For 12 years, Antonio Dieguez has diligently gone to work as director of TV Marti, the U.S. government-financed station aimed at bringing news and information to the Cuban people.

There is only one problem: Almost no one on the island has seen it. Cuban officials have jammed its signal since the broadcasts began in 1990, saying it is an act of aggression and a violation of Cuba's sovereignty.

"If you don't have ratings, you don't have ratings," quipped Dieguez, a 68-year-old Cuban American immigrant. "We don't care. We keep doing our job. We produce a hell of a newscast."

After years of failure, the Bush administration launched a new effort in late August to break through the jam by beaming the TV signal from a U.S. military plane flying off the southern coast of Florida. The results are uncertain.

The frustrating tale of Dieguez and his TV Marti colleagues -- along with its sister broadcast Radio Marti -- is one of the more controversial and costly chapters in the battle between the United States and Latin America's only communist nation.

Inspired by the U.S.-financed Radio Free Europe, which some experts credit with contributing to the fall of the Iron Curtain, Radio Marti went on the air in 1985 and has had moderate success broadcasting to the island. Its television counterpart sought to build on that.

Supporters say the Marti broadcasts are virtually the only means by which Cubans can receive alternative information in a nation where there are no privately owned media. Cable and satellite television, along with Internet access, are severely restricted. Combined, the broadcasts cost U.S. taxpayers about $27 million a year.

What's left for most Cubans is state-run media that act as government propaganda.

"The day that Cubans can watch CNN and purchase foreign newspapers, there won't be a need for these broadcasts," said Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, an anti-Castro group in Washington.

Critics, however, say TV Marti is a $10 million-a-year boondoggle that should be shut down.

The C-130 broadcast is the latest attempt by the United States to penetrate Cuban jamming after failing to reach large numbers of Cubans through satellite transmission and a transmitter fixed on a helium-filled balloon tethered 10,000 feet above the Florida Keys.

"You can't repeal the laws of physics," said Philip Peters, a former State Department official and Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute. "It's always going to be easier for Cuba to jam the broadcasts than for the U.S. to get them through."

Peters and other critics say that a more effective way to break Cuba's information blockade is by lifting the long-standing U.S. travel ban that prevents most Americans from visiting the island.

Lifting the travel ban -- along with easing recently tightened restrictions on Cuban Americans visiting their homeland -- would send a flood of Americans to the island and stimulate a flow of ideas and information, some experts say.

"Nothing can replace Americans sitting down and talking to Cubans, going to church with Cubans, going to school with Cubans or working on community projects with Cubans," said Daniel Erikson, director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington policy group.

The Marti broadcasts also have been criticized over the years as biased and untrustworthy.

The State Department's Office of the Inspector General said in a 1999 report that Radio Marti's news reports suffered from a lack of "credibility and professionalism."

"The problems affecting credibility were lack of balance, fairness, objectivity and lack of adequate sourcing," the report said. "The problems affecting professionalism dealt with intermingling news and opinion, and using poor judgment in the selection of stories."

More recently, Radio Marti came under heavy criticism in 2001 for waiting several hours before reporting that U.S. authorities had returned Elian Gonzalez, the shipwrecked boy who had been living Miami relatives, to Cuba.

Christina Sanson, Radio Marti's director of programming, said the station delayed its broadcast to include reaction from U.S. officials and present a more balanced story.

Others suggested the delay might have been because of political considerations. The Clinton administration's decision to return Elian to Cuba was highly unpopular among many Cuban Americans.

Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal agency that oversees all non-military U.S.-financed international broadcasts, acknowledged that the Marti broadcasts have not lived up to journalistic standards of balance and integrity.

But he and other executives said vast improvements have been made in the past 18 months, even while explaining that there are limits to what a U.S. government-sponsored endeavor can broadcast.

"I don't think you will get many people on who say that Castro is a good guy and what they are doing is right," said Alberto Mascaro, chief of staff at the Office of Cuban Broadcasting, which operates Radio and TV Marti.

In the offices, cubicles and studios of Marti's newsroom in Miami, executives and reporters say they received telephone calls from Cubans who reported they have viewed the television broadcasts beamed from the U.S. C-130 aircraft.

Dieguez, a Cuban American immigrant and veteran newsman, says the station is making a push to improve programming even as Cuban officials use Soviet-era helicopters packed with jamming equipment to continue disrupting the signal.

Radio Marti recently switched to an all-news format, but TV Marti is spicing up its lineup with movies, music videos and Major League Baseball games, along with programs about human rights and other issues.

One new show, "The Office of the Chief," is a sitcom following the tribulations of a fictitious leader of a fictitious island nation. With his gray beard and olive green military uniform, the head of state bears a striking resemblance to Castro.

TV Marti also is producing a 30-minute talk show co-hosted by Alina Fernandez, Castro's 48-year-old daughter, who went into exile a decade ago and is sharply critical of her father's government. Fernandez said she wishes she had a large audience on the island.

"It's very frustrating," she said. "Someday, I think it will get there."

In interviews on the island, it is difficult to find people who say they have seen TV Marti, though one Havana resident said she picked up some of the audio from Saturday evening's broadcast.

The viewer said the broadcast focused on an interview with Rafael del Pino, the former chief of the Cuban air force who defected to the United States in 1987.

"There was no picture, but I could hear it," said the resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I was listening closely. I wanted to hear the answers. After a while I lost interest. I got tired. The static was very loud."

In Cojimar, a fishing village just east of Havana along the island's northern coast, some residents acknowledged listening to Radio Marti and would welcome TV Marti -- as long as its programming is long on entertainment and short on politics.

Because of its location, some Cojimar residents can pick up Miami television stations using antennas that are illegal in Cuba. They are avid viewers of "Sabado Gigante," a Spanish-language variety show, and "Laura," a prurient, high-volume talk show.

They would like to see more of the same from TV Marti.

"I won't watch it if they only talk about politics between the two countries," said Francisco Vera, a 36-year-old mechanic. "All Cubans are tired of this."

Anchors for TV Marti's radio counterpart broadcast news reports to Cubans.