2007 saw a substantial increase in violence towards the media, with about 30 physical attacks or threats. Investigation of corruption and drug-smuggling brings the risk of heavy reprisals and the government is often slow to react. But the courts are finally punishing the killers of journalists and a bill to decriminalise press offences has been sent to parliament.
The level of violence towards the media in 2007 reached a level rarely seen since the iron rule of President Joaquín Balaguer in the 1970s, with some 30 physical attacks or threats marring a hitherto quite good record in recent years. The country, a major tourist destination, is also very corrupt and its geographical position makes it a key transit point for drug smugglers. Journalists who look too closely into these matters tend to be the target of reprisals, often by local officials or police.
Manuel Vega, producer of a news programme (Atacando) on the privately-owned TV stations Varo Visión and 95.5 FM, received many threats in January that he would “burned alive” if he continued to report on drug smuggling on his programme. Vega thought a man convicted of drug-trafficking in the US who had returned to the Dominican Republic after serving his term was behind the threats. But he and the national journalists union could not get protection from police in the eastern town of Hato Mayor who he said were infiltrated by drug-traffickers. Similar official lethargy followed the shooting-up of the home of Héctor Abreu, presenter at Radio Azua and correspondent for Radio Enriquillo, in the southwestern town of Tamayo on 6 July. Abreu said he thought the attack was in response to his broadcast comments about local corruption and crime.
Hostility towards the media also came from the street. Marino Baéz, correspondent of the daily Listín Diario, and Braddy Abréu, of the TV station Yuna Visión, narrowly escaped being lynched on 22 June by a crowd in the town of Maimón protesting against lack of drinking water supply. Again, local police stood by and government officials did not react.
Relations between the media and the government turned sour in September when the government withdrew the security escort that Milton Pineda, commentator and programme director with the pro-opposition radio station Z101, had had since attempts to kill him. But three weeks earlier, police protection had been given to Esteban Rosario, of the TV station Canal 55, after a knife attack on him in the northern town of Santiago de los Caballeros on 31 August.
Slight progress in punishing killers
Despite the discouraging situation, two killers of journalists were finally punished. Three former soldiers were sentenced on 17 April by a Santo Domingo appeal court to 30 years in prison for the 1975 murder of the editor of Revista Ahora magazine, Orlando Martínez, who was an opponent of then-President Balaguer. The supreme court ruled on 19 December that former Gen. Joaquín Pou Castro was directly responsible for the killing and sentenced him to 30 years also. Gang leader Vladimir Pujols received a 30-year prison sentence in May (confirmed in September) for the 2004 murder of Juan Andújar, correspondent for Listín Diario in the western town of Azua. His accomplice, Juan Ricardo Muñoz Herrera, was jailed for five years and fined €7,000 for “conspiracy.” A third suspected killer, who was a minor at the time, will be tried soon.
A deputy of the ruling Dominican Liberation Party, Juan Julio Campos Ventura, introduced a bill in parliament on 25 September to abolish imprisonment terms for press offences such as libel and insults and replace it with fines under civil law.