News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The news about Gaza from Havana

A bit of an insomniac, I usually have on earphones in bed so that my wakeful diversions do not disturb family members. I recently acquired one of those shirt-pocket sized radios that has AM, FM, and shortwave bands. It also acquires any static interference that happens to be on the airways, so there are really very few stations that come in clearly. After Jazz Nightly on SDPR ends at midnight, I end up surfing the airwaves for something that might induce drowsiness.

On occasion, however, I hear something that will make me sit straight up in bed. It happened a few nights ago as I wandered among the shortwave bands.

Radio Havana is a station that usually comes in strong and clear. It has world news roundups delivered by people with pleasing voices in impeccable English, and the stories are interspersed with musical selections. I wait for the music because the selections are often Afro-Cuban jazz, which transports me to visions of the Caribbean and memories of Papa Hemingway and some pre-Castro dark rum and cigars of my youth.

Generally, I pay little attention to the propagandic newscasts while I wait for the music, but a few nights ago I heard one that raised me out of bed and made me reach for my laptop. What spurred me was not the content of the news roundup, but the format.

Among the tasks I have worked at over the years was the analysis of news directed at the west by foreign governments that were not allies or friends of our kind of democracy. Our job was to fact check the content and analyze the predication of the reports. Our job was also to write news stories to be broadcast and printed for consumption by other countries and to make those stories as challenge-proof as possible. During the Cold War the Armed Forces Radio Network broadcast news and music for our troops, but we also knew that it had many loyal listeners in Europe and behind the Iron Curtain. Those broadcasts had much to do with the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. So, the news casts were written with meticulous attention to an accurate presentation of the facts so that anyone who checked on them would find the stories reliable.

One of the most effective formats is to focus on an event and do a roundup of official responses to it from various countries. It was such a roundup of international responses to the closing of the Gaza strip by Israel from Radio Havana that raised me up in the middle of the night to check on what I heard. The broadcast included commentary, of course, from Middle Eastern countries, but it also included responses from China, Japan, Canada and all our allies. The criticism against he closing of Gaza was relentless and much of it was directed at the U.S.

So, I fired up the laptop to verify that our allies--and others--had actually said what Radio Havana reported. They had.

What is so alarming is that our media--including blogs--are not giving us a full perspective on what is taking place in the world. We get 24 hours of the verbal dust ups between the Clinton and Obama camps, but not a word about what is going on in the larger world.

When Radio Havana broadcasts more credible and complete news casts than any we can obtain from our own media, we have a problem. The world, in fact, has a problem.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States