We take it for granted that journalists tell the truth. It is a reporter’s job to go out into the world, dig into stories that other people do not know of, and share the finding with the rest of the society. But this scenario assumes the possibility of a key factor: the freedom of expression. This freedom, such an ubiquitous and indelible right in the United States, is something very hard to find in Haiti.
Today, we had the opportunity to meet with Carel Pedre, a prominent radio journalist based in Port-au-Prince. He was the first person to post pictures of the earthquake on Facebook and Twitter, and he became a prominent figure in the international media in the later weeks as the rest of the world zeroed in on what was going on in Haiti. It was interesting to hear Pedre’s take on social media, which he described as a democratizing force, especially in a place like Haiti where timely and accurate information about current events is not readily available. Though most Haitians do not own computers or have access to the Internet, most people frequent cybercafes, which dot the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince. These Internet hotspots have become portals through which average Haitians can receive updates on pressing issues such as the current cholera situation and upcoming presidential elections.
But social media has also become a refuge for Haitian journalists, who feel immense political pressures everyday. One issue that came up in our discussion was the murder of Jean Dominique, a prominent Haitian journalist who was famous for speaking out against Duvalier dictatorship. Despite threats on his life, Dominique continued to broadcast his views on his radio until he was killed in 2000, a crime for which no one has yet been prosecuted. Through this example, Pedre illustrated the fears Haitian journalists feel everyday when they try to tell stories that politicians do not want to be told. It was sobering to hear him say so frankly that he feels the need to censor himself for the safety of his family. Because he cannot broadcast his views on his show, Pedre and other journalists have instead taken to the Internet, where they can post articles and editorials anonymously. And if Pedre’s Facebook and Twitter followers are any indication, the Haitian people are listening to what he is saying.
Check out our pictures at: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=244792&id=539482873