While NPR’s federal funding is in jeopardy, support for Radio Marti and the Voice of America seems guaranteed. The bill proposing to eliminate the 64 million dollars that the government would have devoted to NPR’s operations passed in Congress and is waiting for the Senate. While newscasters and bloggers seem divided across Party lines concerning public broadcasting, with Republicans generally advocating its elimination, nobody seems to remember the U.S. international broadcasts, which receive over 700 million dollars annually.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is the agency that oversees U.S. international broadcasts -including the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Radio and TV Marti- has just submitted a 2012 budget for almost 800 million. It does include cuts in certain areas, but leaves the Cuba program pretty much intact. For instance, the Croatian and Chinese broadcasts of the Voice of America are entirely eliminated. Croatians no longer live under Communism, and the Chinese public is known to prefer the internet for news and information.
The budget includes a modest 28 million dollars for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which is in charge of both Radio and TV Marti. Interestingly, about 16 million of these are for salaries and benefits for the 151 employees, which means that a job at these stations is a good prospect… if you can get it (nepotism is an issue, according to an “unclassified but sensitive” audit conducted in 2007 by the U.S. State Department.)
A lingering problem for Radio and TV Marti is the dubious number of listeners and viewers that these stations reach within Cuba. According to their own surveys, included in the budget document, less than 2% of respondents would acknowledge listening to Marti at least once a week. When I lived there in the second half of the nineties, I was only able to listen to it once, when I had the flu and someone lent me a short-wave radio to entertain me. Apparently, people massively listened to it during the 1994 Balsero crisis because the station provided information on those who reached U.S. shores, but after that the audience dwindled, most dramatically among urban youth. Its programs were old-fashioned, but most importantly, as old transistors were phased out, they were replaced with modern radio sets lacking a short-wave tuner. As for TV Marti, I was never able to tune it in, nor did I ever meet anyone who did.
If that is the case, how to justify depriving millions of Americans across the country from public programming while throwing away expensive international broadcasts? Perhaps a realignment would be in order. Beam Marti North rather than South and democratize its programming. It would be great to have public stations in Spanish for the entire country, and they could keep their name as well as their Cuba news and music for all to enjoy.
Radio and TV Marti’s web address is http://www.martinoticias.com/noticias/ and both stations can be tuned in live through their webpage.
P.S. Incidentally, it was announced today that the BBC is cutting its short-wave broadcasts in Spanish to Cuba, along with a lot of its international programming.
A few days after we published this post, and Cubanencuentro kindly linked it, the Council on Hemospheric Affairs, picked up the issue and wrote a well-researched piece. Subsequently, there has been a domino effect and legislation is being presented in the House and the Senate.
– The blog Penultimos Dias reported on an investigation on the hefty compensation paid by Radio Marti to various individuals, including well known academics, for their collaboration.
– April 10th: Truthout.org agrees that “While House Republicans showed no difficulties in placing National Public Radio (NPR) on the chopping block in mid-March, they have overlooked conservative pet projects that are far more costly, of lower quality, and ineffective. Two such projects are the anti-Castro broadcasts Radio and TV Martí…”
– April 12th: For the conservative blog Capitol Hill Cubans linking NPR to Radio Marti “is absurd”.