Attacks on the Press 1999: Dominican Republic

Dominican journalists reported very few restrictions on press freedom last year. However, two major developments raised concern among the local press.

In September, the electoral board passed a resolution imposing restrictions on campaign advertising for the May 2000 presidential elections. The resolution requires news organizations to accept price controls for advertising and denied them the right to reject advertisements at their own discretion. Some local journalists viewed this law favorably because it also prevents newspapers from charging different advertising fees to different candidates.

Another resolution, passed in July by the National Commission on Public Performances, required newscasters and other journalists to secure credentials from the Commission before appearing on radio or television. By the end of the year, this new regulation had been used to prevent 24 journalists from going on the air. Local press groups have condemned the resolution as unconstitutional.

In the Dominican Republic, defamation is a crime punishable by jail terms of up to six months. In 1997, the penal code was amended to ban publishing montages of an individual’s image(s) or quoted speech without the individual’s consent, unless the product is clearly identifiable as a montage. This “crime” carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

The criminal trial of Mariano Cabrera Durán, who was accused of murdering reporter Luis Orlando Martínez in 1975, was scheduled to begin in October but was delayed on procedural grounds. No new trial date had been set by year’s end. Martínez, who worked for the magazine Ahora, was killed after he published articles critical of then-president Joaquín Belaguer. Several former members of the military have been implicated in the murder, including three former generals: José Isidoro Martínez, Salvador Lluberes Montás, and Joaquín Antonio Pou Catro. All three were imprisoned but subsequently released for health reasons. Gen. Martínez later died.