Radio, TV Martí to be aired locally

December 19, 2006

Miami Herald- Christina Hoag

Taxpayer-funded TV and Radio Martí are spending $377,500 to air select programs on South Florida broadcast stations over the next six months, using loopholes in a law that prohibits the propaganda channels from distribution within the United States.

The deals appear to be the first of their kind between the Martís and private commercial stations with mostly U.S. audiences. The stations -- Univisión's Radio Mambí 710 AM and WPMF-TV 38, the Azteca América affiliate owned by TVC Broadcasting -- technically can reach Cuba.

The agreements come at a time when Fidel Castro, Cuba's longtime leader, is thought to be dying. The Cuban government jams Martí transmissions directly to the island, but experts said the signal from a South Florida AM radio station can get there, very clearly at night. And WPMF-TV, an over-the-air station, can be seen by Cubans with satellite dishes.

'It's another method to get our signal in,' Pedro Roig, director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which runs the Martís, said on Radio Mambí Monday. Roig estimated that 30,000 Cubans can receive satellite TV. ``It's a decision taken at the White House.'

Critics, however, noted that a Cuban audience for either station is only an infinitesimal fraction of their South Florida audience, and both stations are clearly aimed at South Floridians.

'It certainly sounds like it's inconsistent with the spirit of the federal law,' said John Nichols, associate dean of Pennsylvania State University's College of Communication. He is a longtime monitor -- and critic -- of the Martís.

Joe García, executive vice president of the New Democratic Network, said he was outraged. Radio Mambí, known for its virulent anti-Castro commentary, is blocked in Cuba, he said.

'This is a fraud,' García said. ``This is using taxpayer dollars for a political payoff to benefit the most Republican and politically charged radio station in Miami. They know well that the station isn't heard in Cuba, because Cuba transmits Radio Rebelde over the exact same frequency.'

Ninoska Perez, a commentator for Radio Mambí, declined to talk to The Miami Herald. Mambí general manager Claudia Puig did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TV and Radio Martí, and other U.S. government-funded media such as Voice of America, are prohibited by law from airing in the United States because their content is designed for foreign audiences. The Martí programs -- which include documentaries, comedies, interviews and talk shows -- are aimed at balancing the information Cubans on the island receive from their government, which restricts press access, with the viewpoints of the U.S. government.

However, there are exceptions to the prohibition, said Larry Hart, a spokesman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Martís.

'We believe we have the authority to do this,' Hart said. He added that the deals were made after extensive consultation with the congressional committees overseeing the Martís.

According to the act governing Radio Martí, the U.S. government is allowed to lease time on the AM band to overcome significant signal-jamming by the Cuban government.

The provision for the TV Martí broadcasts is far less clear. The Broadcasting Board of Governors appears to be relying upon a paragraph in the law that terms dissemination in the United States illegal unless ``such dissemination is inadvertent.'

Hart likened inadvertent dissemination to a person in the United States picking up Radio Martí on a shortwave. However, in the case of WPMF-TV, South Floridians are not 'inadvertently' tuning into the station, they are the station's main audience.

Hart noted that the law was written before the advent of new technology, such as satellite and the Internet.

On Radio Mambí Monday morning, Jorge Luis Hernández, director of broadcast operations for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, said the White House pushed to have the Martís broadcast using local stations in Miami.

'The U.S. government has decided that DirecTV, as of today, is a new way for TV Martí to broadcast,' he said.

Under the six-month contracts, Mambí will earn $182,500 to carry Radio Martí from midnight to 1 a.m. nightly.

WPMF-TV will earn $195,000 to air TV Martí's half-hour news programs at 6:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., plus one-minute news briefs from noon to midnight. WPMF may pick up Saturday programming as well, said general manager Enrique Landín.

'We're hoping that Cuba will pick up the signal on DirecTV and Dish network,' said Landín, who is Cuban. ``The newscast is well done. It's not too political and it's very informative.'

Miami Herald staff writer Oscar Corral contributed to this report.

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