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Radio, TV Martí Leader Resigns

Critics cite small audience, question effectiveness

The man who led Radio and TV Martí for more than seven years has resigned.

The Miami Herald reports that Pedro Roig, who directed the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, denied a Spanish journalist’s report that he had been fired yet “acknowledged to friends in private that he was burned out with the job and its politics.”

In his resignation letter, addressed to Walter Isaacson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S. international broadcasting, Roig writes that after arriving in the United States as a young political exile from Cuba in 1960, attaining appointment as director of Radio and TV Martí was “a testament of the validity of the American dream.”

Under his watch, Roig stated, Radio Martí was reformatted to a 24-hour all-news station, with 70% of the programming dedicated to live newscasts and Radio Martí’s daytime signal strength increased to 100,000 watts from 50,000. During his tenure, he continued, TV Martí attained more distribution platforms, going from an “obsolete aerostat to a plane outfitted with state-of-the-art capabilities that broadcasts simultaneously on VHF Channel 13 and UHF Channel 20,” as well as satellite television via DirecTV.

“We have, most certainly, achieved the goals of bringing the news and information denied by the communist regime to the Cuban people,” Roig wrote.

In his letter, Roig didn’t reveal what prompted his decision to leave, and the Herald reports he was unavailable for comment. It reports the radio and television stations have spent an estimated $500 million over the years broadcasting news and entertainment to Cuba “but has been dogged by complaints of meager audiences, biased politics and journalism and cronyism.”

Radio Martí went on the air in 1983 and its television counterpart in 1990.

It’s hard to determine exact audience figures for the radio and television broadcasts; Cuba jams the over the air frequencies, so both radio and TV have diversified their distribution platforms.

Critics in Congress have long tried to cut funding for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. Last fall, we reported that Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., targeted Radio and TV Martí for elimination for what he termed wasteful spending, representing a potential $300 million in savings over 10 years.

The Herald reports that last year, Roig cut 22% of his staff or 35 jobs, with about 20 workers laid off and the other cuts coming through workers who left voluntarily and unfilled positions.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors said in a statement that it had accepted, with regret, Roig’s resignation. The board thanked him for shepherding program and technological advances for Radio and TV Martí as well as for “constructive cooperative efforts with the Voice of America.”

There’s no word yet on a successor.