The U.S. Agency for Global Media released its 2018 annual report today. The agency oversees the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, or OCB, which is based in Miami.
Here are excerpts related to Cuba:
- In August, OCB began a partnership with Freedom House on a new project called Cubano conoce tus derechos (Cuban, Know Your Rights). Radio and TV Martí broadcasters read chapters of the UN Declaration of Human Rights on-air and offer a hotline for citizens to report human rights abuses in Cuba. Once these incidents have been checked for accuracy, the reports are sent to Freedom House for dissemination to foreign governments, media outlets and civil society leaders.
- Radio Martí launched Arcoiris (Rainbow), to explore LGBTQ life in Cuba, the United States and around the world, including the social and cultural status of that community as well as their civil and human rights. Led by award-winning journalists, Arcoiris examines all facets of gay life inside and outside the island with the purpose of educating and entertaining Cuban audiences.
- In July, Radio Martí premiered a program, Las Mujeres de Cuba (The Women of Cuba), which highlights Cuban women who set a new tone for women on the island. Using first-person narratives from prominent women’s rights activists, the program explores the history of women’s rights on the island, successful efforts and future challenges.
The agency’s four other networks, besides the OCB, are Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.
The five networks had an audience of 345 million in 2018, up from 278 million in 2017, according to the agency’s executive director, John Lansing.
OCB claimed an audience of 1 million people in Cuba in fiscal year 2018. The organization hoped to reach 2 million in 2019 and 2.5 million in 2020.
“I am so very proud to be at the helm of a modern media organization that has been on an accelerating arc of success for almost two decades,” Lansing was quoted as saying in the annual report. “I am especially proud that every USAGM employee is part of one team, collaborating to advance our mission and the fundamental, universal principles of press freedom.”
The U.S. government spent $911 million for broadcasting to Cuba from fiscal years 1984 through 2019, according to the Congressional Research Service. Funding ranged from $27 million to $29 million from 2014 to 2019.
The Trump administration recommended cutting the amount to $13.7 million for fiscal 2019. Congress declined, setting the budget at $29.1 million.
Trump administration officials are again seeking big cuts. In response, the OCB requested just $12,973,000 for fiscal 2020, down from $29,144,000 in 2019. Such a drastic cut would required OCB to reduce the number of employees from 111 to 52. Congress has the power to approve a larger budget.
Some lawmakers have criticized the OCB. In October 2018, media outlets reported that a May 2018 TV Martí program called philanthropist George Soros a “multimillionaire Jew of Hungarian origin” and blamed him for the 2008 financial crisis. Then-Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, described it as “taxpayer-funded anti-Semitism” and demanded an investigation. Several heads rolled at Radio & TV Martí.
In May 2019, a report entitled “Embarking on Reform in the Office of Cuba Broadcasting” concluded that the network’s Cuba reports contained “ineffective propaganda” and were “peppered with bad journalism.”
The report stated:
Most of the digital, radio and TV reports include on-the-record sources, meaning someone willing to be named and quoted. However, the problem is that the sources often
- have one point of view and/or
- it is not clear what their expertise is and why they are part of the story.
Clearly, there should be a greater range of sources with different points of view included in stories, as called for by Martí’s standards.
Similarly, too much information was presented without attribution, leaving the impression that it was pulled out of mid-air. Although no plagiarism was detected, sloppy sourcing can lead to charges of plagiarism.
Almost any criticism of the Cuban government and its leaders appears to be allowed on Martí, on radio, TV and online, day in and day out, in news commentary and shows and online reports throughout the day. Television appears to be the worst. The hosts and guests are so anti-Castro that their language is often raw. The hosts insert themselves and their own experiences into the stories being told. There is little or no attempt to obtain a response or provide balancing information, in that program or another one.
The Agency for Global Media’s budget request for fiscal year 2020 is $628,076,000, down from $807,686,000 in fiscal 2019. See 178-page budget justification.
The budget justification states:
Beginning June of 2018, under new leadership, OCB has experienced a large transformation, reinventing itself to position OCB in the 21st Century and increase the level of penetration to serve the changing demographics of the Cuban people. During this time, Radio Martí has created six new daily radio shows and thirteen new radio weekend shows as well as added three new hours of hard news to have a daily total of six hours of hard news.
In FY 2020, OCB seeks to have 24 hours of original programming with emphasis on news, entertainment and diversity. TV Martí has already created 14 new shows and expanded the TV news from one half hour to one hour and a half. TV Martí now has 36 hours of new original programming per week versus 10 hours per week previously. The goal for the rest of FY 2019 and heading into FY 2020 is to reach 75 hours of original TV programming per week.
The goal for FY 2019 and FY 2020 is to create and produce a comprehensive series about the 30th anniversary of the fall of communism in Europe and its impact on Cuba. Four more series of historic significance will be produced in FY 2019 and FY 2020.
In FY 2019 and FY 2020, OCB will increase its communications with independent journalists, civic society leaders, religious leaders, and the LGBT community, connecting them with OCB’s worldwide network of correspondents and interacting on the air. OCB has gone through a total transformation of its digital page and all social platforms in order to engage directly with the people of Cuba.