Mission of US-funded broadcasts in Cuba debated
By LAURA WIDES-MUNOZ
MIAMI (AP) — Two decades after Congress established the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting, lawmakers and experts still can't seem to agree on the program's mission.
Should its TV and Radio Marti networks send the communist island unbiased news about Cuba and the outside world? Or should their stories only support the U.S. government's policy toward Cuba, as they mostly do now?
The dispute is part of a larger debate over the U.S. government's foreign broadcasts, but nowhere is it more noticeable than with the Martis. The taxpayer-funded Cuba broadcasts, which receive $34 million annually, belong to a network that includes the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Alhurra, among others. Most are run by veterans of top media outlets who are quick to defend their journalistic principles.
Still, the Martis' congressional charter states the broadcasts must be operated "in a manner not inconsistent with the broad foreign policy of the United States." The other broadcasts have similar mandates.
Jeff Trimble, executive director of Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the broadcasts, says the charter calls for promoting democracy, "through the journalistic mission. You have open information. ... It's not to do the short-term policy issues of any particular administration."
But Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican and Marti supporter, says the broadcasts should back the president's positions.
"It is not a `Let's have all this diversity of thought,'" said Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American. "If we were to have a change in Cuba policy come November, you will see that reflected in the transmissions. The mission is clear: It's to advance our U.S.-Cuba policy."
University of Southern California professor Nicholas Cull, author of a new book on the foreign broadcasts, believes they are essential, providing news commercial broadcasters might ignore for fear of offending advertisers.
He said the tension has existed since VOA's creation in 1942.
"It's in the nature of a government to expect that if it's paying for a radio station, it will reflect its policy needs," Cull said. "And it's in the nature of a journalist to demand editorial independence."
Yet there are clear differences between the Miami-based Martis and the other broadcasts. Except for VOA, which is charged with explaining U.S. government policies and culture, the foreign broadcasts are supposed to act as surrogates for local media in countries where a free press does not exist.
For example, the English-language Web sites of Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Asia focus on their target countries and related world news, with few references to the United States.
The Marti Web site contains numerous stories dedicated to U.S. pronouncements on Cuba, a link to the White House Web page and a section on the war on terror.
Marti Chief of Staff Alberto Mascaro said Cuba is one of the most difficult countries from which to glean local news because of strict censorship. Internet access is nonexistent for most Cubans.
The goal is to bring in a free exchange of ideas, he said.
"You can't speak about the United States and what our policy is to the rest of the world without talking about the war on terror — in this current administration," he said.
But the broadcasts don't always cover U.S. stories that would be of interest to those on the island.
A political contest is underway between two Cuban emigres in the congressional district where the Martis are headquartered, yet the broadcasts barely mention Democratic challenger Raul Martinez, who has criticized U.S.-Cuba policy. The incumbent, Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, is a Marti champion.
Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., a longtime critic of the Martis and of the U.S. embargo against Cuba, recently called for an investigation into management of the broadcasts. He believes the Martis fail to show the diverse viewpoints within the United States.
"I think you need to put that out for the Cuban people to understand," Delahunt said.
The differences between the Martis and the other surrogates are also reflected in their structures.
The Martis are the only surrogates that are part of the U.S. government. The other networks are independent nonprofit organizations funded by the U.S. That arm's length approach helps their credibility, said Radio Free Europe President Jeffrey Gedmin.
The Martis are also the only broadcast with no office in the Washington area, which means they lack the same close monitoring and exchange of ideas.
And the majority of their money goes to TV broadcasts, which the other surrogates do not have, except for the Arab-language Alhurra. Critics say the money is wasted because the Cuban government jams the TV signals, while the radio broadcasts generally get through.
Cull and other Marti critics argue the Cuba broadcasts are part of a domestic policy more focused on retaining the votes of powerful hard-liners in the Cuban-American community than on strategic foreign policy. They point to the large funding for such a small audience.
"When I headed Radio Free Europe, we broadcast to 19 countries, in 28 languages, none of which was in English, for about $75 million," said Tom Dine, president of Radio Free Europe from 1995 to 2000. And you're telling me, in one language, to one little island, they get $34 million?"
21 maggio 2008
USA: propaganda verso Cuba, strategia da rivedere?
Un bel pezzo di Laura Wides-Munoz di Associated Press sul dibattito che in questi giorni ferve nel parlamento americano e in Florida su quale debba essere la missione dell'emittente radiotelevisiva "contras" Radio Marti. Lo trovate un po' dappertutto online e qui su USA Today. Ha senso concentrare un motore di propaganda da 34 milioni di dollari all'anno sulla piccola isola caraibica? Mah. Tom Dine, che dal 1995 al 2000 ha presieduto Radio Free Europe si chiede giustamente: «Ai miei tempi trasmettevo a 19 Nazioni in 28 lingue e avevo un budget di 75 milioni. E mi viene a dire che per un'isola e una lingua quelli ne spendono 34?»