Haiti - Silenced: Int'll Journalists Expose Media Censorship

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Charles Arthur
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Haiti - Silenced: Int'll Journalists Expose Media Censorship

Post by Charles Arthur » Wed Sep 14, 2005 9:43 am

Silenced: International Journalists Expose Media Censorship

Edited by David Dadge


“This hard-hitting collection shows that pressure and persecution are still inescapable aspects of a journalist's job description ... a vigorous defense of press freedoms by journalists who are unafraid to confront the powers that be.” - Publishers Weekly

PAGES: 295 pp
ISBN: 1-59102-305-X
BINDING: Hardcover
PRICE: $26

From the editor's introduction:

Telling a story he knows well, journalist and consultant for the Haiti Support Group, Charles Arthur, writes about the murder of Jean Dominique outside his Haitian radio station. Arthur describes the unwillingness of the police to find the perpetrators and the failed attempt to assassinate Dominique's wife.

Extract from Chapter 14: Walking
the Tightrope (pp 273-293) by Charles Arthur

The post-Duvalier era of increased media freedom had been baptized in Creole: baboukèt-la tombe! (the muzzle is off!), but the military coup d'état of September 30 1991 put it firmly back on. President Aristide fled into exile, and the media, and the radio stations in particular, were the military's first targets.

For Radio Haiti Inter, the "glorious years" were over. "One week after the coup, they shot us up again", said Dominique. "On October 2, I interviewed the exiled President who was in Washington. One hour later they came, shooting in broad daylight. On October 15, I decided to stop broadcasting after they came to my home during the night." Once again the station was closed down, and Dominique was forced into exile, not to return until US troops intervened to restore the constitutional government three years later.

Rebuilding the station for a third time, Dominique and Montas took up where they had been forced to leave off. Their Inte
r-Actualitiés program again became one of the most popular morning shows. Montas read the national news, while Dominique wrote and read editorials and commentaries that included fiery tirades against corrupt politicians and businessmen. Dominique and his team of journalists also specialized in the sort of investigative reporting that was, and still is, all too rare in Haiti. Whereas other stations focused almost entirely on news about the government and events in the capital, Radio Haiti Inter would investigate and report on stories and issues relevant to ordinary people, particularly to peasants and the inhabitants of small towns. For example, if a peasant organization occupied idle farmland, Radio Haiti Inter would send a reporter. The same would happen with allegations of corruption in the Organization for the Development of the Artibonite Valley, or complaints that the flood of imported rice from the US was forcing down local rice prices. When, in 1999, peasants in the Léogâne region started falling ill a
fter drinking alcohol laced with ethanol, Dominique spearheaded a high-profile investigation and public information campaign warning of the dangers of mixing industrial spirits with homemade rum, and warning off the unscrupulous businessmen profiting from the distribution of ethanol for this purpose.

Such reports made Dominique extremely popular with ordinary people throughout Haiti, especially among peasants in the countryside. He saw such an approach to news-gathering and broadcasting as a part of a clear political position, saying, "We are fighting for popular participation. We are against exclusion, because the majority of people in this country are excluded from political life."

Over three decades, Dominique's distinctive voice, probing interviews and scathing commentaries were broadcast over the airwaves and had become part of daily life. His particularly politicized form of campaigning journalism had transformed the medium of radio, and made it a vital tool for the sharing of ideas and
information. At the same time, his commitment to the idea of social inclusion and participatory democracy had help energize and mobilize a movement that had brought an end to a 29-year dictatorship and developed the potential to transform the nation. In the face of repeated violence and threats, and despite two periods of exile, he had refused to be intimidated or silenced. For all these reasons, and more, the murder of Jean Dominique in April 2000 was deeply shocking for the people of Haiti. But perhaps most shocking of all was the fact that, after surviving all through dictatorships, military coups, and attacks on the station he had built, Dominique was shot down just as it appeared that the transition to democracy in Haiti had finally been achieved.

In early 1995, the reinstalled President Aristide had disbanded the Haitian Army, and a new police force run by the Ministry of Justice was in the process of being built. Parliamentary and presidential elections were successfully held, and the first pea
ceful transfer of political power in Haitian history took place when René Préval succeeded Aristide as president in February 1996. For all those Haitians who hoped that the country had finally turned a corner and would at last enjoy some stability and a chance to prosper, Dominique's murder was hard to comprehend. Marleine Bastien, president of the advocacy group, Haitian Women of Miami, gave an idea of its impact when she told The Miami Herald, "Haitians in the United States have always thought about when we could return to Haiti. But the murder of Jean Dominique makes us think only about how to get our families out."

Compounding the sense of unease was the difficulty in identifying the probable culprits for the murder. Dominique's widow, Michèle Montas, articulated these thoughts when she noted that in the past the threat would obviously have come from the Duvaliers and the military leaders who followed. "Then it was much easier to find out who the enemy was. Now, you don't know. It's very diffic
ult to determine who's who." (end of extract)

About Silenced: International Journalists Expose Media Censorship - Edited by David Dadge

What happens to journalists who expose uncomfortable truths? How far are journalists prepared to go in order to report a difficult story? Silenced provides answers to these questions with the stories of journalists who risked their careers so that the public might be informed.

From China, where Jasper Becker, formerly Beijing bureau chief of the South China Morning Post, fought a lonely and unsuccessful battle against owners willing to soften the newspaper's reporting of the Chinese government in the hope of protecting mainland investments, to Zimbabwe where the harsh treatment of the Guardian's Andrew Meldrum led to him being arrested and forcibly deported from the country because he dared criticize President Robert Mugabe, Silenced is a forcible reminder of the risks – both personal and financial — accepted by the media on our behalf.

nElsewhere, in other parts of the world, journalists face more traditional problems, whether it is the pressure placed on journalists Gary Hughes and Gerard Ryle when highlighting police corruption in Australia, or the aggressive tactics employed by the Belgian authorities against Stern magazine's Hans-Martin Tillack for exposing a financial scandal at the heart of the European Union.

When faced with the threat of censorship, all of these journalists reacted in a similar manner — they chose to report and face the consequences. They decided to place the ethics of journalism above all other considerations. As such they are proof that press freedom cannot exist without those who are willing to uphold its fundamental principals.

Silenced is more than a book on the media; it is an expression of the bravery and persistence of journalists everywhere.

David Dadge (Vienna, Austria), editor at the International Press Institute, is the author of Casualty of War: The Bush Administration's Assault
on a Free Press. He writes frequently on the media and freedom of the press.

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