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Haiti1 March 2004

Media continue to work warily in wake of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s departure

The media were continuing their work warily following the departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and shooting and arson attacks against five radio or TV stations.

Reporters Without Borders was able to check with some of them in what mood they had resumed work on 1 March.

"It is not really a question of living in terror, but we are very much on our guard because the chimères are still armed," said Achille Louis-Marie, managing editor of Radio Métropole. His view was shared by Vario Sérant, the boss of Télé Haïti: "We are taking great care. Remember that several of us have had to go into hiding these past few days to escape attack." Until yesterday afternoon the chimères were outside some radio stations.

"We have resumed working, but we are taking great care. The situation is still very tense," said Marie-Lucie Bonhomme, head of Radio Vision 2000.

Aristide supporters attacked five stations on 29 February. Reporters Without Borders made several appeals to both sides to end the use of violence. "At this time of extreme confusion, the Haitian people need above all to get independent and reliable news," said Robert Ménard, secretary general of the international press freedom organisation.

Most pro-government media have stopped broadcasting. Radio and Télé Ti Moun, both run by Aristide’s foundation, along with Télé Eclair and Télé Max went off air shortly before the president’s departure. Public Télévision nationale d’Haïti (TNH) continued to broadcast on 29 February, interviewing the interim president and later, in the evening, the opposition.

Overnight on 27-28 February supporters of the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party machine-gunned the offices of Radio Vision 2000, one of the major privately-owned stations in Port-au-Prince. The station manager, Léopold Berlanger, said the radio had to close. Following this attack the privately-owned Kiskeya temporarily took its news programmes off air. The Radio Vision 2000 office came under machine-gun fire again on 29 February and was partially burned. The radio was hoping to get police protection and to resume broadcasting from 2 March.

Armed men ransacked the offices of Télé Haïti on 29 February, the sole remaining television channel that was independent of the government. "Everything was stolen or broken," said its boss Marie-Christine Blanc, in a message that reached Reporters Without Borders. She said that the attackers had used a bus to force the gate in front of the station, causing the security guards to flee. Later in the day a staff member had been able to return, accompanied by the police.

Head of news at Télé Haïti, Vario Sérant, said some of the wreckers wore Aristide t-shirts and had surrounded the building since the previous evening. Damage was estimated at several hundred thousand dollars. The building also housed the offices of Radio France Internationale (RFI) which briefly suspended broadcasts on Haiti.

Four days earlier, a Télé Haïti crew of journalist Jhenny Favélus and cameraman Claude Cléus, had been threatened and set upon when they tried to return their office. Their assailants threatened to "march on Télé Haïti". Sérant said they then burned tyres and erected barricades around the station forcing the staff to leave the premises. The attacks continued the following day.

Still on 29 February, Radio Métropole reported that privately-owned Radio Ibo in Port-au-Prince had been attacked and forced to suspend news broadcasts. Another radio station in the capital, Signal FM, had come under fire. Radio Métropole interrupted news programmes for two hours after receiving telephoned threats. In Léogane, Radio Passion was ransacked by Aristide supporters.

At least three other media had come under attack or threat during last week.

The offices of the radio Echo 2000, at Petit-Goâve (70 kms southwest of Port-au-Prince) were torched on 26 February by suspected pro-Aristide attackers. On 3 December 2001, pro-government assailants murdered a journalist at the station, Brignol Lindor. They were never brought to justice despite making public confessions.

On 24 February, Michel Jean and Sylvain Richard, journalist and cameraman on television channel Radio Canada, were shot at by pro-Aristide chimères in the north of Port-au-Prince. In a 23 February statement, Reporters Without Borders condemned unprecedented attacks against the foreign press the previous week.

The management of pro-government Radio Solidarité, said on 26 February that it had been received death and arson threats the night before.

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