The Cable

Senate committee slams Cuba broadcasts

The U.S. government-sponsored television and radio stations aimed at bringing objective news into communist Cuba aren’t doing the job and need new leadership and direction, according to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In a new report by the committee’s majority staff, led by John Kerry, D-MA, lawmakers are calling out Radio Marti and TV Marti, ...

The U.S. government-sponsored television and radio stations aimed at bringing objective news into communist Cuba aren’t doing the job and need new leadership and direction, according to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In a new report by the committee’s majority staff, led by John Kerry, D-MA, lawmakers are calling out Radio Marti and TV Marti, both of which are funded by Congress, for a lack of quality programming and for failing to uphold the standards of a free and fair journalistic enterprise.

"Radio Marti was created in 1983 to support the Cuban people in their quest for ‘accurate, unbiased, and consistently reliable’ news and entertainment; TV Marti followed in 1990. Unfortunately, listeners and viewers never received the kind of high quality programming that was originally intended," Kerry wrote in a letter accompanying the report. "Problems with adherence to traditional journalistic standards, minuscule audience size, Cuban Government jamming, and allegations of cronyism have dogged the program since its creation."

Congress has already reduced funding for TV Marti and has criticized Radio Marti before, but now the committee is recommending that the entire Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which is now an independent agency reporting up to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, be moved from Miami to Washington, and be incorporated into the BBG’s Voice of America.

Congress stripped $4 million from TV Marti’s budget in last year’s appropriations and sought to end the use of the airplane the station uses for much of its reporting. This was only the latest congressional attempt to reform the agency using funding levers, and the report’s blunt language suggests that lawmakers are growing frustrated.

"Radio and TV Marti have failed to make any discernable inroads into Cuban society or to influence the Cuban Government," the report stated.

Both stations run unsubstantiated reports as if they were real news, use offensive and incendiary language in broadcasts, and have an audience of less than 2 percent of Cubans overall, mostly due to successful jamming by the Cuban government, according to the committee.

The report also highlights allegations of nepotism and cronyism at the OCB. For example, the director of Voice of America’s Latin American service is a nephew of the OCB director and the former director of TV Marti’s programming pleaded guilty in 2007 to receiving more than $112,000 in kickbacks from an OCB vendor.

Among other recommendations, the committee urges the OCB to "attract quality talent from outside Miami, implement quality editorial standards, and attract quality management," and calls upon the organization to hire and train a "de-politicized and professional workforce."

"Radio and TV Marti have been more about employing embargo proponents, paralyzing US-Cuban relations and perpetuating an anachronistic Cold War standoff than they have been about furthering American interests or triggering change in Cuba," said Steve Clemons, foreign policy head at the New America Foundation, "Barack Obama voted against these programs in the Senate because he said they ‘don’t work’ and it’s commendable that the Senator Kerry and his team are shining a spotlight on the corruption and incompetence embedded in these programs."

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