Waging War on the Media: The IPI World Press Freedom Review 2001

Examining 176 countries, the International Press Institute’s (IPI) World
Press Freedom Review 2001 reveals the intense friction between the desire of
governments to control information and the media’s struggle to inform the

During a year marked by an increase in criminal and political violence,
there have been a growing number of reports of harassment and attacks on
journalists. The majority of these incidents were perpetrated by either the
police or supporters of the Lavalas Family government. A worrying tendency
for journalists to be seen as participants in a struggle for political power
came to a head at the end of the year with the gruesome murder of a radio
journalist by a pro-government mob.

In the view of many, the difficulties and dangers experienced by Haiti’s
journalists have been exacerbated by the judicial authorities’ failed
attempts to conclude the investigation into the April 2000 murder of the
country’s best known journalist, Jean Dominique. A number of Lavalas Family
Party supporters have been implicated in the course of the murder inquiry,
but the fact that charges have still not yet been brought has encouraged a
climate of impunity from which journalists, and others, have suffered.

There were numerous incidents of abuses by police, of which the following
were the most serious:

On 30 January, Pierre Marcelin Lamarre, a correspondent for the local
community radio station Radio Pipirit, and for Radio Haiti Inter in the
capital, was severely beaten by police officers in the south-western town of
Anse d’Hainault. He was then detained in prison for eight days before being
released without being charged. The beating is believed to be connected with
the journalist’s reporting of violent confrontations between supporters of
rival political parties.

On 9 August, Liberus Renald and Claude Francois, Radio Rotation FM
journalists in Belladares, were beaten and arrested by police after they
refused to hand over a recording that contained statements by former
soldiers who allegedly attacked police stations on 28 July.

Jean Robert Delcine, a reporter at Radio Haiti Inter, was beaten up by the
Cite Soleil police commissioner on 12 October while he was investigating the
alleged extra-judicial execution of a 16-year old youth.

On 25 November, Radio Kiskeya journalist Evrard Saint-Armand was assaulted
and taken to a Port-au-Prince police station by a plainclothes officer who
threatened him with a gun. Accused of being responsible for a murder he was
covering, but soon released, the journalist was beaten several times during
the ensuing interrogation.

In a climate of increasing lawlessness, some radio stations were robbed and
had equipment stolen. The most serious case was the 20 April attack on the
relay transmitter site near Cite Soleil owned by Radio Lumiere and Radio
Vision Nouvelle. One security guard was hacked to death, and two others were
shot and wounded, when a crowd of some 300 people broke into the compound
and stole US$ 200,000 worth of equipment.

Throughout the year, serious abuses against journalists occurred as they
covered the unresolved political dispute over the legislative and
presidential elections in 2000.

On 9 January, two pro-Lavalas Family organisations held a press conference
in Port-au-Prince at which they denounced and threatened Liliane Pierre-Paul,
co-owner of Radio Kiskeya, and Max Chauvet, editor of Le Nouvelliste
newspaper. These two were specifically mentioned as appearing on a list of
alleged participants in the opposition coalition Democratic Convergence’s
plan to form an alternative government. Pierre-Paul was also criticised for
using the term “a contested parliament” when reporting on the legislative
assembly elected in 2000. (This complaint about bias in media reporting was
repeated by government supporters throughout the year.) Later the same day,
unidentified persons threw a gasoline-filled container into the courtyard of
Radio Kiskeya, but no fire ignited.

On 7 March, Obed Celine, a reporter for Radio Caraibes in Port-au-Prince,
was threatened by Rockefeller Maxi, a former Haitian army corporal, who claimed
that the station had underestimated the numbers participating in a
demonstration in favour of the Army’s return. A few weeks earlier, when the
Democratic Convergence announced its parallel opposition government, the
coalition’s leader had called for the Army to be reconstituted.

Starting on 9 June and continuing for several days, Roosevelt Benjamin,
director of information of Radio Signal FM, based in the Port-au-Prince
suburb of Petionville, received anonymous telephone calls threatening him
with violence. Benjamin believes that he was threatened for broadcasting his
belief that a recently launched political organisation, the Majority Civil
Society Movement, was dominated by relatives of Lavalas Family Party

In August, several journalists in Thiotte, in the southeast of the country,
received threats from local authorities and popular organisations close to
the government. One, Fedner Confident of Radio Sacre-Coeur, who is also
local correspondent for Port-au-Prince’s Radio Ginen and Jacmel’s Radio Express
Continental, received death threats after he denounced mismanagement by the
local government.

On 29 September, Jean Marie Mayard, Radio Metropole’s correspondent in St.
Marc, was attacked and threatened by the pro-Lavalas Family Bale Rouze
organization as he covered President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s visit to
Gonaives. One of the attackers told him, “If you continue to spread news
that goes against the government, you are a dead man.” The extent of pressures
imposed on journalists was further highlighted on 11 October when the
Gonaives Press Workers’ Association announced that it was launching legal
action against a Democratic Convergence leader for suggesting that local
journalists had been bribed to report positively on President Aristide’s

As more anti-government demonstrations were staged towards the end of the
year, reports of attacks on journalists increased. On 17 November,
Franceline Leonard, Radio Metropole correspondent in Les Cayes, was allegedly beaten up
by Romain Hilaire, a leader of pro-government organisation, as she reported
on the launch of a government literacy campaign. Hilaire was released after
just 48 hours when a judge played down the seriousness of the attack. On 29
November, during an opposition demonstration in St. Marc, pro-government
supporters again threatened to kill Jean Marie Mayard because of alleged
anti-government bias in his reporting. On the same day, also in St. Marc,
members of the Bale Wouze organisation threatened to kill Ernst Ocean, Radio
Vision 2000’s local correspondent, accusing him of working for the
opposition Democratic Convergence.

The most serious incident occurred near the town of Petit-Goave on 3
December when Radio Echo 2000 news director Brignol Lindor was attacked by a
pro-Lavalas Family crowd which stoned and then killed him with machete
blows. Petit-Goave had for some months been the scene of violent confrontations
between pro and anti-government gangs. Lindor’s colleagues claim that he had
received death threats from local Lavalas Family officials after inviting
opposition leaders to speak on his radio show.

On the morning of 17 December, journalists covering an apparent coup attempt
at the Presidential Palace were threatened with violence by crowds that took
to the streets in support of the Lavalas government. As they attempted to
enter the Radio Vision 2000 building, three journalists were forced to shout
“Vive Aristide” by a group of armed demonstrators. In separate incidents,
stones were thrown at the Radio Caraibes offices, and at Radio Metropole and
Telemax TV journalists’ vehicles. A number of journalists claimed to have
received threatening phone calls from a pro-government gang leader who is
implicated in several unsolved murders. Fearing for the safety of their
staff, Radio Caraibes suspended its transmissions, while a number of other
radio stations cut back on news broadcasts for several days.

President Aristide urged his supporters to “respect the rights of
journalists”, but both the state-run Radio Nationale and the Aristide
Foundation’s Radio Ti Moun aired commentaries justifying public hostility to
some media outfits because they supported the political opposition. Police
did not visit any radio stations to offer protection, and in the days that
followed, there were unconfirmed reports that as many as a dozen journalists
had sought refuge in foreign embassies and that some had left the country.

The judicial inquiry into the April 2000 murder of Radio Haiti Inter
director Jean Dominique and the station’s guard, Jean-Claude Louissant, continued to
flounder in the face of obstruction and threats from elements linked to a
prime suspect, and Lavalas Family Party senator, Dany Toussaint. The case
has come to be regarded, both in Haiti and abroad, as a litmus test of the
government’s willingness (and ability) to create a functioning judicial
process, and to bring lawless elements within the Lavalas Family Party under

On April 3, the anniversary of the murder, peasant groups and journalists’
associations held large demonstrations to demand justice for Jean Dominique.
A new pressure group, the Foundation to Echo the Voice of Jean Dominique,
was formed, and joined a growing chorus calling on the executive to move the
inquiry forward. President Aristide decreed April 3 Haiti’s national press
day in honour of Jean Dominique. At a meeting with journalists, he renewed
his government’s determination to fight for press freedom, and promised to
sign the Chapultepec declaration. However, only a few weeks later, Judge
Gassant told Reporters Without Borders that he was concerned for his
security and was prepared to resign unless the government reinforced his protection.

Throughout the year, Senator Toussaint, a former police chief and possible
successor to Aristide as Lavalas Family leader, refused the investigating
judge’s repeated requests to answer questions relating to the inquiry,
citing his parliamentary immunity under article 115 of the Haitian Constitution. On
8 June, Gassant submitted the inquiry’s conclusions to the state prosecutor,
and rumours that Senator Toussaint had been named as a prime suspect
prompted violent street demonstrations by his supporters in two towns. Toussaint
himself claimed he was the subject of a conspiracy, designed to sabotage his
political career, and refused to recognise Judge Gassant’s authority. At the
beginning of August, the latter formally asked the Senate to remove
Toussaint’s parliamentary immunity but, by the year’s end, no decision had
been reached.

A positive development was the re-emergence of the Haitian Journalists’
Association (AJH), disbanded during the 1991-94 military regime, and the
increased prominence of other media associations. The AJH, officially
re-launched on February, has been active in publicizing and investigating
many of the abuses listed above. The Haitian Press Federation, the Group for
Reflection and Action for Press Freedom, and the newly-constituted National
Association of the Haitian Media (ANMH), were also active. The ANMH was
formed in September by owners and directors of 12 radio and three TV
stations with a mission to help Haitian journalists’ associations and to
professionalise the Haitian media.