Press freedom growing in Haiti, reporters say
American journalists may yearn for the "good old days" when daily newspapers were strong, but in The Republic of Haiti, these are the good old days.
For working Haitian journalists, the old days were very bad and very recent.
"This is like springtime for Haitian journalism," newspaper reporter Claude Bernard Serant said in an interview with The Times last week.
Mr. Serant is well acquainted with the hard realities of Haitian journalism. Five years ago, he was hospitalized for four days from a beating he received while covering an event for Le Nouvelliste, Haiti's largest (30,000 circulation) daily newspaper. "I was in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time," he said simply. The crowd that delivered the beating believed his newspaper was on the wrong side of an issue they espoused.
Mr. Serant and Alix Laroche, an editor and reporter for Le Matin, a 5,000 circulation daily newspaper, both said that social unrest, not the Haitian government, poses more risk for journalists. But, they said, that could change.
With a wry smile, Mr. Serant said, "There probably has never been a better time for free journalism in Haiti." But quoting Frank Etienne, Haiti's best-known writer and commentator, he added, "Etienne says, 'Haiti is like a tinderbox. It awaits a match.'"
The two reporters are in the U.S. covering a series of appearances by Haiti's minister of women's affairs and rights, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue, who spoke frankly about the issues facing her country in a lecture at the Oak Bluffs library last Thursday.
Ms. Lassegue's Island visit was sponsored by the Martha's Vineyard Fish Farm for Haiti Project to raise money for education and awareness for women's rights in Haiti.
For now, the two men see opportunity to affect change in a country born of a successful slave revolution in 1804 and marked by oppression and strife since. The world watched the horror of decades under dictators Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, when bands of secret police, called Ton Ton Macoutes, routinely murdered and savaged the Haitian people from 1957 until 1986. Haiti adopted constitutional rule in 1987 but has been intermittently battered by political unrest and violence since.
Located less than 2,000 miles from the U.S., Haiti's nearly seven million citizens rank among the poorest of Caribbean countries with a daily wage of less than $2 per day, according to independent economic reports.
More recently, the country has been torn by the presidencies of now-deposed Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a priest turned politician, whose several brief administrations created expectation for positive social change. Fanmi Lavalas, the party that supports Mr. Aristide, recently boycotted senatorial elections that produced a turnout of about 10 per, according to human rights and press watch organizations and U.S. government reports.