25 March 2010

IAPA special report shows slow recovery of Haiti’s press

Miami (March 25, 2010)– At its biannual meeting in Aruba the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) presented a special report on Haiti detailing the impact of the January 12th earthquake on the press there. The catastrophe cost the lives of 31 journalists and closed down the country’s leading newspapers, Le Nouvelliste and Le Matin, as well as most radio stations.

Miami (March 25, 2010)– At its biannual meeting in Aruba the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) presented a special report on Haiti detailing the impact of the January 12th earthquake on the press there. The catastrophe cost the lives of 31 journalists and closed down the country’s leading newspapers, Le Nouvelliste and Le Matin, as well as most radio stations.  

In addition to a report on the state of press freedom in Haiti, the meeting held in Oranjestad, March 19-22, featured two panel discussions on the ravaged Caribbean nation on Sunday, March 21. The IAPA announced a plan of action to provide financial aid to the news media there. 

IAPA President Alejandro Aguirre of the Miami, Florida, Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Américas; Anders Gyllenhaal of The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida; Max Chauvet of Le Nouvelliste, and Daly Valet of Le Matín, both of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, together with Robert Shaw of the Copenhagen, Denmark, based organization International Media Support, spelled out the main problems facing the Haitian press.  Following is the full text of the report: 

Haiti - Report to the Midyear Meeting, Oranjestad, Aruba, March 19 - 22, 2010

While Haiti’s reputation on freedom of the press has not always been impressive, despite a constitution that prohibits censorship except in the case of war, the country has made significant progress in recent years, particularly when it comes to impunity. In 2008, President Rene Preval, along with the media rights group SOS Journalistes, created the Independent Commission to Support the Investigations of Assassinations of Journalists to take a serious look at prosecuting those who murder journalists for doing their jobs. 

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The country is prone to natural disasters with four major hurricanes and storms in 2008 killing hundreds of people and destroying homes and livelihoods for millions of people. 

On 12 January 2010, a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake (USGS) hit Haiti with aftershocks measuring 5.9 and 5.5 in the first hours following the quake. According to the latest estimates by the Haitian government, more than 217,000 people died and 300,000 were injured. 

In Leogane, some 20 kilometres west of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince and epicentre of the earthquake, up to 80 – 90% of the buildings were destroyed. As a result of the earthquake among the public buildings that collapsed in Port au Prince were the main Parliament Building, the Justice Palace, Tax Headquarters and prison along with schools and hospitals. The destruction of the capital also means that legislative elections planned for next month, and a presidential election planned for November will have to be put on hold. Given the extent of this destruction, the agencies’ ability to continue investigations into crimes committed against journalists, as well as rising levels of attacks against the media by state security officials in late 2009, have been paralyzed.  

The overall communication structure in Haiti has been dramatically weakened limiting greatly the dissimenation of vital humanitarian information, especially to migrating populations in and outside the capital. Assessments have reaffirmed the need to bridge the gap between the humanitarian organizations and the local media community to ensure that vital information reaches the people of Haiti.  

Beyond these incidents, the major focal point of attention has circled around the massive personnel losses incurred by the media after the earthquake. 31 journalists were killed throughout the country and at least 13 were injured. A large majority of the media buildings in the four principally affected cities were destroyed or heavily damaged with massive equipment losses.  

The earthquake damaged or destroyed many media office buildings as well as broadcasting equipment, printing presses and computers. And by shutting down so many businesses that bought advertisements, the quake undermined the financial foundations of the industry. Some airlines and wireless companies continue to advertise, and some aid organizations have bought public service announcements. But many other businesses that used to buy airtime or print space will take months or years to rebuild, and that could translate into a prolonged nosedive in ad revenue for the industry.  

The French weekly, Courrier International, has called on donors to assist the oldest newspaper in Haiti, Le Nouvelliste, which, since January 12, has been without a printing press. The paper’s first special issue following the earthquake was published from an obsolete privately owned press. According to Max Chauvet, Venezuelan technicians are now on hand to assess the Le Nouvelliste’s equipment. 

Le Matin, the second main newspaper based in the capital, used to employ more than 30 people to publish a daily newspaper that reached some 7,000 subscribers. Since the earthquake, the newspaper has had to lay off about half its staff, and cut the salaries of those who remain by about 50 percent. It publishes online only at the moment. 

Haiti’s sole newspaper published exclusively in Creole has disappeared under the rubble of the January 12 earthquake. The Port-au-Prince offices of the monthly Bon Nouvel (Good News) were destroyed, as were the facilities of its La Phalange printing unit, which specialized in the production of Creole-language books and documents.  

In Port-au-Prince, only about a dozen radio stations, out of a total of 50, remain on air. Immediately after the earthquake one of the leading Port-au-Prince radio stations, Radio Métropole, initially resumed broadcasting online only, as did Radio Kiskeya, another of the most popular radio stations in the capital, which had around 50 stations before the earthquake. Signal FM, Caraïbes FM and the local branch of the French public station RFI were the only three stations that managed to keep going immediately after the earthquake. But thanks to the help of foreign technicians and news media, including Radio France, a total of 20 stations were operating a week after the quake. They include Vision 2000, Radio Lumière, Radio Solidarité, Mélodie FM, Radio One and Radio Boukman, which is based in Cité-Soleil, the capital’s biggest slum. The UN mission’s station, Radio Minustah, was back on the air on 18 January. Radio TV Ginen, Radio Soleil, Radio Ibo and Tropic FM, and many other small community radio stations, were all totally destroyed. Radio Nationale, the state radio station, began broadcasting via its sister TV station. 

In Leogane, four radio stations are currently functioning to some extent while eight others have been destroyed – Radio Amicale, Radio Compas, Radio Touche Dous, Cool FM, Anacaona, Tele Top Canal, Radio Top and Force FM. 

In Petit-Goâve, 15 radio stations have joined forces under the umbrella of the “Réseau des Médias de Petit-Goâve” enabling them to produce and broadcast one shared programme of 3 ½ hours a day. Five radio stations have been destroyed – Radio Men Kontre, Radio Solidarité, Radio Heritage, Radio Kopha Pierre and Radio Echo 2000. 

Media outlets in the southern coastal town of Jacmel have also suffered major losses with Radio Tele Diffusion Jacmelienne being completely wiped out and now broadcasting in the open from the main square of Jacmel. Four other radio stations in Jacmel have suffered equally great losses. 

In Port-au-Prince some radio stations will take a long time to resume their normal programming. Such is the case for Radio Ibo, which is currently broadcasting at low capacity from the private residence of its director, Herold Jean Francois. Radio Maximum, Magic 9, Radio Tropic FM, Radio Kiskeya, Canal 11, and Radio-Télé Guinen have been badly damaged. Most of the television stations based in the capital, about a dozen, are still off the air. Yet some—Télé Métropole and Télé Caraïbe, among others—are broadcasting programs from U.S, French, or Latin American television stations. 

Before the earthquake, Radio Ibo, one of the top four stations in Haiti, had 12 journalists working around the clock to produce the station’s 4 flagship programmes. Now, there are only 7 journalists on the payroll of Radio Ibo and news hours have been reduced to 2. Their revenue has been reduced to one third of its previous level and the need to find a new more accessible facility to run the radio is very difficult with real estate prices skyrocketing to over 5 times their pre-earthquake rate. 

Many Haitian journalists have fled the country since the earthquake. For those who remain, the increasing prices of real estate and running costs (energy) have left the media in a precarious state. Radio Lumiere, a station based in Port-au-Prince, lost 3 journalists and is facing a major financial crisis with the station’s reserve funds close to zero and journalists only receiving half their salaries. 

The National Association of Haitian Media Owners (Association National des Médias Haïtiens -ANMH) explained that the main priority for ANMH is to enable media outlets to publish and broadcast again - not only in order to generate income but also to avoid a genuine brain drain among the journalists. “Unless media outlets can get back on their feet again quickly, the brain drain effect will multiply rapidly as journalists will look for job opportunities in other sectors or will emigrate if possible,” says Max Chauvet, director of the daily newspaper Le Nouvelliste. 

As a limited sense of respite to bolster revenue to the media sector, both the ANMH and the other main association of media owners – the Haitian Independent Media Association (AMIH) – have begun an exchange of advertising services with the Haitian Government. Over the next 6 months, the Haitian Government will work with the media to exchange financial support for state advertising slots in a bid to kick-start the market with the anticipation that private advertisements will come back to the fore in late 2010. 

In order to maintain a focus on impunity and cases of journalists killed, SOS Journalistes will be reconvening a meeting of the Independent Commission to Assist Investigations into Murders of Journalists on April 3rd. This will also preclude an event to be organised on 10 April to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the killing of Jean Leopold Dominique. SOS Journalistes are also looking to reopen discussions surrounding revisions to the existing Access to Information legislation in Haiti. ANMH have also been extremely active in this regard, in order to guarantee a stronger base for press freedom and freedom of expression in Haiti. 

Between the end of March and mid-April, International Media Support will be organising a round table to be held among all key stakeholders in the media sector in Haiti - journalists, editors, media owners, the wider international media support community along with the UN and humanitarian organizations. This forum will be the first in a series of discussions aiming to create space for the media sector to analyse strategic ways forward and its role in the reconstruction challenges ahead.  This first discussion will target the exchange information and experiences between the media and humanitarian sectors and those related to the media development sector in order to identify opportunities and possibilities for collective actions hence strengthening the ability of journalists and media to report on humanitarian issues. As the country prepares to enter into the heavy rain season in April and the hurricane season in June, the media’s role in the reconstruction of Haiti will be vital. 

Other relevant facts affecting press freedom this period: 

By 3 December last year, justice had still not been fully rendered in the case of Brignol Lindor, a radio journalist working for Radio Echo 2000, who was murdered in the southwestern town of Petit-Goâve on 3 December 2001. Although two individuals implicated in his murder were given life sentences in December 2007, 7 other people who were convicted in absentia for his murder in January last year are still on the run.

Following the earthquake on 12 January, Constant Junior, the new prosecutor in the central province of Hinche, was killed while attending a session in the Justice Palace. Junior had recently been transferred from Jacmel to Hinche and would have been involved in trying the case of threats by Wilot Joseph, a deputy from Hinche, against Radio Kiskeya and VOA correspondent Sainlus Augustin. According to SOS Journalistes, Sainlus is still in hiding in Port-au-Prince and on 16 March received threatening calls from “people connected to Wilot Joseph”.

On 21 January, IAPA expressed its concern over attempts by the US military to abruptly and covertly push international press reporters out of their airport base without providing an alternative base. These actions came amidst growing discontent in Port-au-Prince with the countries involved in the humanitarian relief effort, including the United States. 

On February 3, three weeks after the earthquake, Homère Cardichon, a photographer working for the daily Le Nouvelliste, had his camera confiscated by US marines while covering a demonstration by disgruntled residents outside the US embassy in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Tabarre. 

In February, Kertis Emma, a correspondent for Radio Caraibe FM in Cap-Haitien, was attacked by a police officer while reporting on a local event. The case is now before the tribunal court in Cap-Haitien. 

On March 15, journalist and secretary general of SOS Journalistes, Joseph Gulyer C. Delva, encountered another altercation with former senator Rudolph Boulos. Delva had arranged an interview with IDB chief Luis Moreno while Rudolph Boulos was at the same location participating in a private sector meeting with the IDB. A diplomatic representative on site told Devla that Boulos didn’t want Devla to remain in the building even though other journalists from Le Matin and Signal FM were allowed to stay. Delva protested and was finally able to carry out his interview with Moreno.  

The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. For more information, please go to http://www.sipiapa.org