International Affairs:

Broadcasting Board of Governors Should Provide Additional Information to Congress Regarding Broadcasting to Cuba

GAO-12-243R: Published: Dec 13, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 13, 2011.

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What GAO FOUND:


While BBG's strategic plan for broadcasting to Cuba includes certain information called for in the congressional directive, such as an analysis of the current situation in Cuba, it does not include other information, such as the estimated audience size of Radio and TV Marti and the effectiveness of various transmission methods in increasing audience size. The conference report accompanying the Consolidation Appropriations Act, 2010, directed BBG to submit a strategic plan for broadcasting to Cuba. In response to the directive, BBG produced a strategic plan for broadcasting to Cuba and submitted it to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations in August 2011. We assessed BBG's strategic plan and found it lacked key information. Of the six requirements in the directive, we found BBG's strategic plan fully addressed one and partially addressed the remaining five. BBG cited challenges obtaining valid data on audience size in Cuba as the primary reason that several of the requirements could not be satisfied. During the course of our audit, BBG provided us some of the required information it did not include in its strategic plan. For instance, BBG provided us with information on the priority of broadcasting to Cuba as determined by the Language Service Review. According to the 2009 Language Service Review, the development of a unified broadcasting plan for Latin America, including coordination between OCB and the Voice of America, is an area of strategic importance for BBG. According to BBG officials, data necessary to fully address multiple requirements are not currently available. For instance, several of the requirements, such as the audience size of Radio and TV Marti and the cost effectiveness of various transmission methods, require BBG to have comprehensive information about its audience in Cuba, such as national audience size estimates. While BBG's strategic plan includes results of a national survey to estimate the audience size of Radio and TV Marti in 2008, it does not include current audience size estimates because it concludes that such estimates are not feasible. From 2003 to 2008, BBG conducted telephone surveys of households in Cuba to estimate audience size. The results of these surveys estimated the weekly reach of Radio and TV Marti at less than 2 percent of Cuban adults in households with landline phones. According to BBG officials, the 2008 survey results showed a sharp drop in the reach of all foreign broadcasters compared to previous years' surveys, which they attributed to respondents' fear of acknowledging their use of foreign media. BBG officials stated this concern raises questions regarding the validity of the audience size estimates of the 2008 survey. As a result, since 2008, BBG has not conducted telephone surveys of Cubans to estimate the audience size of Radio and TV Marti. Consequently, BBG officials told us they cannot obtain valid data needed to address portions of the congressional directive related to audience size and cost effectiveness estimates. To ensure that Congress has information necessary to exercise its oversight responsibilities, we recommend that the Broadcasting Board of Governors report to Congress an analysis of the estimated costs and cost savings of sharing resources between the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Voice of America's Latin America Division.

Why GAO Did This Study:

For more than two decades, the U.S. government has broadcast news and information to Cuba via Radio Marti (and subsequently TV Marti) to promote freedom and democracy. Over this time period, Congress has provided more than $660 million to fund these efforts. Radio and TV Marti is produced by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), a U.S. government entity overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). In January 2009, we reported on the effectiveness of OCB broadcasts and found that due to limitations on audience research, decision makers lacked basic information to help assess the relative success or return on investment from each of OCB's transmission methods. We also found that OCB's broadcasts faced varying levels of by the Cuban government. In the conference report accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010, the conferees directed BBG to submit a strategic plan for broadcasting to Cuba, and directed the plan contain information on six specific requirements. The conference report also directed GAO to conduct an assessment of that plan within 90 days of its issuance. BBG's strategic plan was issued on August 26, 2011. To satisfy the congressional directive, this report examines the extent to which BBG's strategic plan for broadcasting to Cuba includes the information required under the directive.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: BBG concurred with our recommendation that it provide an analysis to Congress of the estimated costs and costs savings of sharing resources between the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Voice of America's Latin America Division. BBG noted it will work to develop this information as part of its strategic planning process.

    Recommendation: To ensure that Congress has information necessary to exercise its oversight responsibilities, the Broadcasting Board of Governors should report to Congress an analysis of the estimated costs and cost savings of sharing resources between the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Voice of America's Latin America Division.

    Agency Affected: Broadcasting Board of Governors

 

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