As the U.S. Senate continues to hold the last Obama administration nominees for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Senate Democrats are seeking to cancel U.S. government broadcasting operations into Cuba, alleging cronyism, ineffectiveness, and the “incendiary” tone of the anti-Castro broadcasts.
At the same time, Senate Republicans are questioning the effectiveness and management of the Voice of America’s rapidly expanding Persian News Network, which has been roiled by multiple whistle-blower complaints alleging fraud, incompetence, and a pro-Tehran slant of PNN’s Iranian-born managing editor.
Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold said last week that continued funding for Radio and TV Marti was a waste of U.S. tax dollars and urged the Broadcasting Board to do away with it altogether. Senate Democrats have frequently tried to shut down the anti-Castro broadcasts on ideological grounds.
Sen. Feingold was responding to a report from the Democrat staff of the Senate Foreign Relations committee that accused the anti-Castro broadcasting network of cronyism and malfeasance and urged that the Office of Cuban Broadcasting that oversees it be merged into the Voice of America and headquartered in Washington, D.C., not Miami.
“It's disappointing that after 18 years Radio and TV Martí have failed to make any discernable inroads into Cuban society or to influence the Cuban government,” said Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
The committee staff report alleged that Radio Marti barely reaches 2 percent of the Cuban population, insisting that “claims that TV Marti has any stable viewership are suspect.”
But supporters of anti-Castro broadcasting came to the defense of the Miami-based network.
“As the Cuban regime tightens its hold on the Cuban people, the Congress should be focused on expanding the flow of uncensored information about the dictatorship's brutality and gross human rights abuses,” said Cuban-born Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. “The focus should be on growing and improving, rather than burying into VOA.”
The Senate Democratic staff report acknowledged the problems inherent in evaluating the audience of Radio and TV Marti. The International Board of Broadcasting has commissioned a polling firm to do telephone surveys from Costa Rica and to conduct focus groups composed of newly arrived Cuban immigrants.
The Office of Cuban Broadcasting in Miami also conducts focus groups with recent Cuban immigrants that have produced significantly higher rates than those conducted by the IBB.
This prompted the Senate Democratic staff report to dismiss the results. “Many Cuba watchers doubt the reliability of recent arrivals from Cuba, fearing that they tell interviewers what they want to hear,” the report said, noting that some of those polled said they watched TV Marti, “only to clarify that they saw it in the U.S. Interests Section in Havana while awaiting a visa.”
The telephone polls ran into different problems, the report acknowledged.
“In a recent interview, the pollster said that telephone interviewers almost immediately were confronted with hostile respondents, who thought that the interviewers were working on behalf of the Cuban Government and were trying to trick them into admitting that they listened to Radio and TV Marti, which would incriminate citizens as government opponents,” the report said.
“Many respondents answered the pollsters’ questions by saying that, of course they did not listen to Radio Marti or watch TV Marti, and to tell Cuban authorities that their utilities were in need of repair, there was not enough food available in the marketplace, or that the local hospital lacked supplies.”
Norman Bailey, a former Latin America expert at the National Security Council and in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told Newsmax that the Senate staff report “was right about TV Marti but wrong about the radio.” Bailey said, “It’s true that TV Marti has no penetration, but the radio has good coverage and is definitely worth retaining.”
For Carlos Perez, a Miami broadcaster who was commended by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 for his work in establishing the anti-Castro broadcasting, the Democratic staff report was familiar ground.
“Every two or three years, a group of left-leaning liberals in the U.S. Senate or the House expresses negative ideas about Radio Marti,” he told Newsmax.
“Radio Marti is a big factor among the Cuban people. It is a light in the middle of this darkness. In a country where all the information is controlled, Radio Marti is providing a lot of information on democracy that is much needed in Cuba.”
Cuba has an estimated 10 to 12 jammers specifically targeted at preventing Radio Marti from reaching Cuban households, “but the signal gets through regardless,” Perez said.
But he acknowledged that Cuban efforts to jam TV Marti were more successful.
Senate Democrats are attacking the anti-Castro broadcasts just as unprecedented pressure is building up inside Cuba against the Castro regime following the recent death of a hunger strike of a political prisoner, a catastrophic sugar harvest, and the public condemnation of Cuba’s human rights abuses by the Mexican and Spanish parliaments, normally Castro’s political allies.
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