Rebuilding the news media was the priority for Haiti’s journalists after the January 2010 earthquake. Media freedom has been improving since 2006 but there were incidents in 2011.
The destructive earthquake of 12 January 2010, which may have killed as many as 300,000 people, according to government figures, highlighted the important role that radio stations play in a humanitarian catastrophe, not only as news outlets but also as vehicles for mobilizing the population and facilitating social solidarity.
Signal FM and Caraïbes FM were the only privately-owned radio stations that managed to get on the air in the first few hours after the earthquake. But half of the Port-au-Prince radio stations resumed broadcasting during the first month after the quake and virtually all the TV stations are now operating again.
One of the two national dailies, Le Nouvelliste (with a print run of 15,000 copies), resumed daily publishing in April 2010. The other, Le Matin (5,000 copies), has been published on a weekly base since the earthquake and has gone back to being printed in the neighbouring Dominican Republic, as it was until eight months before the quake. Only 30 news outlets in the capital have so far benefited from the post-quake media aid worth 2 million dollars that was announced by the government. Media in the provinces, including the worst-hit provincial towns (Jacmel, Léogâne, Grand-Goâve and Petit-Goâve) have yet to receive any of this governmental assistance.
The lack of training of many Haitian journalists, more noticeable in some media than others, limits the availability of diverse, quality news coverage, and some sectors of the population have no access at all. Reporters Without Borders helped set up a Media Operations Centre in Port-au-Prince just a few days after the quake in order to assist in the restoration of professional and independent journalism in Haiti.
While the situation of media freedom has improved in recent years, there were a few incidents in 2011. Radio Prévention journalists Ernst Joseph and Wolf Duralph François were arbitrarily arrested on charges of defamation, disturbing public order and destruction of public property in the southwestern town of Petit-Goâve in June. They were freed the following month but the charges were not dropped. François said he was forced to read a statement by the local authorities on the air in exchange for his release.
The media were affected by the tension during the drawn-out elections that ended with Michel Martelly being installed as president on 14 May 2011. After Eddy Jackson Alexis, the news editor of state-owned Télévision Nationale d’Haïti (TNH), and one of his reporters, Josias Pierre, were fired in April, TNH director-general Pradel Henriquez brought a criminal defamation case against them for saying that they and three other TNH journalists had been dismissed for criticizing Martelly. They were facing a possible three-year jail sentence and a demand for 50 million gourdes (875,000 euros) in damages.
The motive for the fatal shooting of Radio Kiskeya journalist Jean Richard Louis-Charles in Port-au-Prince in February 2011 has not yet been established. The police reportedly made an arrest but the murder is still unpunished.
Updated in August 2011