CNN, the only U.S. broadcast network with a bureau in Havana, pulls its punches in its coverage of Fidel Castro's regime and is little more than ''Castro's megaphone,'' a conservative media watchdog group has concluded after studying more than 200 CNN reports.
''During the half-decade that CNN has had a home in Havana, Fidel Castro probably has not lost much sleep worrying about whether the network would reveal his dictatorship's dirty secrets to the world,'' says the report by the Washington-based Media Research Center.
The report, issued just as CNN quadrupled its Havana staff to 25 to cover Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba, says the network ignores stories about human rights or the island's dissidents in favor of soft features about ice cream and young ballerinas.
CNN officials said the study, which included every story airing during prime time since the network opened its Havana bureau in 1997, was flawed and misleading.
By sticking to prime-time hours and considering only stories on the main U.S. network and not its 41 other services, ranging from Headline News to CNN International, the study missed a lot of stories, said Edna Johnson, a network spokeswoman.
''In the past six months, our reporter in Cuba has filed more than 20 pieces that have been tough on Castro and his government,'' Johnson said, including interviews with prominent dissidents Oswaldo Paya, Elizardo Sánchez, Vladimiro Roca and Raúl Rivero.
''We decided to look at the most prominent time slot on CNN's most widely viewed service,'' replied Rich Noyes, the Media Research Center's director of analysis and the author of the study. ``I guess CNN is telling us that is not how they wish to be judged.''
The study, Megaphone for a Dictator, said that when it comes to human rights in Cuba, CNN is more concerned about the accused al Qaeda prisoners being held on the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay than it is about the island's dissidents. The study found only seven CNN stories on dissidents in five years, less than half as many as it has broadcast this year alone on complaints about treatment of the al Qaeda prisoners.