Attacks on the Press 2001: Dominican Republic

Dominican President Hipólito Mejía has received mixed reviews for his policy toward the press since he took office in August 2000. Although Dominican journalists are generally free to express their views, and the government does not officially restrict the press, journalists have complained of government attempts to influence coverage.

President Mejía, with his blunt and sometimes confrontational style, has used insulting language when referring to journalists and editors who criticize his administration. In late June, the Santo Domingo daily El Caribe reported that Mejía’s government had diverted funds from public works programs to buy buses for a public transportation plan. Mejía said of the story, “That is a lie. That’s only in the mind of Bernardo Vega [El Caribe‘s editor], one of those idiots who writes things that are not true,” according to the daily Listín Diario.

In an August 17 interview with the Santo Domingo daily Última Hora, José Tejada Gómez, then-president of the journalists’ association Colegio Dominicano de Periodistas (CDP), noted that Mejía’s insults were common, and that his first year in office was marked by “constant conflicts” with journalists.

According to the CDP, signs of government intolerance toward the press abound. In late June, Darío Medrano and Ramón Carmona, reporter and cameraman, respectively, for U.S.-based Univisión TV network and the Santo Domingo TV channel Color Visión-Canal 9, were threatened, allegedly by government officials, for their coverage of nationwide street protests against a government-imposed economic adjustment package.

Gen. Luis Rodríguez Florimón, of the National Police, meanwhile, warned in early August that he would monitor radio and TV programs and threatened to jail anybody who criticized or offended the president. The general did not carry out his threats, but his words were typical of the government’s hard-line reactions to criticism.

Dominican journalists have also complained about low salaries and job instability, which makes them vulnerable to bribery and other economic pressures.

Investigations into the May 1994 disappearance of columnist and academic Narciso González remained stalled at year’s end. González, a harsh critic of the Dominican government and military, “disappeared”–allegedly at the hands of the military–after he publicly criticized the tainted elections that brought former president Joaquín Balaguer to power. Although former members of the military and the police have been interrogated, no one has been charged in the case, which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights took under review in 1998.

The bill to amend the 1962 Law of Expression and Dissemination of Thought, also known as Law 6132, was passed by the Senate on July 18 after being submitted by President Mejía in September 2000. Drafted by local press organizations, newspaper executives, and media law specialists, the legislation widens access to information and provides for civil penalties in cases of defamation. The Chamber of Deputies’ Justice Committee was considering the bill at press time.

June 28

Darío Medrano, Univisión, Color Visión-Canal 9
Ramón Carmona, Univisión

Medrano and Carmona, reporter and cameraman, respectively, for the U.S.-based Univisión television network, were threatened after they reported on street protests against a government-imposed economic adjustment package, which included higher taxes on gas and food and higher electricity rates, according to local press reports.

The journalists told the Santo Domingo daily El Nacional that they had received phone threats from people who identified themselves as government officials. The callers said they believed the reports damaged the Dominican Republic’s image abroad. According to statements Carmona made to El Nacional, an unidentified caller told him that he had been blacklisted.

In addition to being Univisión’s correspondent in the Dominican Republic, Medrano is a reporter for the Santo Domingo TV station Color Visión-Canal 9.

On June 30, the Santo Domingo daily Última Hora reported that the journalists’ association Colegio Dominicano de Periodistas had issued a communiqué expressing its concern about the threats against Medrano and Carmona and requesting that they be investigated.