HISPANIC BUSINESS | Jeffrey Kofman
It’s the newscast to nowhere — courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.
Fifty-five reporters, editors and producers — all U.S. government employees — work seven days a week in a television newsroom in Miami. Each day they earnestly assemble, record and broadcast 4½ hours of news and information programming in Spanish.
And no one sees it.
The intended audience is the people of Cuba.
Like those Voice of America radio broadcasts the United States used to beam across the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, TV Martí is meant to promote democracy in Communist Cuba. But since it began in 1990 the only thing it has successfully promoted is scorn here in the United States.
Because from the beginning, the Castro government has successfully blocked the TV Martí signal. It costs the Cuban government just pennies a day to operate the jamming antennas that are strategically perched on top of Havana’s highest buildings.
It costs U.S. taxpayers almost $10 million a year — more than $100 million since TV Martí began — to keep broadcasting TV Martí‘s anti-Castro invective into the ether.
ABCNEWS Havana producer Mara Valdes checked to see if people on the streets of the Cuban capital had ever heard of the U.S.-based newscast that is produced just for them.
“No,” said one man as he shook his head, “because I haven’t seen it on TV.”
“Never,” added a woman, “because it can’t be seen.”
‘Never Been Seen in Cuba’
“TV Martí has just never been seen in Cuba,” said Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of chorus of congressmen who think TV Martí‘s funding should have been cut long ago. His conclusion: “It’s a jobs program. Frankly, I think it’s a political payoff.”
According to Flake, TV Martí is zealously protected by Miami’s three Cuban-American congressional representatives who reward their hardline supporters with jobs.
“I’d like to say it’s something different, but given the amount of time and effort we put in trying to change it and the resistance we had, you can only conclude that it’s a jobs program,” he said.
The newest director of TV Martí and its sister operation Radio Martí (which is heard in Cuba, although even U.S. reports suggest it has very few listeners) is Pedro Roig. A real estate lawyer with no broadcasting experience but deep roots in the anti-Castro exile community in Miami, Roig gets a salary of $132,000 a year.
“I am not looking at the past, but at the future,” said Roig when asked what he has to say to critics of his newscast to nowhere. “And my answer to the critics is this: This could be a valid criticism. Give us a few months. Give us time.”
Roig wants time to explore alternative methods of transmission. Possibly from a satellite — although few Cubans have satellite dishes — and possibly from a U.S. government broadcast plane that would make daily flights just outside Cuban airspace. He doesn’t know what that would cost.
And while he and others explore options. The news goes on. To nowhere.
Source: Copyright © 2003 ABCNEWS Internet Ventures.