Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cuba Broadcasting seeks 12 percent budget increase

Office of Cuba Broadcasting budget request
The Broadcasting Board of Governors on Tuesday released its fiscal 2016 budget request, asking for three-quarters of a billion dollars "to increase global engagement, move more aggressively into television and digital media, and support high priority audiences."
The $751.5 budget request includes $30.3 million for the Office of Cuban Broadcasting, nearly a 12 percent - or $3,191,000 - increase over fiscal 2015.
Excerpts from the budget request are below:

In FY 2016, BBG will begin the process of creating a new grantee that will combine elements of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and the VOA Latin America Division and be responsible for all Spanish-language broadcasting. The new grantee will build on a legacy of success in the region. VOA Spanish works cooperatively with a network of major media outlets in the region to provide highly-valued news and information about the United States and the world to a measured weekly audience of more than 25 million people. OCB’s Radio and TV Martí have
succeeded in creating a network of journalists to report on developments in Cuba, one of the world’s most repressive media environments, providing a unique lifeline to the outside world.

This FY 2016 Budget request for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and Voice of America (VOA) Latin America Division (LatAm) begins the process of establishing a new de-federalized
Spanish language international media organization that would merge the two entities (excluding the Creole language service). Under this plan and assuming regular appropriations order, the defederalization process will be completed in early FY 2017 and the new defederalized organization will be fully operational by mid FY 2017 and receive a BBG grant. OCB will lead the defederalization effort. The Radio and TV Martí and martinoticias.com brands will be prominent brands in the newly formed entity. BBG will continue its active, in-person engagement with authorizers and appropriators about this proposal. In the meantime, if there are specific or immediate questions, BBG will supply more information.

The Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) administers Radio and Television (TV) Martí programs, the martinoticias.com website from its headquarters in Miami, Florida and the shortwave
transmitting station in Greenville, N.C. The Martís inform and engage the people of Cuba
by providing a reliable and credible source of news and information. The Martís use a mix of media, including shortwave, medium wave, direct-to-home satellite, Internet, flash drives and DVDs to help reach audiences in Cuba. Radio and TV Martí and martinoticias.com encourage freedom and democracy in Cuba through programs that focus on news and information that is relevant and pertinent to Cubans’ daily lives so they can make informed decisions about their future. Primary areas of coverage include news relating to human rights and dissident movements, the Cuban economy, U.S.-Cuban relations, and international stories, such as elections. The Martís also provide significant coverage of Latin American news to keep Cuban audiences informed of regional developments. The Martís’ programming contributes to civil society, the development of democratic institutions in Cuba and freedom of the press.
The Martís’ website, martinoticias.com, produces multimedia original news stories and streams all radio and TV broadcasts -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Social media engagement and the largest – if not the only- network of Cuban journalists on the island allow the Martís to
respond immediately to breaking news. The site regularly adds up-to-the-minute information on the repression of bloggers, journalists, and political activists in Cuba. The Martís maintain an active interactive social media engagement strategy that includes a YouTube Channel, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. OCB has expanded the number of Internet domain extensions for martinoticias.com to make it more difficult for the Cuban government to block access to the website.

  • Providing High Quality Local Reporting on Topics Important to Cubans
  • OCB Doubles News Reports
  • Original Programming Enhanced
  • Covering Immigration
  • Collaboration with U.S. Coast Guard
  • Covering Venezuela
  • Award Winning Programming
  • Highlighting Cuban’s Struggle for Free Press and Free Expression
  • Increased News Coverage Based on Audience Interest
  • Covering Public Dissent
  • Breaking News About Health Crisis
  • Reaching Audiences via Digital and Social Media
  • Growing Web Traffic and Engagement on Social Media
  • Reaching Cubans by Email and SMS
  • Citizen Reporter Network
  • Utilizing Alternate Distribution Methods to Reach the Island
  • Using Flash Drives & DVDs to Distribute Content
  • Providing Programming About the United States
  • State Department Updates
  • NBA Playoff Coverage

In combination with martinoticias.com, the Martís use anti-censorship tools, such as web-based proxies to reach Internet users in Cuba. These proxy sites enable unobstructed delivery of email messages containing news, information and instructions for circumventing government Internet
Although the U.S. and Cuba have agreed to normalize their diplomatic relations, the island continues to be one of the most politically and geographically isolated societies in the world, with a highly restrictive political and media environment, lack of democratic institutions or guaranties for human
rights. It is not possible for the BBG to conduct nationally representative audience surveys in Cuba due to the highly restrictive political and media environment. However, OCB is able to conduct focus group research with recent immigrants from the island. Given these circumstances, OCB measures performance based on daily interaction with the audience and several impact criteria, including jamming and government responses to OCB news coverage.

During the last two years, OCB has doubled the number of news reports it produces on the island, providing audiences with more in-depth local coverage. This is of paramount interest to Cuban audiences. The Martís have assembled the largest – to our knowledge the only – network of independent journalists working inside Cuba. These journalists send reports (which include audio, text, video and photographs) from across the island via telephone, SMS and Internet.
Because of an OFAC license granted in 2012, the Martís have been able to hire Cuban nationals to work inside Cuba as multimedia journalists and producers, creating a network of reporters working throughout the island exclusively for the Martís. Their reports are used daily in TV and radio newscasts and are compiled for the monthly TV Martí program, Desde Adentro – “From Inside” (Cuba). The reports also are presented on martinoticias.com and distributed on the island on flash drives and DVDs.

The Martís increased production of original programming, including information and analysis, interviews, documentaries, series, music, and live coverage of news and events, while diversifying content with social, economic, sports and technology reporting.

In 2014, a record number of Cubans entered the United States across the Mexican border, showing a growing trend of Cuban citizens traveling to Central and South America and then moving upwards towards the U.S. There was also a record increase in the immigration of balseros (rafters). One of the more dramatic examples was the case of the Cuban rafters rescued in Mexico, where 19 people died in the incident, including a pregnant woman. Martí Noticias had around-the-clock coverage, including exclusive videos and pictures of the rafters’ last moments seen alive, reactions from family and friends both in Cuba and the U.S., as well as interviews with Mexican authorities dealing with the incident.
Immigration topics are comprehensively covered by all Martí platforms. TV Martí crews traveled to Panama, and the Bahamas following key stories, and through collaborations with local media in Ecuador, México, Guatemala, and Costa Rica, the Martís gathered firsthand testimonies as well as other exclusive material from Central America and Cuba. This material was included in the production of Cambio de Ruta – Change of Path, a half hour program that documents the different paths Cubans are taking to illegally reach the U.S. as well as the dangers they are exposed to. Besides the organic news reporting of these events, the Martís also launched an awareness campaign about the dangers of illegal immigration that included radio and TV Public Service Announcements. An information page was created and heavily promoted with several topics of interest to our audience, from the Cuban Adjustment Act, “Pies Secos – Pies Mojados” policy, to Visa application requirements, or the Cuban Medical Professional Parole, the informational page allows visitors a first glance at U.S.-Cuba immigration policies as well as links to relevant sites.

As an example of our regular collaboration with other U.S. entities, the Martís reached hundreds of thousands of Cubans with a message from the U.S. Coast Guard. A Social Media campaign was launched in Twitter and Facebook from January 9 to January 17, 2015 that included messages from the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as informational news articles about the “Pies secos-Pies mojados” policy and the Cuban Adjustment Act. The messages from the Coast Guard were also sent to 30,000 Cubans via text messages and to 324,347 email addresses on the island on January 9, 2015.

In 2014, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting received four Emmy Award nominations by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Suncoast Chapter. One of the programs recognized was
Arte y Disidencia, a special program with Cuban movie director, Lilo Villaplana, who spoke about the challenges of being a movie director in Cuba and their struggle to have freedom of speech.
The Director used Cuban government blockage of Marti as an example of how the Cuban people are denied information on his award winning documentary “La Muerte del Gato.”
Another nominee was La Nueva Cuba de Guillermo Fariñas based on Guillermo Fariñas. The "Sakharov Prize" winner is a renowned dissident, admired and respected for his nonviolent activism.
Fariñas, a spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Cuba, has initiated more than a dozen hunger strikes.

TV Martí’s program En sus Propias Palabras - In Your Own Words, profiled independent journalist Alberto Mendez Castello and his important role distributing news bulletins around rural Cuba to promote freedom of the press and freedom of expression; as well as the story of the Cuban rapper “El Sexto” and his struggle to perform freely using his critical lyrics.

OCB has increased news coverage and analysis based on areas of interest to our audience, such as entrepreneurship, racial discrimination, gender violence, economy, sports, etc. For example:
Several programs were produced at the 24th annual conference of the “Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy” on July 31, 2014, which was celebrated in Miami and included participation by economists from Cuba.
Radio Marti aired a special program that focused specifically on the problems faced in Cuba by black cuentapropistas (small business owners). The program was recorded entirely inside Cuba for Radio Martí and was hosted by opposition figure Manuel Cuesta Morua.
Panelists included independent journalist Ivan Garcia and budding black businessmen Francisco Balido and Jose Seceff.

OCB broke the story of a rare demonstration of public dissent, when dozens of Cuban artisans and vendors protested in the city of Holguín, Cuba, marching to local government offices and demanding the right to work without government harassment.
Information, pictures and video shared in social networks was curated by OCB journalists that helped unmask government bloggers who used old photos of the square to make believe that there was no demonstration. Radio Marti got an exclusive interview with the man that filmed the protest who was arrested, threatened, and had his work license revoked. Eventually the story made it to the New York Times.

OCB was first to report on the more than 2,000 cases of the infectious viral disease in Cienfuegos that some health experts feared could be the little known African virus threatening the Caribbean islands. Reports covered the spread of the Chikungunya virus in the Caribbean, and the possible existence of the virus in Cuba. The Cuban government was late to address the public health concerns regarding the Chikungunya virus so, in addition to program coverage, Radio Marti produced and broadcast a public health advisory including suggestions on avoiding contracting the mosquito transmitted virus. Only after more than 300 thousand cases were reported and 28 deaths confirmed in the Caribbean, the government admitted there was a health alert and confirmed cases on the island. A similar situation happened regarding the Cholera outbreak. A month after Radio Martí broke the story about cases of cholera in Cienfuegos and launched an awareness campaign, authorities finally recognized there were cholera cases. A similar situation also happened with the dengue outbreak which became one of the worst epidemics in the area.

Reaching Audiences via Digital and Social Media
During fiscal year 2014, OCB’s web traffic reached 3,921,079 visits and grew its social media referrals more than 1,000%. Marti Noticias’ Facebook reached 2,347,895 people. This is a 230%
increase from the previous FY. OCB also saw a solid increase in Facebook engagement of 226%.

The Martís reach out to hundreds of thousands of Cubans each month via email and SMS initiatives, providing news and information that would otherwise not be available to them.
Their SMS engagement allows Cubans to send news tips and alerts that the Martís curate and develop into news stories, when appropriate. OCB continues to grow its social media integration across all platforms to enhance its news-gathering and audience engagement around Martí content. Martí Noticias’ Facebook account reached 2,347,895 people. This is a 230% increase from the previous fiscal year. OCB also saw a solid increase in Facebook engagement of 226%.

In May, OCB launched Reporta Cuba to empower Cubans to communicate and engage in new media. Reporta Cuba is a network of citizen reporters -- students, independent journalists, activists, dissidents, and regular citizens who share information with OCB via SMS, MMS, email and other media from their mobile phones and computers about what is happening in Cuba. Reporta Cuba empowers Cubans to learn to use available tools to disseminate information and report on what they live and experience without censorship or ideological constraints.

OCB continues to use alternative means to distribute Martí content across the island. This includes paper and plastic flash drives that are easy to distribute, and difficult to monitor and censor. This cutting-edge technology allows users to store data in plain paper that is mailed to homes and businesses. Content saved on paper flash drives can be read offline.
If users are connected to the Internet, these drives can provide OCB with web traffic and usage metrics. OCB developed an alternative network for the delivery and distribution of TV Martí programs across Cuba. This network includes 8 copy centers, 18 points of reception, and 85 distribution points on the island. OCB has sent thousands of DVDs and hundreds of flash drives loaded with Martí programs to Cuba. To increase delivery and enable faster turnaround of our content, OCB has initiated digital sharing of programs such as Antena Live and 7N30 via ftp as soon as they are recorded.

OCB broadcast a special public service announcement featuring officials from the State Department, who updated audiences on travel policies and legal immigration to the United States.
Radio Martí offered Cuban audiences live, play-by-play coverage of the NBA playoffs and finals this year. This is in addition to its coverage of regular- and post-season Major League Baseball.

Program Accomplishments
During the past two years, OCB has doubled the number of news reports it produces in Cuba. The Martís have assembled the largest network of independent journalists working in the country. These journalists file reports (which include audio, text, video and photos) from across Cuba via telephone, SMS and Internet.
Since February, when protesters in Venezuela were met with violent resistance by government forces, audiences have come to rely on VOA reports that air on TV affiliates throughout the region for accurate and balanced accounts of the protests and the government’s response. VOA supports its affiliates beyond merely providing content; it has teamed with Radio Free Asia to share Internet circumvention tools with affiliates to counter the Venezuelan government’s crackdown on independent media and influential social networks.
In May, OCB launched Reporta Cuba, a Martí effort that empowers Cubans to communicate and engage through new media. Reporta Cuba is a network of citizen reporters – students, independent journalists, activists, dissidents and regular citizens – who share information with OCB via SMS, MMS and email from their mobile phones and computers. Reporta Cuba helps Cubans use available tools to disseminate information and report what they experience, without censorship.

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