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GRALIP denounces the most recent crusade against freedom of speech and the treacherous attempts to dismantle the independent press


February 20, 2003

Translation by AlterPresse

Alarmed by the unending series of ominous attacks on the Haitian press, the Group for Reflection and Action for Freedom of the Press (GRALIP) categorically condemns the abominable act perpetrated on Saturday, February 2003, at the home of Radio Métropole journalist Jean Numa Goudou along with the persecutions which have forced our colleague into hiding. While asking itself about the origin and motivation for this new aggression against journalists as a whole, GRALIP would like to call public attention to the fact that during the recent past Goudou, as part of his work as a reporter, has done a series of interviews and reports and has raised questions during certain press conferences which are particularly political or where the actions of the Lavalas power have been subject to a critical eye. Goudou also did not hesitate to express himself recently at a meeting of intellectuals, university students and press professionals held by the “Iniatitive Citoyenne†organization in Cap-Haitien on February 7.

GRALIP, which sends to its colleague its full solidarity, demands that the concerned authorities take appropriate measures which will guarantee the security of Jean Numa Goudou, and also that similar steps be taken for Radio Métropole which held a one-day news strike to protest against the numerous threats against its journalists.

GRALIP also expresses its solidarity to Radio Haiti Inter, forced to suspend broadcasts for an undetermined length of time due to the direct and persistent threats via telephone calls and the presence of masked people in front of the station. GRALIP also notes that these threats come at a moment when the Jean Dominique affair has entered a crucial phase.

The Group for Reflection and Action for Freedom of the Press (GRALIP) reminds that this latest attack on freedom of the press was proceeded by or followed by many other cases. For example :

 The seven Gonaives journalists chased away and banished by the “Cannibal Army†; forced at first into an internal exile, six of them eventually left the country.

 Thinly veiled threats by the fugitive Amiot Métayer against the news director of Radio Métropole, Rothschild Francois Jr.

 The detaining, on Tuesday February 18 during the funeral of a member of the Lavalas Family party, of the Radio Vision 2000 correspondent in Petit-Goave, Elysée Sincère, and torching of the residence of his father, Montigène Sincère, the correspondent for Voice of America.

 The beating up of a Télévision Nationale (TNH) reporter, Jean Robert Exinor Robenson, last week, at the Port-au-Prince airport ; an incident about which that television station was strangely silent.

 The verbal aggression against Rose Miliana Milord, a trainee for Radio Ibo in Les Cayes, by members of “popular organizations†linked to the Lavalas power structure during a demonstration on February 7.

 The forced six-month sojourn in Port-au-Prince by Bidry Dorsainvil, journalist for Radio Voix Ave Maria in Cap-Haitien and the spokesman for the Association of Haitian Journalists (AJH) in the north. Our colleague was being actively sought by members of “popular organizations†following a call-in program on the subject of the functioning of the Haitian National Police.

 The sack of Radio Maxima in Cap-Haitien, because of its anti-government editorial line.

The Group for Reflection and Action for Freedom of the Press is extremely worried about the generalization of political intolerance which threatens and outrageously violates freedom of speech and of opinion, as well as puts into danger the exercise of the journalistic profession and of the right to information which is interdependent with the enjoyment of all other civil liberties which are guaranteed by basic societal norms, by the laws of the Republic, by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by international conventions committed to by the world’s states.

Having veered desperately towards anachronistic practices of patronage politics and extreme fanaticism, the current power has made major investments in massive propaganda and vulgar gesticulations. This state of affairs does not go with pluralism of ideas, nor with the moral task and the social responsibility of the media meant to promote ideas associated with conviviality, justice, peace, and progress.

With the idea of erasing all contestation and social demands – no matter how legitimate they might be – the Lavalas administration and its most ardent supporters are instrumentalizing the credibility of independent media to spread a criminal rhetoric and impose upon public opinion a type of political smear campaign. Many have been profoundly shocked by the insanities of a radio announcement repeatedly heard on the air for a number of days which made appeals to social hatred, racism and to the demonization of the 184 associations and institutions of civil society in connection with their call for a general strike. All of this with disdain for the elementary principles of freedom of expression, social cohabitation and the basic doctrine of human rights.

The nauseating diffusion of such a message calls upon the conscience of media who should not serve as a relay for language which has incalculable social, political, psychological and moral consequences, without worrying about their degree of influence on the public and on their lack of ethics.

At a moment when those in power are boasting about the virtues of freedom of expression, GRALIP takes note that, more than ever before, the “state media,†Télévision Nationale at the head of the line, have become, just as long ago during the good old days of the Duvalier dynasty, a formidable propaganda machine where the principles of perdition and perversion are founded on lies, calumny, propagation of hatred and incitement of violence. These media, which should be sanctioned by the profession and by society for having, at the very least, promoted the systematic cult of the personality in flagrant violation of Article 7 of the Constitution, constitutes a true land mine destined to explode the collective conscience and to obscure public opinion which is being deprived of its right to balanced and credible information. Worse still, in addition to the publicity spots benefiting – without any justification – a regime already over-publicized to the point of obsession, the images of the Head of State literally flood the small screen via publicity-journalism, broadcasts of public meetings, speeches, and official declarations (the presidential news show on TNH) concocted directly by the powerful Office of the Press and of Communication of the National Palace. Totally absorbed by frenzied propaganda, TNH did not hesitate to repeatedly interrupt pre-Carnival programming in order to rebroadcast various moments from presidential events. In regards to this, GRALIP feels for the destiny of a colleague of TNH who was fired, by orders coming from high up, for his judicious comments on the paradox of the violence in the Carnival meringues this year in contrast to the spirit of the anniversary of 1804 (Haiti’s independence), which was the official theme of Carnival 2003. In addition to all of this on the state media, many more hours are purchased on other media by the presidential office.

GRALIP also deplores the intellectual demission and the moral indecency characterized by certain para-statal media completely dedicated to the cause of the regime. Certain of them go so far as to approve actions which are contrary to the ethics of a professional press, like having their reporters sport tee-shirts bearing the effigy President Aristide during public demonstrations.

The Group for Reflection and Action for Freedom of the Press is particularly worried about the different reports which indicate the practice of potential espionage activities in certain news rooms. Such a situation automatically creates a working atmosphere heavy with the feeling of permanent insecurity which is incompatible with the intellectual liberty necessary for the exercise of the profession. These unpleasant conditions are compounded by troubling elements which poison the everyday life of a number of journalists and media : death threats, behind the scenes maneuvers, anonymous and repugnant letters, operations and distribution of tracts.

In the same vein, cameramen of pro-government television channels have, on many occasions, showed an ill-placed interest in their colleagues of the independent press, taking extra care to film them, close-up, rather than filming the events they are meant to be covering.

In this deleterious context, GRALIP notes a persistent institutional opacity as far as access to official sources of news is concerned. For example, the presidential security budget remains a giant unknown. More, for fear of receiving administrative punishment or falling victim to acts of political vengeance in a system which has come to be characterized by military rigidity, state workers do not dare share information with the press. That explains the hiding of information from public interest, especially about drug trafficking, corruption, management of public goods, crime, series of kidnappings, institutionalized gangsterism and political-judicial affairs.

In the name of professional ethics, republican values and the democratic aspirations of the Haitian people, the Group for Reflection and Action for Freedom of the Press (GRALIP) calls on its colleagues of the independent press for solidarity and for a collective effort to protect liberty of the press, the mother of all liberties.

Vario Sérant, Principal Coordinator

Stéphane Pierre-Paul, Assistant Coordinator

Ronald Colbert, Administrator