicist Al Tompkins described the VOA arrangement as "the same kind of conflict, obviously. What you're working for is a part of the government. … There's a conflict when you receive government dollars, however that money is filtered," according to the Sun.

David Lightman, the Washington bureau chief of the Hartford Courant who was paid $100 per program for appearances on "Issues in the News," told the Sun: "This is nothing like Radio Marti. Nobody at VOA has ever told us what to say or suggested what we should say," he said. "My view is, I'm a professional. I should be paid for my time. … I don't just wing it."

Similarly, he explained to El Nuevo Herald: ''I do not cover the State Department or the Pentagon or any governmental agency. Second, they pay me very little, and they pay me because I am a professional and they remunerate me for my time. In general, I do not cover the topics we're talking about.''

Nonetheless, the Courant reported Saturday that Lightman would no longer be appearing on the program. Said the Courant's editor, Clifford Teutsch: "It can certainly be seen as a conflict, and that's why we're stopping it."

Teutsch said Lightman's editors had approved the payment arrangement several years ago. The stipend was considered fair, he said, because topics discussed on the show were often outside his reporting duties and required research and preparation on his own time.

"We have complete confidence that he has handled these appearances with the same independent mindset that he brings to all his work," Teutsch said in a prepared statement. "However, we've decided it's best to end his participation rather than allow any question of a conflict to linger."


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