U.S. broadcasts may net tiny Cuban audience
(LPP Archive - "The Best Way To Feel The Touch" ) - Thursday, February 5th 2009, 4:00 AM
MIAMI — Congressional investigators reported Wednesday that U.S. Radio and TV Marti broadcasts to communist Cuba, after nearly half a billion dollars spent, may have only a tiny audience and suggested finding better ways to gauge their effectiveness.
The Government Accountability Office concluded that best estimates indicate about 2 percent of the island's approximately 11 million people have seen or heard one or more broadcasts since 2003, when the U.S. began phone surveys in Cuba through a third-country contractor.
The Miami-based Office of Cuba Broadcasting has a budget this year of $34 million, with about $500 million spent overall since Radio Marti's first transmission in 1983.
TV Marti began in 1990, and the effort now includes satellite and short-wave transmissions, the Internet, and AeroMarti flights out of Key West beaming TV signals to Cuba.
For years, Cuba has jammed the transmissions, which the U.S. says provide Cubans an objective alternative to their country's government-controlled news and other programs. Cuba derides the programs as U.S. propaganda.
The U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees federal broadcasting including the Cuba program, agreed that better audience measurements were needed but said the GAO report "does not fully reflect the difficulties in broadcasting to a closed society."
The report was requested by U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, a Democrat who chairs a key Foreign Affairs Committee panel.
The board agreed with most of the report's findings and recommendations.
The board's letter said two surveys are planned this year of about 600 recent Cuban arrivals to the U.S., with an eye toward learning which Marti broadcasts are most effective.
Cuban exiles in Miami say there is "strong desire to receive alternative, uncensored news and information," the board said.
Many Latin American analysts say there's hope for a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations with the new administration of President Barack Obama, who has nonetheless said he supports continuing the long-standing economic embargo of Cuba.
The Marti broadcasts represent another thorny issue between the two countries and are strongly supported by the politically powerful Cuban exile community in Miami.
The GAO also found:
—U.S. officials have little information about how Cuba jams the signals and where its equipment is located. The most recent data indicates most jamming takes place around Cuba's capital, Havana.