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For Immediate Release
January 7, 1997

Suzanne Bilello
(212) 465-9344 x-104

Access to Cuba Urged for U.S. Media

New York - The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged the U.S. government to remove all restrictions that interfere with the U.S. news media's ability to operate in Cuba.

"The free flow of information and ideas is a fundamental tenet of our democratic system," said William A. Orme Jr., CPJ's executive director, in a January 6 letter to Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin. "CPJ has long advocated the freest possible exchange of news and other information between Cuba and the United States," Orme said, and has for years repeatedly called for the removal of all legal and technical obstacles preventing U.S. news organizations from opening bureaus in Cuba. "At the same time," he said, "we have continued to urge the Cuban government to open its doors to all U.S. news organizations," while also urging the U.S. government to permit Cuban journalists to reside in and report from the United States.

The New York-based committee is an independent, nonprofit group that defends the rights of journalists worldwide. Its most recent effort to gain access to Cuba for U.S. news groups came as CNN, which has received authorization from the Cuban government to open a Havana news bureau, was petitioning the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control for permission to conduct the international financial transactions necessary to establish an ongoing operation in Cuba. Orme emphasized that CPJ's position is that "the U.S. government should extend permission to all U.S. news media."

The CNN news bureau would be the first U.S. news organization based in Cuba since the 1969 expulsion of the last American correspondent resident in Havana, said Orme, who was a Latin America-based reporter for 15 years. Cuba's action "represents a welcome reversal of a policy that had been in effect for nearly three decades of refusing petitions from U.S. news organizations for permanently staffed offices," he said.

"It is CPJ's hope and expectation that news organizations will not face any impediments now from the U.S. government to opening news bureaus in Havana," Orme said. "Just as daily news gathering by American media organizations within the United States is protected by the First Amendment, so are the overseas operations of the independent American press. Nothing should stand in the way of the ability of any U.S. news organization to report to the U.S. public from Cuba or, for that matter, from anywhere else in the world."

The authority of the U.S. government to impose restrictions on trade, immigration or other kinds of interaction with Cuba, or any other country, is not in question, Orme said. However, "with respect to the news media, the government has in the past wisely deferred to constitutional considerations and exempted the media from most of these restrictions."

The information in this news alert may be freely copied and distributed provided that it is properly attributed to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
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