Radio Metropole’s journalists, coping in a tent set up in the garden of the radio station’s office in Port-au-Prince, have not still resumed their normal pace of work because of the trauma caused by the January 12 earthquake. The station resumed its normal programming on February 1, after broadcasting news via the Internet for two weeks.
Richard Widmaer, the director general of Radio Metropole, said there were no deaths or injuries to his staff. The building suffered minor damage and the equipment is still usable, he said. However, he indicated that most of the station’s journalists currently have no fixed address. They have lost virtually everything and are facing enormous difficulties. One of them even lost his wife in the disaster, he said.
“We have resumed our activities, but at what cost?” Widmaer wondered, saying that the financial situation of the radio station is so precarious that it will be difficult to find money to pay employees. Radio Metropole, he said, is an exclusively commercial enterprise and depends on advertising revenues. Of about 50 partners who used to advertise with his station, only 10 have maintained their commitment and for a period of just one week, he said, arguing that after operating for one month in such stagnation, there is a real, frightening possibility he would need to reduce the newsroom staff by half.
The damage to the business and banking sector in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, has seriously affected commercial radio stations. Along with his colleagues from the National Association of Haitian Media, Widmaer plans to issue an overall assessment report on the status of the private media following the disaster. This assessment, he said, will consider the huge loss in terms of buildings and equipment.
Radio Metropole, which has been on the air in Port-au-Prince since 1970, was the first radio station to broadcast on the FM band in the area. Other short-wave (AM) stations switched to FM frequency after that.
The reconstruction of commercial radio stations should be part of the overall reconstruction plan of the capital, Widmaer said, noting that such stations cover about 80 percent of the media landscape in Haiti. He said he believes a Marshall Plan for the media is necessary, otherwise outlets could disappear.
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