Monday, 21 November 2011

Interview with Daniel Walsh

Daniel C. Walsh is an assistant professor at Appalachian State University in the Department of Communication. He wrote the book "An air war with Cuba: The United States radio campaign against Castro" (publisher Mcfarland) and he accepted to be interviewed.

1) Where and when were you born?

I was born in Greenville, North Carolina, USA December 2, 1969.

2) What is your first memory of listening to a radio?

I guess my first memory of listening to a radio is riding around in my mother's station wagon. I also remember as a child playing radio station where I would pretend to be a radio announcer and introduce records on a turntable. When I got older I put a walkie talkie up to the stereo speaker and then would go to another room with the other one to make it seem like a real radio.

3) When did u become interested about US propaganda towards Cuba?

I became interested in U.S. propaganda for Cuba when I was in graduate school at Marshall University. I needed a research topic for one of my classes and thought it would be interesting to examine Radio Marti. I thought it was interesting that the United States spent a lot of money on a Radio Free Europe type station for Cuba yet Fidel Castro was still in power. I created a proposal for evaluating the effectiveness of Radio Marti but never actually did the study. A few years later, the Elian Gonzalez custody battle forced people to think about relations with Cuba again. I thought the topic should be studied and wished I could have actually completed the study I proposed. When I was getting my Ph.D. at the University of South Carolina a few years after that, I began thinking about picking up where I left off. The United States and Cuba were still adversaries and Radio Marti was still on the air so I thought it was a legitimate topic.

4) In Cuba there is a dictatorship, how difficult is it to get fair reports about audience studies in Cuba?

Research of Cuban audiences is extremely difficult. One of the primary ways in which the United States obtains information about radio listeners in Cuba is by interviewing immigrants to the United States. The validity of these results is questionable. A Cuban who decides to leave the island and come to the United States may not be a typical Cuban. That person has demonstrated positive feelings toward the United States. One would assume they might be more likely to have positive feelings about Radio Marti as well.

There is a television version of Radio Marti called TV Marti. Practically no one has seen it because the Cuban government has jammed the signal. Radio Marti gets through because a radio signal is more difficult to jam. Officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana have conducted their own research in Cuba regarding TV Marti and found that most people on the island cannot see it.

A few years ago the U.S. did a telephone survey of people in Cuba and asked them if they listened to Radio Marti. Most people said they did not. A lot of these people thought that the phone calls were from Cuban officials testing their loyalty to the revolution. A people of the interviewees asked that someone from the government stop by to repair some things. It was obvious that they thought the interviewer was a Cuban official.

5) You are building an archive of international broadcasts, which are the main radio stations in your archive?

The archive of international radio broadcasts was supposed to include Voice of America, Radio Marti, the BBC, Radio Vatican, and as many other radio operations as possible. When I tried to analyze Radio Marti for my dissertation I found that I could not obtain recordings of the station. The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act makes it illegal for the federal government to release recordings of radio broadcasts of Radio Marti, VOA, Radio Free Europe or other operations to U.S. citizens. This stipulation was included in the 1948 to prevent the federal government from being in a position to disseminate propaganda to the domestic population the way the Nazis did prior to WWII. The restriction was still in place more than 40 years later.

The law makes no sense in that it only prohibits U.S. officials from releasing recordings or transcripts of programs to U.S. citizens. It does not prevent a U.S. citizen from having these materials. U.S. officials are allowed to disseminate these materials to people outside the United States. The broadcasts encourage listeners to request the materials. What this means is that a U.S. citizen who wanted a recording of a Radio Marti broadcast could have someone in Canada request the information and then mail it back to the person in the U.S. This is legal. That's what I did. to get recordings of Radio Marti. The interesting thing about it was I got the idea from people at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the people that originally originally told me that they couldn't release the materials.

This made no sense to me. I also realized that it made it extremely difficult to research these stations. There is almost no transparency and no way for the public to hold the stations accountable. I thought it was ironic that we fund the broadcasts but cannot listen to them. I thought it would be easier for people like me who wanted to analyze international radio broadcasts if there was an archive of recordings. Vanderbilt University has an archive of television news programs dating to 1968. I was trying to do the same thing for international radio.

The archive is currently on hold. In December of 2010, I contacted some amateur radio groups about recording programs and contributing to the archive. One person said my proposal was a scam and accused me of trying to manipulate people into bypassing copyright restrictions. Most international broadcasts are in the public domain. This person also told me that he or she would be turning my name over to the FBI, CIA, FTC and other authorities. I don't think what I am trying to do is illegal. I contacted officials in Washington who didn't really give me a definitive answer. They said that some of the material is copyrighted because it comes from people contracted to produce content. They didn't say much more than that. I have suspended the operation for now (no recordings were ever collected). I am hoping that some people will express interest and offer to help. No one has so far.

6) Do you think that propaganda radio stations are still useful ?

I do not believe that radio broadcasts are effective propaganda tools in that they cannot "force" a population to overthrow a government. There are examples of how radio broadcasting can be used to create a false sense of reality but that is only if the person is willing to believe. Radio propaganda cannot cause a person to do or believe something the person does not want to do or believe. I think Cuba is the perfect illustration of this. The United States has bombarded the island with propaganda for more than 50 years and the people there have not taken up arms against their government. They don't want to.

I believe that there is still a need for informational (not propaganda) international radio broadcasting. In the early years of Radio Marti, the station covered stories on AIDS and the Chernobyl disaster. Neither had not been covered by Cuban media. The Internet and social media have diminished the role of radio broadcasting in developed parts of the world but not in some of the underdeveloped areas, which tend to need the information more than anyone. Cuba has Internet access but it is limited and often monitored by the government. I think radio also overcomes literacy barriers, which is still a problem for many regions. Until the Internet can be perfected and eliminate the reading requirement, there will be a need for international radio.


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