A post in abdymok on Reporters Without Borders (or RSF for Reporters sans frontières) caught my eye this morning.
Founded in 1979 by Robert Menard, RSF is a rights organization based in France that monitors press freedom abuses around the globe, with special focus on Cuba. It has been a frequent and vocal critic of the US, most recently over "self-censorship" after September 11 and in Iraq. It has also has consistently railed against Israel's treatment of journalists.
RSF, like many other rights organizations, has received money form the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which in turn is funded by the US State Department. The organization also has received funding from a Cuban ex-patriot group Centre for a Free Cuba.
The funding from the NED led the Guardian to make a tacit charge that RSF was a part of the Neo-con Conspiracy. Part of the sins of RSF, it seems, is that it has called for the freezing of Cuban Government bank accounts, a tactic that an RSF spokesman says has been used in other countries such as Zimbabwe and Pakistan.
The article highlights a paper by Diana Barahona for a group called the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) that purports to "unmask" RSF and claims that it is part of a "neocon crusade against the Castro regime":
In his book on RSF’s titanic struggle with the Cuban regime (El expediente Robert Ménard: Por qué Reporteros sin Fronteras se ensaña con Cuba, Quebec: Lanctôt.), Havana-based journalist Jean-Guy Allard examined the pieces of the puzzle regarding Menard's activities, associations and sources of funding, as part of the explanation of what he calls Menard's "obsession" with Cuba. On March 27 of last year, the pieces began to come together: Thierry Meyssan, president of the Paris daily, Red Voltaire, published an article in which he claimed Menard had negotiated a contract with Otto Reich and the Center for a Free Cuba (CFC) in 2001. Reich was a trustee of the center, which is a hardcore group of anti-Castro exiles, who have fattened themselves as a result of White House funding. In fact, this group received much of their funding from U.S. taxpayers awarded under Helms-Burton legislation and disbursed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as through the equally rightwing National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The contract, according to Meyssan, was finally signed in 2002 around the time Reich was serving as an acting Assistant Secretary of State on a recess appointment, after failing to win confirmation from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The initial payment for RSF’s services was approximately $25,000 in 2002, and was doubled by 2003.
As a point of interest, Thierry Meyssan is the author of The Big Lie, in which he claims that the September 11 attacks were conducted by the US Government.
For her part, Barahona made this claim in a letter to the LA Times:
There is no homelessness in Cuba. Nor is there a lack of health care delivery, hyper-commercialization, money corrupting politics or a vast private-public prison system housing more than 2 million.
There is torture in Cuba, and hundreds of people are held in a concentration camp without legal rights or legal status, but that is in Guantanamo, which is occupied by the U.S.
And in an article entitled "The Final Holocaust Or Why I Voted for Ralph Nader" she had this to say:
Some people who spent the last year being vocally wrong
may think there's no point in going over all of this.
There is no lack of irresponsible types who have no sooner
made one mistake than they are off and running toward
the next one, and in four years they will do it to us
again. Every mistake is magnified now because the planet's
days are numbered. Global warming is destroying the fabric
of life as I write and unless there are radical changes
in policies right now, its effects will not be at all
mitigated; more likely, the US leaders will increasingly
resort to military violence to try to maintain control
in the face of constant natural disasters, wars over
resources, and massive displacement of populations. The
time for radical change was twelve years ago, and the
failure of the American left to lead us toward this
change is unforgivable.
Conversely, EURSOC points out that RSF is in what normally would be considered good company:
Late last year RSF published another "Black Book" - this time a Livre Noir on the Iraq war. Black books have become a feature of French political debate since two brave academics published a Black Book of Communism, which listed the millions who were sacrificed in the pursuit of communist utopias. In a nation where the communist party, and organisations well to the left of it, still command votes and respect, it caused an outcry. Two leftists retaliated with a "Black Book of Capitalism." Another on colonialism is in the works. In French cultural life, a Black Book is a blanket condemnation. And the Black Book on the Iraq war does not disappoint (notably, no Black Book exists on Saddam Hussein's crimes).
Indeed, this particular publication is co-authored by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights - hardly what you could call co-passengers on RSF's supposedly neocon crusade.
So what's going on here? Had RSF taken money from NED and continued to skewer the US only, it probably would not have caused
mush much [Ed.- I'm leaving this typo in for Brian's benefit. He's a stickler, that one.]of a stink (although, I don't imagine that this is likely to cause the group too much trouble). What seems to be exercising their critics is not so much that they took Neo-con, and therefore, dirty money, but that RSF has the temerity to call Cuba what it is: a gulag where journalists are routinely and blithely jailed and harassed by the Western Hemisphere's longest-running dictatorship.
Cuban President Fidel Castro's security apparatus continues to "repress Cuban journalists who attempt to file independent reports on what is happening in their country,'' the International Press Institute (IPI) charged Thursday.
"Cuban authorities routinely threaten, arrest and jail journalists, often attempting to `persuade' them to leave the country,'' the IPI stated in its report on the status of freedom of the press in the world.
Although Havana has authorized two U.S. media outlets, the CNN network and the Associated Press, to open permanent bureaus on the island, foreign reporters are threatened and often expelled, the IPI asserted.
Meanwhile, another press advocacy group, the Inter-American Press Association, said Cuba continues to have the most "repressive government" in the Americas.
In a statement released following its March 11-14 meeting in Panama, the group said the Castro regime "maintains a monopoly on all information about government." The statement said independent journalists in Cuba remain "jailed or muzzled by the Fidel Castro government, as they have for more than four decades."
In some leftist circles, Fidel-love is still a quaint prerogative. There may or may not be a problem with RSF getting a few bucks from NED. I certainly can't find where they have pulled their punches because of the money. But it's interesting who their biggest critics are: one person believes Cuba is a workers' paradise and the other is a conspiracy nut who drips in anti-American bile.
RSF has a very sound and positive reputation. I will note, however, that abdymok has questions for them about the Gongadze case, and I have no reason to doubt him. But I suspect that this criticism of RSF is motivated more out of ideological zeal than concerns for journalistic integrity.