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Freedom of information continues to be fragile in the Dominican Republic. Journalists who dare to tackle sensitive subjects such as corruption or drug trafficking are exposed to threats and reprisals from officials or drug cartels. Pending the decriminalization of media offences, there is still a great deal of self-censorship.
This is a high-risk country for reporters who specialize in subjects such as drug-trafficking, corruption or violent crime, especially as it is a major trafficking hub as well as a popular tourist destination. Journalists who tackle these sensitive issues are exposed to threats, shootings and reprisals by not only drug cartels but also government officials and local police officers, hence the passivity of the authorities when it comes to investigating these threats.
Crimes against journalists are rarely solved and punished. Three individuals whose role in the August 2008 murder of Teleunión cameraman Normando García seemed to have been established beyond all doubt were curiously acquitted in 2012. The August 2011 murder of José Agustín Silvestre de los Santos, the host of the programme La Voz de la Verdad (Voice of Truth) on regional TV station Caña Teve, is still cloaked in mystery. His relations with the local authorities were terrible and he had been sued for insult and defamation in the past.
As well as direct attacks on journalists, the media are subject to various kinds of harassment. Shortly after presenter Ernesto Fadul criticized former President Leonel Fernández and other officials on privately-owned TV station Canal 53-Cibao TV Club in 2010, the station was closed on the grounds that it was using frequencies illegally, setting a dangerous precedent of disguised censorship.
Media offences are still criminalized, exposing journalists to jail terms and heavy fines if convicted of defamation or insult. Johnny Alberto Salazar, the manager of community radio Vida FM and editor of the online newspaper VidaDominicana.com, was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 1 million pesos (25,600 dollars) in January 2012 for allegedly defaming and insult the lawyer Pedro Baldera.
Journalists have been demanding the decriminalization of media offences for years and it may well happen. Since 2012, the Dominican parliament has been discussing a bill that would amend articles defining and penalizing media offences in the criminal code and in Law No. 6132 on the Expression and Dissemination of Opinion. Sadly, the bill could retain some of the existing repressive articles.
Meanwhile, the supreme court ruled in April 2013 that article 46 of Law No. 6132 is unconstitutional, a decision that could well be a first step towards the complete elimination of all the legal provisions penalizing media offences. This would be the biggest advance since the 2009 constitutional reform guaranteeing full protection for the confidentiality of sources.
Updated in May 2013