Fri, May 20, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Journalist watchdog accused of bias

ALLEGATIONS Recent reports claim Reporters Without Borders is on the payroll of the US State Department and part of a `neocon crusade against the Castro regime'

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The international journalists' organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has been accused of receiving money from the US State Department and Cuban exile groups and of pursuing a political agenda.

The claims of political bias, published in a report in Washington this week, were denied by the group on Wednesday.

RSF was set up in France in 1979 by Robert Menard, who still heads the organization. It monitors abuses of journalists and has offices throughout the world.

Its Web site highlights countries where journalists are killed, jailed or intimidated as a result of their work, and currently features stories on Uzbekistan, Gambia and Ukraine.

The attack on RSF came in reports published by the Washington-based non-profit organization the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and the US Newspaper Guild journal. Both were written by journalist Diana Barahona.

She claimed that RSF was failing to follow the non-partisan example of Medecins sans Frontieres -- Doctors Without Borders -- and suggested that it was part of a "neocon crusade against the Castro regime."

The reports suggested that RSF had highlighted Cuba rather than countries that were more dangerous for journalists, such as Colombia.

Barahona also claimed RSF was "on the payroll of the US state department" and had received money from the Center for a Free Cuba, an exile group. The reports suggested that Menard had campaigned to have Cuban government accounts at European banks frozen in the same way as "the bank accounts of terrorists."

Jeff Julliard of RSF denied the allegations of a political agenda from its headquarters in Paris on Wednesday.

"We have no political agenda," he said. "We are not a political organization."

He also denied that RSF received money from the US state department directly, but confirmed that it had received a grant of US$40,000 from the conservative National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED's Web site states that it receives annual funding from "the US Congress through the state department."

This money, he said, had been used exclusively for a project to help journalists threatened in Africa and none of the money had been used elsewhere.

Julliard said that RSF had also received money from the Center for a Free Cuba and that money had been given to the families of journalists jailed in Cuba. Two-thirds of RSF's funds came from the sales of photography books and the rest of its money was from private donors.

He added that, while Menard had called for the freezing of Cuban bank accounts in Europe, RSF had made similar calls regarding the accounts of other governments which mistreated journalists, such as Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

RSF believed that this was a legitimate tactic to put pressure on the authorities. He added that, while RSF was very critical of Cuba, it had published more reports about abuses in China. Its main current concern was the position of journalists in Iraq. It had also campaigned on the issue of protection of sources in the US.

Aidan White of the International Federation of Journalists, based in Brussels, said on Wednesday: "The RSF is a fantastically successful organization in terms of exposing those governments that treat journalists in pretty nasty ways. You can only applaud their efforts and the more that is done the better." However, "sometimes there have been moments when our community and their network have not seen eye to eye. Sometimes there is not as much cooperation as there could be."

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