US Senator wants to eliminate Radio/TV Martí

US Senator Russ Feingold, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, yesterday announced the launch of his “Spotlight on Spending” series to highlight actions Congress can take to reduce the deficit. The first featured provision is the elimination of Radio and TV Martí.

“This relic of the Cold War attempts to broadcast radio and TV signals into Cuba that virtually no one tunes in to,” Senator Feingold said. “Government studies show that Radio and TV Martí are riddled with problems, and fall short of journalistic standards. As we progress toward a more modern and constructive relationship with Cuba, Radio and TV Martí no longer have any real diplomatic or fiscal purpose. I plan to bring up this issue when the Senate takes up President Obama’s recently announced nominees to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. ”

A January 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that Radio and TV Martí broadcasts face jamming by the Cuban government. According to the GAO, the best available research suggests that the audience for Radio and TV Martí is small, and its effectiveness uncertain. BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) also found that Radio Martí fails to meet certain journalistic standards, “particularly in the areas of balance and objectivity.”

During a June 2009 hearing before a House Foreign Affairs Subcommitee, a GAO official testified that there is “limited information to help assess the relative success on a return of investment for each of the transmission methods.” During the same hearing, John Nichols, a Professor of Communications and International Affairs at Penn State University testified that “…even if (Cubans) are opposed to the Castro government…they are going to look for more credible sources of information and entertainment.”

Senator Feingold argues that the political environment has changed significantly since the inception of Radio and TV Martí, and President Obama’s commitment to international diplomacy and dialogue offers a more effective way to engage with the people of Cuba. The Obama administration has already loosened restrictions on Cuban Americans’ visits to Cuba, and the White House and Congress are considering easing travel restrictions and other ways to normalize relations.