BBG Watch Media
Since Obama took office, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) budget has steadily declined, Josh Siegel reports in The Daily Signal, the Heritage Foundation blog. The U.S.-funded news station, Radio and TV Marti, operated by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and overseen by the Broadcasting Board Governors (BBG) and its bipartisan board, wants to bring free press to Cuba, Siegel writes. But Raúl Castro wants to shut it down.
BBG Watch Commentary: Radio and TV Marti not only has declining and insufficient budgets from the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress, it also does not have enough reporters in Cuba and in the United States. More than a dozen Radio and TV Marti journalists were illegally laid off several years ago by the previous OCB and BBG management. After the agency lost a legal battle in U.S. courts, the current management under BBG Chairman Jeff Shell is working on bringing these journalists back to work, although it appears that some BBG bureaucrats who may have been involved in the original decision to fire these workers are still dragging their feet. RIFed (RIF means reduction-in-force) OCB journalists have received some of their back pay, but they have not yet resumed working. At this time, Radio and TV Marti deserves all the support and money Congress and American people can provide or the deal negotiated by the Obama Administration with the Castro regime will turn out even worse for freedom of the press and human rights in Cuba than what it looks right now.
THE DAILY SIGNAL: After receiving a peak of $36.9 million in 2006 when George W. Bush was president, Congress gave Radio and TV Marti $29.2 million in 2011. Last year, it was budgeted about $23 million.
The cautious retreat from the Martís has been backed by efforts in Congress to turn off the station’s programming. In January, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., introduced the Stop Wasting Taxpayer Money on Cuba Broadcasting Act, aimed at shutting down Radio and TV Martí.
For years, some in Congress have openly criticized the operation, accusing it of cronyism, patronage and bias.
But under García-Pérez, who became director in 2010, the Martís’ content has become less anti-Castro and more straight news, including reports produced on the island by Cubans.
“It’s a badge of honor that the Cuban leadership goes to San Jose, Costa Rica, in front of all the Latin American leaders, and says one of things that I want is to stop the transmissions from Radio and TV Martí,” says García-Pérez in an interview with The Daily Signal.
“The fact he is going out and saying that speaks of our impact on the island.”
The U.S. State Department’s top negotiator with Cuba, Roberta S. Jacobson, last week testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the Americans “have no plans” to end the Martí’s broadcasts. That may be true, but President Obama has other plans for the station.
In his 2016 budget, Obama proposes to de-federalize the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, establishing an independent grantee, as a private nonprofit, to incorporate the Martís. Congress would ultimately have to approve the plan.
A behind the scenes look at the news station broadcasting to Cuba from Miami that Castro wants to shut down. Link to The Daily Signal Video.
THE DAILY SIGNAL: “We like to see ourselves as a two-way communication station,” García-Pérez says.
“We just don’t send information to the people of Cuba. We also get their input, comments and perspective on several news events that are happening on the island. This is what we became. We became a multimedia operation. Just like anyone else in the business. It used to be radio, TV and the website. Now, we integrated our resources. We share resources, we share information amongst all platforms, and we are so much more efficient than what we used to be.”
García-Pérez admits that it’s “impossible” to measure if the Martís’ efforts to actually reach the Cuban people are working.
According to the Government Accountability Office, a 2008 telephone survey found that viewership of TV Martí was less than 1 percent of the Cuban population. The U.S. government ended the surveys after that, claiming that obtaining accurate data is too difficult.
A 2010 report by the majority staff of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by now-Secretary of State John Kerry, alleged that Martí’s broadcasts have failed to make “any discernible inroads into Cuban society or to influence the Cuban government.”
García-Pérez contends that the Cuban government wouldn’t be so intent on stopping the Martís if the station were not making an impact.
“It’s impossible to measure,” García-Pérez says. “You can’t walk around with a clipboard and ask how many people are listening to Radio and TV Martí. But free press is non-existent in Cuba. That’s why we exist. We know they are watching and listening. Absolutely.”
READ MORE: US-Funded News Station Wants to Bring Free Press to Cuba. But Raúl Castro Wants to Shut It Down, Josh Siegel, The Daily Signal, Heritage Foundation, February 10, 2015.