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Broadcasting to Cuba: Actions Are Needed to Improve Strategy and Operations.

GAO-09-127 January 22, 2009

For more than two decades, the U.S. government has been broadcasting to Cuba to break the Cuban government's information blockade and promote democracy in Cuba. Over this period, questions have been raised regarding the quality and effectiveness of these broadcasts. GAO was asked to examine (1) the Office of Cuba Broadcasting's (OCB) broadcasting approach and what is known about its audience; (2) how the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)--which oversees U.S. government broadcasting--and OCB ensure compliance with journalistic principles; (3) steps taken to ensure adherence to domestic and international broadcasting laws, agreements, and standards; and (4) steps BBG and OCB have taken to address management challenges. GAO analyzed documentation related to strategic planning, audience research, oversight, and operations and interviewed officials from BBG, BBG's International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), OCB, State, and other agencies.

OCB broadcasts Radio and TV Marti through multiple transmission methodsthat face varying levels of jamming by the Cuban government. While there are no nationally representative data and some surveys of recent Cuban emigres suggest a larger audience, the best available research suggests that Radio and TV Marti's audience is small. Specifically, less than 2 percent of respondents to telephone surveys since 2003 reported tuning in to Radio or TV Marti during the past week. Despite the importance of audience research, we found minimal sharing of such research among available sources. Because of limitations in the audience research data, decisionmakers lack basic information to help assess the relative success or return on investment from each of OCB's transmission methods. BBG's IBB--which directly oversees OCB--has established an annual program review process that serves as the main mechanism for assessing OCB's compliance with journalistic standards. While IBB officials report that the quality of OCB programming has improved in recent years, IBB reviews since 2003 have recommended improving adherence to certain journalistic standards, particularly in the areas of balance and objectivity. IBB's process provides useful feedback, but we found weaknesses such as limited training and operational guidance for staff conducting the reviews. OCB and IBB have taken steps to ensure that U.S. broadcasting adheres to relevant laws and standards, but some concerns remain. To comply with U.S. law, they have taken steps to minimize the domestic dissemination of OCB programming; however, OCB broadcasts reach U.S. audiences in several ways, such as through the Internet. In addition, a commercial TV station contracted to broadcast OCB programming showed some inappropriate advertisements during OCB programs. Furthermore, an international body found that OCB's TV broadcasts cause harmful interference to Cuban broadcasts, but the U.S. government has not taken steps to address this issue. Despite some efforts by BBG and OCB, oversight entities have identified problems such as poor communication by OCB management and low employee morale. For example, OCB lacks formal mechanisms for communicating with or obtaining information from employees.

Recommendations

Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Implemented" or "Not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Jess T. Ford Team: Government Accountability Office: International Affairs and Trade Phone: (202) 512-4268

Recommendations for Executive Action

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Recommendation: To assist decisionmakers and improve OCB's strategy, the Broadcasting Board of Governors should conduct an analysis of the relative success and return on investment of broadcasting to Cuba, showing the cost, nature of the audience, and challenges--such as jamming and competition--related to each of OCB's transmission methods. The analysis should also include comprehensive information regarding the media environment in Cuba to better understand the extent to which OCB broadcasts are attractive to Cubans.

Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

Status: In process

Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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Recommendation: To assist decisionmakers and improve OCB's strategy, the Broadcasting Board of Governors should coordinate the sharing of information among U.S. agencies and grantees regarding audience research relating to Radio and TV Marti.

Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

Status: In process

Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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Recommendation: To improve OCB operations, the Broadcasting Board of Governors should direct IBB to enhance guidance and training for analysts performing program reviews.

Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

Status: In process

Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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Recommendation: To improve OCB operations, the Board of Governors should direct OCB to provide training to OCB staff regarding journalistic standards.

Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

Status: In process

Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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Recommendation: To improve OCB operations, the Board of Governors should direct IBB to develop guidance and take steps to ensure that political and other inappropriate advertisements are not shown during OCB broadcasts.

Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

Status: In process

Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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Recommendation: To improve OCB operations, the Board of Governors should direct OCB to establish formal mechanisms for disseminating information to and obtaining views from employees to help improve communication and morale.

Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

Status: In process

Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
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Publication:General Accounting Office Reports & Testimony
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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