Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Freedom of the Press in Haiti: The Chilling Effect on Journalists Critical of the Government

University of San Francisco & IJDH
September 27, 2012

One of the greatest achievements in Haiti since February 7,1986,is firstly the  freedom of expression,the possibility that  the men, the women, organizations, the civil society have to  say, in peace, what they think, but it is also the  possibility  for the  press to  make the relay, and do it objectively… […] It is therefore necessary to  fight every day to  preserve this  freedom.

 Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, Haiti’s former Minister of Culture and Communication, on World Press Freedom Day in 2011

Freedom of opinion and expression constitute the foundation stone of every free and democratic society.2 In the fifteen months since the inauguration of Haiti’s President Michel Martelly, who took office in May 2011 after controversial elections,3 journalists in Haiti have repeatedly complained of poor treatment by government officials.4 This report analyzes those complaints in light of the freedoms and protections that journalists enjoy under Haitian and international law. The report findings include information gathered in interviews with Haitian and international journalists conducted in June 2012. Interviews documented two troublesome trends journalists encountered in Haiti.

• The first trend was intimidation, threats, destruction of their media equipment, and retaliation by President Martelly and his administration against progressive journalists for critical reporting, which has created an atmosphere of fear and a chilling effect on journalists’ freedom of expression.

• The second trend was “stonewalling” wherein journalists critical of the government were consistently denied interviews with governmental officials and access to public information.

Both trends infringe on journalists’ rights under Haitian and international law to freedom of expression and access to public information. Haitian journalists producing investigative reports are especially targeted, often facing threats to their life, hindered access to information, blocked access to government departments and the national palace, defamation lawsuits with criminal sanctions, and license revocation, in addition meager salaries and lack of training opportunities. Together, these acts send a message to journalists and civil society engaged in investigating attacks, abuses, irregularities, or illicit acts that they may be threatened or retaliated against for their reporting.

It is important to note that conditions for journalists are vastly better now than under Haiti’s coup governments of 1991-1994 and 2004-2006, and under the Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier dictatorship from 1957-1986. According to Reporters Without Borders (RWB), Haiti ranks 56th out of 179 countries in its 2011 world ranking of press freedoms, which is nine places below the United States (47th).5 Journalists interviewed generally agreed that President Martelly had improved access to public information compared with his predecessor President René Préval by granting more press conferences and engaging in social media. Only a handful of murders and kidnappings of journalists has been reported in Haiti since President Martelly took office, and his government has not been implicated in any of them.

Nonetheless, President Martelly’s aggression against journalists from the beginning of his presidency, coupled with threats, intimidation, and hindered access to public information is troubling. Freedom of expression provides a vehicle for civic participation and democratic oversight of government management. Lack of effective oversight “gives rise to conduct that runs counter to the essence of a democratic State and opens a door to wrongdoing and unacceptable abuses.”

Haiti’s democracy is still young and precarious. Haitians first exercised their right to vote in free and fair elections in 1990, but this right was taken away by the 1991 and 2004 coup d’états. If the Haitian government is serious about strengthening its democracy, it will take affirmative steps to address its ongoing violations of freedom of expression and protect the media.

The report offers the following recommendations for protecting freedom of expression and journalists:

1. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Justice, law enforcement and prosecutors should prevent and investigate instances of threats and violence against journalists, punish the perpetrators and ensure that victims receive due compensation.

2. Law enforcement, government actors and the President’s office should refrain from intimidating and threatening journalists, as well as the destroying their press equipment.

3. Haitian law should be amended to eliminate jail sentences in cases of defamation.

4. All public agencies should make every effort to ensure easy, prompt, effective and practical access to public information.

5. The National Palace is encouraged to stop requiring journalists to answer questionnaires requesting information irrelevant to a journalist’s credentials to cover press conferences.

6. The Ministries of Communication and Education should provide funding for education and training for journalists.

7. Journalistic values and professional standards should be strengthened in order for journalists to be respected.

8. Living and working conditions for journalists should be improved.

9. The international community and donor countries should provide the Haitian government and civil society with financial and technical support to ensure that all of the above goals are met.

 

Click HERE To Read the Rest of Report and Download in PDF

Click Here To Read the Report in French

Click HERE To Read Press Release entitled ” Freedom of Press in Haiti: Report finds Haitian journalists face death threats,intimidation, retaliation, and hindered access to information. ”        

 

 

 

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