Dominican Republic

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC A number of problems for press freedom have arisen recently in the Dominican Republic. Last December, the Public Entertainment and Broadcast Commission, a government agency, prohibited announcer Jorge Herrera from speaking on radio or television for three months as punishment for making “insulting remarks” about Dominican Catholic Cardinal López Rodríguez during a radio program. The Commission acted under terms of Regulation Nº 824, which provides for administrative action and has been protested by the IAPA as restricting free speech. In January, coinciding with the visit to the Dominican Republic of an IAPA delegation headed by President Tony Pederson to present the Declaration of Chapultepec, a document appeared in Santiago de los Caballeros, the nation’s second city. Drafted by the Presidential Press Office, it described a number of local broadcast journalists and media as being anti-government, calling them “slanderers,” “scoundrels,” “rabid oppositionists” and “unprofessional.” No further action was taken, but the journalists concerned were incensed. The Declaration of Chapultepec was signed by President Leonel Fernández, former president Joaquín Balaguer and the presidents of the Central Electoral Board, Senate and Chamber of Deputies. Also in February, a reporter from the daily Hoy and another from El Caribe were beaten up by supporters of the ruling party’s presidential candidate during a political rally in a provincial township. The candidate, Danilo Medina, promptly apologized for the incident. Even though there was a public complaint identifying the attackers, the authorities have not initiated an investigation into the allegations, much less punished those responsible. In March, reporters from Channel 5 TV were forced to stop a live broadcast they were making from the offices of the Central Electoral Board on problems in provision of new identity cards, that the press been complaining about. In the city of Santiago, the government’s Commission on Public Performances and Radio in February shut down the program “Por el Medio”, alleging that it defamed government officials. Still pending in court is the trial of five defendants in the 1975 murder of journalist Orlando Martínez. The accused are two former Army generals, two formers members of the Air Force and one civilian who worked for the military. Still unsolved is the May 1994 disappearance of university professor and columnist Narciso González, nicknamed Narcisazo, He went missing after giving a lecture at the state university in which he accused then President Joaquín Balaguer and senior military officers of electoral fraud. The disappearance is being officially investigated. Former military officers have been interrogated, but there have been no arrests. Regulations issued by the Central Electoral Board seen as restricting press freedom remain applicable to the current election campaign despite an assurance from the Board that free speech will not be curtailed and the press will be allowed to report freely.