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HAITI
Press under fire
Jane Regan
3/20/2003
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Propaganda and self-censorship rife.

As he picked through the burned-out hulk of the car and took in the charred wall of the home he shares with a half-dozen family members, Radio Metropole’s Jean Numa Goudou mused, "Maybe it’s because I am the kind of journalist who asks officials tough questions."

Observers believe the late February attack on Goudou could be aimed at stifling criticism of the beleaguered President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas party. Of 64 aggressions against the press last year, the Association of Haitian Journalists tallied 35 by government supporters and another 18 by members of the police.

Since that report was published, the list has grown. Only a few days before Goudou’s car was torched, four journalists who had been hiding in a Port-au-Prince hotel room for three months got tired of their four walls and left the country. Two of their colleagues were already in exile in the United States and France, leaving only one on Haitian soil. The "Gonaives seven" fled the northern port town in November after members of the "Cannibal Army" pro-government gang, led by fugitive Amiot Metayer (LP, Oct. 21, 2002), threatened them and their families and forced a local radio station to close.

"We had no other choice," said reporter Jean-Robert Francois in a telephone interview from the Dominican Republic. "The government refuses to protect us from these thugs."

Just days after the attack on Goudou’s house, a pro-government mob invaded the Petit-Goave home of Montigene Sincere, an outspoken political journalist, correspondent for Voice of America and also a former opposition candidate for mayor. The marauders sacked and burned three rooms. In Les Cayes, community station Radio Jean Claude Museau closed its doors following a spate of menacing telephone calls.

Finally, late last month one of the country’s most renowned stations, Radio Haiti Inter, shut down indefinitely. Michelle Montas, owner and widow of Jean Dominique, gunned down with the radio’s guard almost three years ago (LP, April 24, 2000), announced she was closing the station to prevent further loss of life. Her guard was assassinated Dec. 25, 2002. All three murder cases remain open.

The attacks prompted the Group for Reflection and Action for Press Freedom (GRALIP) to warn that self-censorship and fear are quickly eliminating freedom of speech. GRALIP also noted with disdain the government’s use of state and "parastatal" media, meaning radio, television and a news agency with close ties to Lavalas.

State television, especially, "has become, just as in the days of the Duvalier dynasty, a formidable propaganda machine where the principles of perdition and perversion are founded on lies, calumny, propagation of hatred and incitement of violence," GRALIP stated on Feb. 20.

The Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Eduardo A. Bertoni, agrees. The next day, Bertoni expressed his "serious concern over the increasing threats and aggression against journalists, which create adverse conditions for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Haiti."


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