In a year marked by political turmoil and restive street demonstrations, Haitian media faced violence, intolerance, and a corrupt judicial system.
President René Préval, who succeeded President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995, dismissed Parliament in January but failed to hold new elections. At year’s end, elections were scheduled for March 2000. Supporters of the Lavalas Family (FL), Aristide’s breakaway faction of the dominant Lavalas movement, took to the streets in a series of demonstrations that turned violent. After the independent station Radio Galaxie condemned FL supporters who disrupted a May 28 rally against violence, the station received phone calls warning employees to refrain from such coverage if they didn’t want to “end up like your boss.” (The station’s former director, Félix Lamy, disappeared in 1991.)
Independent journalism has made headway since Haiti’s return to democracy in 1994, and there are currently no systematic efforts to curb press freedom. But journalists still face danger when reporting on taboo subjects. Raymond Joseph, the editor and co-publisher of Haiti-Observateur, a weekly published in New York City and also distributed in Haiti, told CPJ that Haitian tax authorities have harassed his magazine in reprisal for its coverage of the drug trade. Joseph noted that in the second half of the year, Haiti-Observateur’s distribution was held up for bureaucratic reasons and that a demand for the payment of back taxes was presented, even though publications are tax exempt under Haitian law.
Haiti’s justice system is dysfunctional, with 80 percent of prisoners awaiting trial at any given time. Local journalists fill a void by exposing the worst abuses. “If the press doesn’t publish [a case of long pretrial detention], we can forget about that person in prison,” says Jean Monard Métellus, news editor of Radio Galaxie. “If the law isn’t being applied, the press can’t be neutral.”
Because of Haiti’s low literacy rate, radio serves as the principal news medium, with dozens of FM stations on the air. The country has two major dailies, Le Matin and Le Nouvelliste. Three weeklies are distributed in both the United States and Haiti–Haiti-Observateur, Haiti Progrès, and Haiti En Marche. In October, these newspapers were joined by the country’s first English-language weekly, The Haitian Times. With former New York Times reporter Garry Pierre-Pierre as publisher and Yves Colon of The Miami Herald as editor, this full-color weekly aims to reach a large audience of English-, French-, and Creole-speaking Haitians both at home and abroad.
Wood Chéry, Haiti Progrès ATTACKED
Claudy Jean Jacques, Radio Nationale d’Haiti ATTACKED
Phares Duverné, Radio Solidarité ATTACKED
Waking Exumé, Magic Stéréo ATTACKED
Unidentified police officers assaulted Chéry, photographer for the daily Haiti Progrès (published in New York and also distributed in Haiti); reporter Jean Jacques of Radio Nationale d’Haiti; Duverné, reporter with Radio Solidarité; and Exumé, news editor of the local radio station Magic Stéréo, during a rally in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
With private-sector support, the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry had organized a rally on the Champs de Mars, a public square, protesting the high local crime rate and demanding more police protection. The rally was disrupted by supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Chéry photographed a group of about five police officers beating an Aristide supporter with sticks. The officers confiscated the photographer’s camera and started beating him when he demanded it back. Duverné, Jean Jacques, and Exumé were also beaten when they tried to intervene.
Radio Vision 2000 ATTACKED, THREATENED
Unknown gunmen fired through the windows of the opposition station Radio Vision 2000, located in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The attack, which took place in the middle of the night, happened one week after the station broke a story implicating four high-level police officers in drug trafficking. Station employees also received several phone calls warning them to lay off the story.
Rodrigue Louis, Haiti-Observateur HARASSED
Louis, a long-time reporter with Haiti-Observateur, an opposition weekly that is published in the United States and also distributed in Haiti, found his car smeared with feces–a threatening gesture associated with supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
During the months prior to this incident, Louis had been reporting on links between Aristide’s Lavalas Family (FL) party, police officials, and local militant groups. On October 5, demonstrators threw rocks at Louis’ house in the capital, Port-au-Prince. After finding the feces on his car, which was parked in front of the Port-au-Prince offices of Haiti-Observateur at the time, Louis decided to leave Haiti. He arrived in the United States on October 15.