South Florida

More firings at TV and Radio Martí over controversial George Soros report

TV Martí studio in Doral.
TV Martí studio in Doral. el Nuevo Herald

Four additional staffers at Radio and TV Martí have been fired over a controversial report broadcast last year that referred to Jewish philanthropist George Soros as “anti-Semitic” — bringing to eight the number of dismissals at the station so far following a months-long internal investigation by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which oversees the Martí stations, as well as the Martínoticias digital site.

The report, aired by Isabel Cuervo for the Antena Live program, raises conspiracy theories about Soros, who is identified as a “left-wing billionaire of Hungarian-Jewish origin” and a “nonpracticing Jew of flexible morals.” The broadcast, which aired in three separate segments, included an interview that was posted on YouTube by RT.com that Cuervo used with no attribution to the source and another one passed off as her own interview with an alleged expert.

Cuervo and former News Editor Wilfredo Cancio were dismissed immediately after then Senator Jeff Flake and Senator Bob Menéndez demanded an investigation. The Martí report, broadcast last May, made headlines at the end of October when a blog on Cuban issues raised questions about the broadcast just days after Soros received a bomb threat.

John Lansing, director of the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees Radio and TV Martí, issued a statement Wednesday saying that the three-part report should have never aired.

The report, he said, was “a blatantly anti-Semitic video segment about George Soros that was deeply offensive and wholly inconsistent with our professional standards and ethics. OCB should have never aired it.”

“A comprehensive human resources investigation of the incident is now complete. One employee and three contractors have been terminated to date, and the agency has initiated the standard disciplinary process for four additional OCB employees,” said Lansing.

On Wednesday, Cuervo, her editor Vivian Martínez, producer Janet Lomba and journalist Armando de Armas were notified that they would be dismissed, according to a Martí employee who asked for anonymity in order to speak freely. Lomba produced the program Levántate Cuba in which Cuervo regularly promoted her Antena Live reports. De Armas wrote an article about a Judicial Watch lawsuit related to Soros that served as the basis for Cuervo’s report.

The USAGM did not immediately confirm the number of dismissals or answer questions about the investigation. Tomás Regalado, director of Radio and TV Martí, did not respond to several el Nuevo Herald phone calls seeking comment.

Cancio was previously fired, along with three other Martí contract workers: the host of Levántate Cuba, Maité Hernández, another producer of that program, Ibetty Pérez, and editor José Montoya, who took part in the production of the Soros report. They were dismissed before the conclusion of the investigation.

George Soros, a billionaire Democratic fund-raiser, has long been villainized in certain right-wing circles. Now conspiracy theories about him have gone mainstream, to nearly every corner of the Republican Party.

In an interview with el Nuevo Herald, Hernández and Pérez said they had been fired unfairly because they had no decision-making power over the Cuervo segment in the Levántate Cuba program.

According to the identical letters sent to them by the Chaise Management Group, the contracting agency, which were obtained by el Nuevo Herald, the decision to dismiss them was a recommendation of the OCB. The agency argues that they both violated “the trust and the credibility” of their work. The letter adds that the OCB informed the agency, after a “meticulous investigation,” that they had “contributed to the story in three parts,” which was aired by Cuervo.

“What the letter says is false, I did not participate in the reporting,” Pérez said in the interview and in a statement sent by attorney Gadiel Espinoza, who is representing both Pérez and Hernández.

Pérez said that her responsibilities with the program — contacting and coordinating with guests and other logistics — required that she be out of the studio for extended periods. She also said she does not remember being in the studio when Cuervo promoted the report. Hernández, meanwhile, said that Cuervo sent her the questions about the report the host should ask her in the show.

Both questioned why the presenters and producers of Antena Live, the show that originally broadcast Cuervo’s story, had not been investigated and that they were dismissed before the investigation was completed.

In his statement, Lansing also said that he had appointed an independent panel that would audit the entire contents of the Martí stations and the Martínoticias site, media outlets funded by federal money approved by Congress with a mission to transmit truthful information to Cuba as a way to break through government censorship.

In addition to dismissals tied to the Soros report, about another dozen Martí workers have been laid off by Regalado, which he has attributed to budget cuts. Regalado was named director of the Martí outlets last June and has made substantial changes since then.

Contracts with agencies that represented independent journalists in Cuba were canceled and several people who worked for the digital site also were dismissed. Martínoticias now mainly publishes wire stories. Meanwhile, a series of new television and radio programs have been launched, hosted by dissidents in Cuba and Miami as well as members of organizations that represent the so-called “historic exile” community.

The cuts, the investigation into the Soros report and the announced audit of Martí’s overall content has generated much angst among employees.

“The environment that has been created by the upper hierarchy of the Agency for Global Media is repressive,” said an employee who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. “People write with fear. Adjectives are no longer used. “

A bomb was found in a mailbox at the suburban New York compound of George Soros, the liberal billionaire philanthropist who has been the target of right-wing conspiracy theorists on October 22, 2018. Agents safely detonated the device.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

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