A vote in the National Assembly to reform the Constitution should guarantee complete protection of journalists’ sources, but decriminalisation of breaches of the press law is still awaiting approval. The media has since 2007 been suffering the effects of an upsurge in violence.
Around 30 journalists were targeted for physical assaults and attacks during 2008 and some 20 of them faced legal proceedings which were often abusive. This assessment, made by the Dominican Journalists College (CDP) and the National Union of Press workers (SNTP), was sadly similar to that of the previous year when attacks against the media reached levels not seen since the Joaquin Balaguer dictatorship of the 1970s. The Dominican Republic is a highly popular tourist destination but remains in the grip of persistent corruption and its geographical position makes it a major hub for drug trafficking. Media that look too closely at this kind of activity have to tread warily and even more so given that the reprisals are often the work of municipal officials or the police. This also explains the lack of zeal on the part of the justice system to put an end to impunity. The mistrust between the press and the authorities has deepened still further since the still unsolved murder of Normando Garcia, cameraman and producer on privately owned regional television Teleunion in Santiago de los Caballeros on 7 August 2008. Journalists face a particularly charged threat when it comes to drug cartels with retribution coming from any quarter. Journalist and programme maker for privately owned Canal 10-Varo Vision and radio 95.5 FM in Hato Mayor province, Manuel Vega received “warnings” imputed to two drug traffickers who had been in prison since the start of 2009. Pressure can also come from the highest levels of state as was revealed by attempts to intimidate three journalists by aides to Senator Alejandro Williams after he was implicated in a fraud case involving American Medicare. The case turned into a scandal when Margarita Cordero of online newspaper 7Días, Maria Isabel Soldevilla of the daily Listin Diario and Norma Sheppard of privately owned Radio Mil, told the ethics committee of the Upper House that the senator’s bodyguards had convinced them they were FBI agents to obtain the names of their sources. This episode came however came just ahead of the National Assembly constitutional reform vote, on 4 May 2009, guaranteeing absolute protection of sources. This step forward however falls short of the hopes of journalists’ representatives who repeated their appeal for decriminalisation of press offences. A draft law on the issue put before the National Assembly in September 2007 has yet to be examined.