Radio Marti: Program Review Processes Need Strengthening (Letter Report,
09/23/94, GAO/NSIAD-94-265).

Radio Marti, a U.S.-funded radio station, was established in 1983 to
broadcast uncensored news and information to Cuba.  Radio Marti programs
are required to be objective and balanced and to present a variety of
views.  For several years, allegations have been made that political
bias has undermined the accuracy and objectivity of Radio Marti's news
and information broadcasts. This report reviews the implementation of
the U.S. Information Agency's plan for enhancing the overall review
process of Radio Marti by (1) moving a program review unit from the
Office of Voice of America programs to the Office of the Associate
Director, Bureau of Broadcasting, and making the unit responsible for
overseeing the review process at Radio Marti and (2) creating an
external review panel to broadcast practices at Radio Marti.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

     TITLE:  Radio Marti: Program Review Processes Need Strengthening
      DATE:  09/23/94
   SUBJECT:  Radio broadcasting
             Radio communications operations
             International relations
             Quality assurance
             Standards evaluation
             Quality control
             Program evaluation
             Federal agency reorganization
             International agreements
IDENTIFIER:  USIA Radio Marti Program
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================================================================ COVER

Report to the Chairman, Legislation and National Security
Subcommittee, Committee on Government Operations, House of

September 1994



Radio Marti

=============================================================== ABBREV

  OCB - Office of Cuba Broadcasting
  USIA - U.S.  Information Agency
  VOA - Voice of America

=============================================================== LETTER


September 23, 1994

The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
Chairman, Legislation and National
 Security Subcommittee
Committee on Government Operations
House of Representatives

Dear Mr.  Chairman: 

In response to your request, we reviewed the implementation of the
U.S.  Information Agency's (USIA) plan for enhancing the overall
review process for Radio Marti by (1) moving a program review unit
from the Office of Voice of America (VOA) Programs to the Office of
the Associate Director, Bureau of Broadcasting, and making the unit
responsible for overseeing the review process at Radio Marti and (2)
creating an external review panel to evaluate the broadcast practices
at Radio Marti. 

------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :1

Although oversight responsibility was transferred more than a year
ago to the Bureau of Broadcasting, because of staffing problems the
Bureau's Office of Program Review only recently began overseeing
Radio Marti's programming.  Although this Office was intended to be a
primary tool for ensuring that Radio Marti's broadcasts meet VOA
standards, the Office has not yet initiated any study to determine
whether the station is meeting VOA standards. 

According to officials from the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB),
the external review panel has provided useful comments and
suggestions on Radio Marti's broadcasting practices.  However, during
its first year of operation, weaknesses in procedures governing the
development and use of the panel's views have limited the panel's
effectiveness and credibility as a review mechanism.  For example,
the Bureau of Broadcasting has no mechanism to ensure that OCB
addresses the review panel's suggestions.  It is unclear whether the
panel's suggestions were appropriately considered, and OCB provided
no feedback on what actions, if any, it intended to take on the
panel's suggestions.  The Acting Associate Director, Bureau of
Broadcasting, told us that actions have been taken to address some of
these problems. 

------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :2

Radio Marti, a U.S.-funded radio station, was established in 1983 to
fill a void in news and information the Cuban government created
through censorship.  The station is located in OCB within USIA's
Bureau of Broadcasting.  (App.  I provides a partial organizational
chart that shows the various USIA offices connected with Radio

According to the authorizing legislation,\1 Radio Marti broadcasts
shall be in accordance "with all Voice of America standards to ensure
the broadcast of programs which are objective, accurate, balanced,
and which present a variety of views." The Director of OCB and the
Director of Radio Marti have direct responsibility for ensuring that
broadcasts meet these standards.  For several years, there have been
allegations that political bias has undermined the accuracy and
objectivity of Radio Marti's news and information broadcasts. 

In December 1992, the Director, USIA, tasked the Office of Program
Review to ensure that Radio Marti's broadcasts were complying with
VOA's standards.  Then, in January 1993, the Bureau and OCB
established an external review panel to evaluate the content and
presentation of Radio Marti's programs that provide news and
information.  We reported on USIA's plans to enhance the overall
Radio Marti review process in February 1993.\2

\1 P.L.  98-111, sec.  3(b), 22 U.S.C.  1465a. 

\2 Radio Marti (GAO/NSIAD-93-126R, Feb.  17, 1993). 

------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :3

USIA moved its program review unit from the Office of VOA Programs,
which did not oversee Radio Marti, to the Bureau's Office of Program
Review in December 1992.  The purpose of the move was to give the
unit oversight responsibility for the program review process
throughout the Bureau, including Radio Marti.  This Office is seen as
the primary oversight mechanism outside of OCB for ensuring that
Radio Marti's broadcasts meet VOA standards.  However, a program
review analyst was not hired until June 1994 and as a result the
Office has just begun to evaluate Radio Marti's broadcasts. 

The Office of Program Review has been tasked to analyze and evaluate
VOA and Radio Marti broadcasts to ensure that they conform to the
standards and principles outlined in the VOA charter,\3 which
requires broadcasting activities to include news that is consistently
reliable and authoritative, accurate, objective, and comprehensive. 
The unit is also tasked to evaluate programs using Radio Marti's
editorial guidelines\4 to ensure that broadcasters, editors, writers,
and producers consistently remain unbiased and do not censor

The program review analyst conducted the first review of Radio Marti
in July 1994; the report was issued in August 1994.  The analyst used
the review to acquaint the Office of Program Review with Radio
Marti's programming, since the Office had no previous experience with
the station.  In the review, the analyst compared the news presented
on Radio Marti with VOA's Spanish language newscasts to illustrate
their similarities and differences.  The review did not address
whether the broadcasts met VOA standards, even though the Office is
tasked with this function.  According to the Office Director, once a
formalized process has been established to obtain programming from
Radio Marti, the Office will develop a schedule for reviewing the
station's programs with that function in mind.  The Director expects
that the first such review will be undertaken sometime after the
current Cuban refugee crisis abates. 

\3 P.L.  94-350, 22 U.S.C.  1463. 

\4 The guidelines were established in December 1985 and updated in
February 1994. 

------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :4

The external review panel was established in January 1993 and was to
convene quarterly to provide comments and suggestions to OCB on Radio
Marti programming.  OCB views the panel as one of several mechanisms,
including focus groups and an editorial board that monitor and
evaluate Radio Marti programming.  OCB believes the panel provides
informed, independent, professional opinions of the strengths and
weaknesses in Radio Marti's programming, and makes helpful comments
and suggestions.  (See app.  II for examples of the panel's comments
and suggestions.) The panel held its first meeting in July 1993 and
has conducted four reviews since that time. 

OCB decides whether to act on the panel's suggestions, without higher
level monitoring.  Some panel members questioned whether the Office
was interested in their views, since they had received little
feedback from OCB regarding their suggestions.  Furthermore, in May
1994, USIA's Inspector General criticized the method for selecting
programming for review by the panel because it did not ensure
independence.  In our opinion, these weaknesses lessen the
effectiveness and credibility of the panel as a review mechanism. 

---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.1

When the panel was established, USIA stated that the panel's reports
and recommendations would be submitted to the Agency, the Bureau of
Broadcasting, and OCB.  The Bureau's Director of the Office of
Program Review participates in the panel's meetings, but has no
authority to ensure that OCB adequately considers or responds to the
panel's suggestions.  Furthermore, if OCB agrees to act on a
suggestion, there is no oversight process to monitor actions taken. 
In contrast, for VOA programs, the Bureau's Office of Program Review
has a system for identifying deficiencies, recommending changes, and
reviewing programs to ensure that corrective actions were

---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.2

Former panelists stated that the lack of communication between OCB
and the panelists, other than to inform them it was time to undertake
another review, signified that the panel's work was not valued.  OCB
helped create this perception by failing to communicate with the
panel regarding implementation of the panel's suggestions.  A
high-level Radio Marti official agreed that there had been little
communication between OCB and the panel.  At its August 1994 meeting,
the panel raised the communication issue again.  OCB's Director of
Program Evaluation acknowledged the panel's desire for increased
communication and noted that OCB had recently revised its
administrative procedures to specify, among other things, that the
Programming Committee's responses to the panel's suggestions and its
recommendations to OCB management will be shared with the panel. 

---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :4.3

In May 1994, USIA's Office of the Inspector General reported that
OCB, not the panel, was selecting programs for review.\5 The
Inspector General's report expressed concern that the independence of
the program selection process was diminished and thus recommended
that the external review panel decide what programs to review.  OCB
officials believe that these observations were not accurate. 
However, the Acting Associate Director, Bureau of Broadcasting,
agreed to change the selection process and issued new procedures in
June 1994.  Under the procedures, the panelists will select programs
for review, review the same materials, submit their written comments
to the Office of Program Evaluation, and meet with OCB's Director of
Program Evaluation to discuss their observations and suggestions. 

\5 Review of Allegations Concerning Radio Marti Employees, USIA
Office of the Inspector General (Audit Report 93-A-52, May 19, 1994). 

------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :5

Because of the controversial nature of Radio Marti, allegations of
improper broadcasts, and concerns that broadcasts meet VOA standards,
it is important that quality control procedures be effective and
credible.  Therefore, we recommend that the Director, USIA, require
the Associate Director, Bureau of Broadcasting, to examine the
external review panel's past comments and suggestions and determine
whether OCB adequately considered them and took the appropriate
actions.  On past and future suggestions, we recommend that the
Associate Director ensure that OCB follows through with actions it
agrees to take and that its reasons for not acting on suggestions are
valid.  In addition, we recommend that OCB routinely provide the
panel with formal responses that summarize actions taken or planned
or reasons why no action is planned. 

------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :6

As requested, we did not obtain written agency comments.  However, we
discussed our findings and recommendations with senior USIA
officials, including the Acting Associate Director, Bureau of
Broadcasting; the Bureau's Director of Program Review; and the
Directors of OCB, Radio Marti, and its Office of Program Evaluation. 
We have incorporated their comments where appropriate. 

The Acting Associate Director agreed that actions should be taken to
improve the effectiveness and credibility of the panel.  He said he
plans to charge the Office of Program Review with monitoring OCB's
responses to the panel's comments and suggestions.  In addition, he
said he would task OCB with providing a formal response to the
external review panel on what it plans to do on each of the panel's

------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :7

We obtained information and interviewed officials from USIA's Bureau
of Broadcasting, OCB, past and current members of the external review
panel, the Advisory Board on Cuba Broadcasting, and the U.S.  Board
on Public Diplomacy.  We observed the panel's meeting in August 1994. 
We did not attempt to determine whether program review processes were
adequate to ensure that broadcasts meet VOA standards. 

We conducted our review from June to August 1994 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. 

Unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we plan no further
distribution of this report until 30 days after its issue date.  At
that time, we will send copies to appropriate congressional
committees; the Director of USIA; the Bureau of Broadcasting; the
Directors of OCB and Radio Marti; and other interested parties. 

Please contact me on (202) 512-4128 if you or your staff have any
questions concerning this report.  Major contributors to this report
were John Brummet, Assistant Director, and Julie Hirshen,

Sincerely yours,

Joseph E.  Kelley
International Affairs Issues

=========================================================== Appendix I

   (See figure in printed

========================================================== Appendix II

After the external review panel meets, Radio Marti's Programming
Committee\1 reviews a summary of the meeting prepared by OCB's staff
and a verbatim account of the panel's evaluations.  The Committee
discusses the panel's views and decides whether recommendations for
programming changes should be made to OCB management.  The following
are examples of the panel's comments and suggestions discussed at the
Programming Committee's June 1994 meeting, and what actions--if
any--were taken in response. 

Generally, panel members had favorable views on non-news programming. 
The panel, however, made some negative comments about the use of
rhetorical speech in short features and the lack of detail in other
programs.  One panel member questioned the use of dramatization in a
program to inform Cubans about human rights issues.  The Committee
decided that the medium of dramatization was well accepted in Cuba
and that the technique should be retained because the program reaches
a less-educated audience than other human rights programs. 

Regarding news programs, the panel commented that more international
news should be broadcast during long newscasts.  Regarding broadcasts
on human rights, the panel suggested (1) more diverse sources for
reports of human rights violations in Cuba, (2) more confirmation of
violations from internationally recognized sources (such as Amnesty
International or the Organization of American States) before airing
denouncements, (3) an explanation of how and why the denunciations
were reported in the broadcast, and (4) less emphasis on human rights
denouncements in newscasts.  The Committee agreed that all bulletins
and newscasts should have some international news and made a
recommendation to that effect.  The Director of Radio Marti discussed
the matter with the News Bureau and instructed the Bureau to address
this issue.  During its August 1994 meeting, the panel noted that the
balance of news in broadcasts had improved.  However, panel members
again suggested that international news have more coverage. 

The Committee also agreed that (1) all bulletins and newscasts should
have some international news, unless Cuba stories clearly took
special precedence and (2) the format for including international
news should remain flexible to allow for day-to-day changes in news
priorities.  However, the Committee disagreed on the number of human
rights denouncements, stating that denouncements are a station
priority and that tone, rather than quantity, should be monitored. 
The Committee reached no resolution regarding adding diverse sources
of denouncements and made no recommendation on this matter to OCB

Regarding technical programming aspects, the panel suggested adding
(1) male-female teams in newscasts, (2) music and dynamism in the
noon newscast, (3) diversity in commentators, and (4) a disclaimer at
the end of commentaries that the views expressed do not necessarily
represent the U.S.  government or Radio Marti.  The Committee agreed,
and OCB management is now considering using male-female teams and
having diverse commentators. 

\1 The Programming Committee has representatives from the Office of
Cuba Broadcasting's (OCB) program, news, technical, research, and
evaluation offices.