Tuesday, May 4, 2010

On the Cuba Broadcast Wars--The Failures of Radio Martí and the Broadcasting of "Information" into Cuba

In the great war of ideas, delivery may be as important as content.  The Cubans have been extraordinarily successful in developing ideas in politics, economics, social organization and international relations that, while they have been resisted by elites of many political hues, have made a strong impression on academics and activists within the civil society sector. Other states have been less successful, particularly the United States, even in the context of an ideological war waged within the Cuban community.  It was recently reported:
US government-backed radio and television broadcasts into Cuba reach a tiny audience there and suffer from poor editorial standards, a US Senate Committee said in a scathing report released Monday. 
Founded to give Cubans accurate, unbiased news programming, Radio Marti and TV Marti "have failed to make any discernable inroads into Cuban society or to influence the Cuban Government," said the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The panel's report, dated April 29, notes that US government-sponsored research has found that less than two percent of Cubans listen to Radio Marti, and "claims that TV Marti has any stable viewership are suspect."
The panel, led by Democratic Senator John Kerry, sharply criticized the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) that oversees both outlets has having "failed to adhere to generally accepted journalistic standards."
"Both internal and external investigations have criticized OCB for broadcasting unsubstantiated reports from Cuba as legitimate news stories, for using offensive and incendiary language in news broadcasts, and for a lack of timeliness in news reporting," the committee said.
And "interviews with recently arrived Cuban immigrants show that among those who were familiar with the broadcasts, only a small minority thought they were 'objective.'"
The report, entitled "Cuba: Immediate Action Is Needed to Ensure the Survivability of Radio and TV Marti," calls for moving OCB to Washington and integrate it with Voice of America (VOA) to boost its standards.
US Senate panel urges overhaul of broadcasts to Cuba, YahooNews, May 3, 2010.Nothing breeds criticism like failure.  The United States, like other nations, might have less qualms about a program of aggressive information dissemination if it could be shown that there were positive effects.  But what the Radio Martí program seems to expose are divisions within the Cuban community, even those otherwise united by opposition to the current government.  See Larry Catá Backer, How Not to Engage in Broadcast Warfare: On TV Martí as Failure and (Limited) Success, Law at the End of the Day, July 17, 2009.

But do not think that the criticism is ideological, or that it suggests a legal argument for the end of such programs, grounded either in national or international law.  The anger was directed at mismanagement and incompetence rather than on the idea that it is somehow wrong to project information into other states to further the interests of the broadcasting state.  Thus, the Report suggests that "OCB must also "clean up its operation" by implementing editorial standards and drawing better on-air staff and managers, and "spend less money on measuring audience size and focus more on quality programming."" US Senate panel urges overhaul of broadcasts to Cuba, YahooNews, May 3, 2010.  For a different view see the views of my colleague John Spicer Nichols expressed in his testimony before Congress: TV Marti Has Virtually No Audience, Violates International Law, And Should Be Closed, Prepared Statement Of John S. Nichols Before the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, Hearings on "TV Marti: A Station in Search of an Audience?', June 17, 2009.

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