Congressional Research Service Report: "Cuba -U.S. Policy in 116th Congress & Through Trump Administration"
(excerpt from report)
Radio and TV Marti
U.S.-government-sponsored radio and television broadcasting to Cuba--Radio and TV Marti-- began in 1985 and 1990, respectively.
Until October 1999, U.S.-government-funded international broadcasting programs had been a primary function of the United States Information Agency (USIA). When USIA was abolished and its functions merged into the Department of State at the beginning of FY2000, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) became an independent agency that included such entities as the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB). In August 2018, the BBG officially changed its name to the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM).
Today, OCB, which has been headquartered in Miami, FL, since 1998, manages Radio and TV Marti, the radiotelevisionmart.com website and its social media platforms on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
According to the BBG's 2021 Congressional Budget Justification, the Martis reached 11.1% of Cubans on a weekly basis in 2017, with shortwave, medium waver, direct-to-home satellite, satellite radio, internet, social media, flash drives, and DVDs to help reach Cuban audiences. OCBadministers a USAGM shortwave transmitting station in Greenville, NC, which is being upgraded with refurbished transmitters that will lower cost and increase reliability.
Congressional Funding. From FY1984 through FY2019, Congress appropriated about $911 million for broadcasting to Cuba. Funding amounted to some $27-$29 million in each fiscal year from FY2014 to FY2019. For FY2018, Congress provided $28.936 million for Cuba broadcasting, $5.28 million more than requested, in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141; explanatory statement, Division K). For FY2019, the Trump Administration requested $13.656 million for the OCB, $15.3 million less than the amount provided in FY2017.
The rationale for the proposed cut was to find efficiencies between OCB and the Voice of America's Latin American division.
Congress ultimately took final action on FY2019 appropriations in February 2019 by enacting the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019 (P.L.116-6, H.J.Res. 31, conference report H.Rept. 116-9) that provided $29.1 million for Cuba broadcasting.
For FY2020, the Administration requested $12.973 million for Cuba broadcasting, a 55% cut from FY2019, with the proposed program decreases from staffing and contract reductions.
The House-passed FY2020 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) bill, Division D of H.R. 2740 (which references H.Rept. 116-78 to H.R. 2839) would have fully funded the Administration's request, whereas the Senate Appropriations Committee's SFOPS bill, S. 2583 (S.Rept. 116-126) would provide $20.973 million. Ultimately, in the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94, Division G), Congress went with the amount in the Senate bill and provided $20.973 million for Cuba broadcasting.
For FY2021, the Administration again requested $12.973 million for Cuba broadcasting. USAGM's budget request indicated that in FY2020 and FY2021, OCB would work to ensure that its content production, workforce structure, and skillset align with ongoing reforms (discussed below) aimed at improving content quality, strengthening journalistic integrity, and reaching Cuban audiences effectively. Both the House-passed FY2021 SFOPS bill, Division A of H.R. 7608 (H.Rept. 116-444), approved in July 2020, and the Senate Appropriations Committee's FY2021 draft SFOPS bill and explanatory statement would have fully funded the broadcasting request at $12.973 million.
Ultimately, in the Consolidated Appropriations Act. 2021 (P.L. 116-260, Division K), and its explanatory statement, Congress provided $12.973 million for Cuba broadcasting in FY2021 and allowed for the transfer of up to $7 million from the U.S. Agency for Global Media's Buying Power Maintenance Account (BMPA) to help manage the cost of Office of Cuba Broadcasting reform begun in 2019. According to the explanatory statement, the reporting and briefing requirements under the "Office of Cuba Broadcasting" heading in S.Rept. 116-126 are to remain in effect for FY2021. Those required the USAGM chief executive officer (CEO), in consultation with the OCB Director, to (1) provide quarterly updates to the appropriate congressional committees on implementation of OCB reforms to broadcasting standards and (2) brief such committees on reform efforts. As noted in the explanatory statement, each report shall include the amount planned for transfer from the BMPA pursuant to the transfer authority and justification for the transfer.
2018 Anti-Semitic TV Marti Program and Subsequent Reform Efforts for OCB. In October 2018, media reports highlighted a disturbing TV Marti program originally aired in May 2018 (which remained on Radio and Television Marti's website) that referred to U.S. businessman and philanthropist George Soros as "the multimillionaire Jew of Hungarian origin" and as a "nonbelieving Jew of flexible morals." The program espoused a number of conspiracy theories about Soros, including that he was the architect of the 2008 financial crisis.
Then-Senator Jeff Flake spoke out against the TV Marti program, which he referred to as "taxpayer-funded anti-Semitism."
He sent a letter to John Lansing, then-CEO of USAGM, asking for an investigation into the program, including its evolution from initial inception to final approval, who produced the program, and what review process was in place to ensure it met Voice of America journalistic standards. Flake also called for those approving anti-Semitic content to be removed from their positions immediately, asserting that "lack of action on this matter will further denigrate the United States as a credible voice overseas, the repercussion of which will be severe."
Then-OCB Director Tomas Regalado responded by pulling the original program and related shorter segments from the OCB's online website and acknowledging that the program "did not have the required balance."
USAGM's CEO Lansing took further action by issuing a statement that the program about Soros "is inconsistent with our professional standards and ethics." He stated that those deemed responsible for the production would be immediately placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into their apparent misconduct. Lansing also directed "an immediate, full content audit to identify any patterns of unethical reporting at the network" and asked Regalado to "require ethics and standards refresher training for all OCB journalists."
Lansing wrote a letter of apology to Soros in November 2018 in which he said that the program "was based on extremely poor and unprofessional journalism," and "was utterly offensive in its anti-Semitism and clear bias." Lansing also stated in the letter that he had instructed OCB Director Regalado "to remove the offensive story from the TV Marti website and social media" and "to hire a full time 'standards and practices' editor to oversee all outgoing content with strict adherence to the highest professional standards of journalism."
The audit of reporting at the network reportedly uncovered an earlier story about Soros that included anti-Semitic language as well as an anti-Muslim opinion piece published in September 2018, that were also removed from the website.
In February 2019, Lansing reported that one employee and three contractors had been terminated because of the anti-Semitic video segment and that the agency had initiated the standard disciplinary process for four additional OCB employees. Lansing also noted that USAGM commissioned a team of independent experts to conduct an objective third-party assessment of OCB's coverage in Spanish across all platform.
USAGM issued its third-party assessment in May 2019, which included a panel of independent experts examining "an extensive sample to identify and address any patterns of unethical, unprofessional, biased, or sub-standard journalism."
The assessment highly criticized OCB's radio and television news shows and "the steady daily diet of political talk shows and background reports" that were "peppered with bad journalism" and were "ineffective propaganda." In its review, the panel of experts made three substantive findings regarding OCB's coverage:
* well-established norms of objectivity in journalism are routinely disregarded in favor of overtly propagandistic communications tactics;
* the content presentation on radio, via video, and online seems unlikely to succeed in promoting freedom and democracy given the demography, culture, and political circumstances of Cuba today; and
* shortcomings in both intention and implementation reflect the extent to which Marti operates as an anachronism.
In response to the panel of experts' review and an internal USAGM review of OCB's journalist standards editorial processes and personnel practices, then-CEO Lansing established a joint USAGM-OCB working group to reform OCB. The working group focused on five areas: (1) updating journalistic standards, reinforcing editorial processes, and producing relevant, engaging, and balanced journalism; (2) clarifying strategy and strengthening leadership; (3) bolstering workforce planning and personnel management; (4) ensuring the right balance of media platforms and effective distribution of content into Cuba; and (5) deepening coordination and collaboration with USAGM and its other networks. (Mike Cooper via WOR io group)