February 5, 2009

Unclear On the Concept: The G.A.O.

Miami Herald: Broadcasts to Cuba Questioned.

Generally, I approve of the GAO (General Accounting Office). Their mission is laudable: to keep track of our government's expenditures and make sure that our money is being spent in a manner beneficial to the taxpayer. They find and eliminate waste.

Currently, they're reviewing Radio and TV Martí, the government funded news source being directed at Cuba. Why? In theory, we're using facts to undermine Castro's propaganda machine, but in practice we end up simply countering their lies and distortions with our own lies and distortions
Although the GAO report states that programming has improved and praised its management, it said broadcasts are often biased and fail to adhere to journalistic standards.
And if this was an article about journalistic integrity, I wouldn't need to write this.

No, it's the other part of the GAO report that I find questionable:
Last year, less than 1 percent of people surveyed said they had listened to Radio Martí in the past week, said the study by the Government Accountability Office, the investigating arm of Congress.
And how, you might wonder, was this survey conducted? After all, Cuba is a strict dictatorship, run by a tyrant who doesn't approve of the United States. The GAO can't hardly send over a team of pollsters to knock on doors in Havana. Nielsen has a zero presence over there.

So how did the GAO determine if anyone listens to Radio Martí? They called up 1200 people who were approved by the government of Cuba to receive telephone service, and asked these government approved people over the government-monitored telephone lines if these select Cuban citizens broke Cuban law by listening to propganda issued by Cuba's declared Enemy Number One.

Of course, you could also ask the Cubans who've just left, and yes, the GAO did that, too:
But the same report said nearly half of new Cuban arrivals to the United States said they had listened to the broadcasts in the past six months.
So just to be clear: half the people who got out from under Castro's oppression report that they had listened to Radio Martí, versus 1% of the 1200 state-approved Cuban citizens. (I suspect that the 1% were members of the Secret Police, hoping to setup some kind of sting operation).

That's not to say that Radio and TV Martí isn't wasting millions of dollars; it absolutely is. After all, there really aren't that many TVs in Cuba, and TV signals are much easier to disrupt. And while even a thirty year old transistor radio has an earplug, anyone peeking in your window can see what's playing on your TV. Stupid to be caught watching US propaganda.

And even if you decide that broadcasting TV is worth it, compare the costs to operations at WLRN, which also runs both a radio and a TV station.

But that's the subject for another post at another time; I'm just pointing out that doing a phone survey over a heavily wire-tapped line that serves only citizens approved by the state is unlikely to reveal much about Radio and TV Martí patronage.

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