Dominican Republic

In this period the free practice of journalism was disturbed by a series of developments that included unjustified arrests, insults, threats and violent physical or verbal attacks on journalists. Several reporters, photographers and cameramen were victims of the intolerant and abusive attitudes of public officials while they were covering various events, without action having been taken to penalize those responsible. In January the Listín Diario news photographer in Santiago, Onelio Domínguez, and his driver, Noel Blanco, were arrested without any justification by two police officers while they were at a fast-food restaurant and taken to police headquarters on the false accusation of having disturbed the peace, and they were held there for more than two hours. The police said later that it was a mistake and they were released without any charges being brought. Also in January television reporter María Esperanza Ceballos from the Cadena de Noticias, was prevented from entering the Supreme Court courtroom because she was showing on her purse a sticker that called for four percent of the gross national product to be devoted to education and because she allegedly was not carrying any identification. A security guard from the Presidency searched her three times, preventing her from doing her job. A presidential press spokesman said later that the journalist’s rights had not been violated, although he did acknowledge that the security guard had gone overboard in demanding that she remove the sticker from her purse. Later that month an official of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority violently seized the camera from Boca Chica television station Canal 3 reporter Danilo Barceló and removed from it a videotape in which the official was shown to be maltreating a child, whom he pulled from the bus he was riding in. In February three journalists – Sorange Batista from the newspaper Hoy, Awilda González from Teleantillas television and a cameraman accompanying them in covering the trial of a Prison Service supervisor on a charge of allowing a group of inmates imprisoned for drug trafficking access to alcoholic drinks and other substances were threatened and beaten by a soldier assigned to guard the defendant and by a member of the latter’s family, preventing the reporters from carrying out their work. In March Hoy sports reporter Kennedy Vargas filed a formal complaint with the public prosecutor’s office and police that unidentified persons had placed a bomb, which failed to explode, in his apartment and repeatedly threatened to kill him because of the exposures he was publishing of criminal activities in his beat. Despite this, the authorities have taken no action to investigate his claims. Frequently reporters assigned to covering court trials of people charged with drug trafficking and other serious crimes face problems for doing their job, as they have been pulled out of the courtrooms on the orders of the presiding judge on trivial grounds, such as that the journalists hinder his work or that certain hearings are not open to all the public. Both the new Dominican Republic Constitution, adopted on January 26 last year, and the special law on expression and dissemination of thought guarantee freedom of the press, but often such guarantees are ignored and violated by public officials. On February 27 on appearing before the National Congress to give an account of his administration during 2010 President Leonel Fernández announced that it was planned to send to the legislature five special bills, one of which would amend Law 6132 on the expression and dissemination of thought and another that would seek to introduce changes to the current Law on Access to Public Information, as well as three others that refer to advertising, the Internet and placement of official advertising, all drafted by reputable jurists and journalists. It is expected that the bills, once submitted to Congress, will be debated publicly. As their contents have not yet been officially announced there is great expectation about their reach and impact.