Kenneth Y. Tomlinson
Chairman, Broadcasting Board of Governors
Testimony Before the
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
June 11, 2003
Mr. Chairman: I want to thank you and your Committee for holding this hearing and giving us the opportunity to appear before you this afternoon.
I’m proud to have at my side, Pedro Roig, the new Director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. Mr. Roig has been the director for only a few weeks, but his leadership and creativity already have made a huge difference. In coming months, the BBG looks forward to working with Mr. Roig and his team to upgrade the quality of programs and transmissions of our Marti broadcasts to that troubled country.
As you and the members of this Committee know well, Cuba is a communist totalitarian country without the basic freedoms to which all people are entitled. The media is entirely controlled by the party-state. The church is closely watched. And the regime has thrown an increasing number of its citizens behind bars on trumped up political charges.
As you are well aware, the human rights situation in Cuba has sadly deteriorated in recent weeks. The Castro government has moved to repress the democratic opposition, including those involved in the Varela Project, a petition signed by more than 11,000 Cubans asking that the regime live up to its own constitution and guarantee basic civil and human rights. The Cuban government sentenced 75 people to prison terms averaging 20 years, after what can only be described as kangaroo courts.
These outrageous actions so at variance with the democratic wave that has swept the world in recent years have been denounced by people of good will everywhere, by the Bush Administration, and by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus – which on May 7 held an important meeting to focus public attention on the recent crackdown on Cuban dissidents.
But Castro’s latest actions have done more than generate outrage around the world. They have led ever more people in democratic countries to conclude that we must do more to help the people of Cuba achieve the rights that are inherently theirs. And one of the most important means of helping the people of Cuba to reclaim these rights is to provide them with accurate and balanced information so they can make their own decisions and advance toward democracy.
The Bush Administration – from the President down – has directed U.S. international broadcasting to do more to reach the Cuban people with quality programming. That we will do in the coming weeks and months.
The occasion of Cuban Independence Day on May 20th and the President’s special Spanish-language address to the people in Cuba gave us an opportunity to utilize multiple channels to convey the message of freedom and democracy to the Cuban people. In a special test, transmission resources for both Radio and TV Marti were enhanced during a two-day period, allowing an opportunity both to test our transmission alternatives and to let the Cuban people know that we are committed to getting our signal to them. Never before have we used so many different channels to get our message through Castro’s jamming, and the reports we have to date suggest that this strategy holds promise.
For the first time, TV Marti employed Direct-to-Home satellite service to deliver signals to those Cubans with satellite dishes, and employed an airborne transmission system operating from a C-130 aircraft flying in U.S. airspace to broadcast on a VHF channel not in use in the area and at the time of transmission. The Radio Marti testing initiatives included adding two high power short-wave frequencies per hour, for a total of six frequencies per hour over a 24-hour period, and the addition of a second AM frequency transmitted from the same airborne platform that delivered the television signal.
What reception reports we have received for this test period indicate encouraging results. Clear reception was reported for the additional shortwave frequencies employed during the broadcast surge. We also believe the second AM frequency was clear throughout much of the island. OCB has gathered preliminary reports from citizens on the island in an effort to document reception of the enhanced TV Marti transmission. Initial information indicates that the broadcasts were received, in varying periods of duration, in a number of geographical areas in Cuba. I have brought with me a map of Cuba that illustrates the areas where we have evidence that television reception was positive. OCB is still in the process of gathering and reviewing incoming data for further evaluation, and we will keep this Committee informed as new information is available.
TV Marti’s special transmission on May 20th included a two-hour program devoted to the heroic struggle of the peaceful dissident movement, the brutal repression of that movement, commentary from around the world in support of the dissidents featuring well-known European and Latin American intellectuals, and the historic speech of President Bush who spoke to the Cuban people in Spanish with his message of freedom and hope. I am pleased to provide to the Committee copies of the documentary-style program on the struggle of Cuba’s activists to bring liberty and democracy to the island that was featured on May 20th, with English subtitles, that I have brought with me today.
Although the May 20th test gives us signs that we can have greater success in reaching the Cuban people with accurate and objective news and information, there is still much work to do. In a jammed environment, transmission of radio and television is a challenging proposition, even to a target audience only 90 miles from our shores. We fully expect that further tests will be needed before we lay out any future course of action. In planning these tests, we must be mindful of our treaty obligations in international broadcasting.
In the near term, the Administration has requested certain modifications to the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act that would provide us with greater flexibility to enhance our AM transmission to Cuba. We are grateful that this Committee has included this language in the pending Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004 and 2005.
Aside from exploring new transmission options, we are committed to program change — and modernization at the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. OCB has recently launched its upgraded website – Martinoticias.com – with multiple dynamic pages designed to enhance distribution of radio and television programming and to provide news to the increasing number of young Cubans who have access to the Internet, as opposed to the Cuban regime-controlled “intranet.” Since the launch of its redesigned web page, we have seen a significant increase in visitor traffic.
Radio and TV Marti are integrating more entertainment into their program schedules to balance its heavy emphasis on news and political reporting. The objective is to expand audience reach to all segments of the Cuban population, provide a dynamic pace and delivery, and use music with a more contemporary sound. Youth programs, traditionally a weak area, have increased, as have programs to draw listeners from the Afro-Cuban community, and women. Radio Marti is working to “customize” its programs to meet the broad audience needs on the island. We must do more. I particularly applaud the recent agreement with Major League Baseball that is enabling Radio and TV Marti to broadcast two games a week to the island.
News programs, of course, remain the central focus of Radio and TV Marti, and we must continue to raise the bar of their reporting. Radio Marti’s news department is undergoing a process of restructuring in an effort to make the operation more effective. These efforts focus on the need to ensure strict adherence to editorial guidelines, place strong emphasis on providing significant live coverage of important breaking news events, create a network of correspondents in key locations around the world, and improve access to diverse news sources. For example, Radio and TV Marti provided breaking, up-to-the-minute coverage of the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s vote calling for a special representative to investigate the human rights situation in Cuba. Radio Marti news anchors broke into regularly scheduled programming to bring this story live to Cuba. OCB’s U.N. correspondent on assignment in Geneva provided details of the debate, and veteran human rights activists offered analysis of the vote.
I want to emphasize in this regard that we are at great pains to ensure that Radio and TV Marti broadcasts, and especially news broadcasts, reflect clearly and completely the U.S. Government’s commitment that migration from Cuba to the United States take place only in a safe, legal and orderly manner.
We are committed to fulfilling the Board’s mandate that our International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) conduct two program reviews of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting per year. Since July 1999, IBB has conducted six reviews of Radio Marti. We believe these reviews are working to support innovations in programming and attention to strong journalistic standards. In addition, Radio Marti is in the process of revitalizing its internal Program Review Committee, thereby strengthening its own mechanism for program evaluation.
We will do more.
In his testimony which you will momentarily hear, Mr. Roig captures the spirit of change that will mark our efforts in the coming months. We will find ways to get our programming through to the Cuban people. We will execute program reform to ensure the focus of our news and current affairs programs is on what is actually happening in Cuba. In the tradition of good journalism, our programming will inform, entertain, and inspire.
The recent events in Cuba confirm that it is more important than ever for us to reach the Cuban people with news of what is happening in their country as well as reactions to the events around the world.
We at the Broadcasting Board of Governors look forward to working with the Office of Cuba Broadcasting to meet the challenge of delivering the spirit and substance of freedom to the people of Cuba. It is my pleasure to introduce to you Pedro Roig.