Haiti’s new President urged to protect press freedom

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Friday April 29, 2011 – Haiti’s President-elect Michel Martelly is being called on to intervene in a criminal defamation case involving local journalists and to stamp out threats to media freedom in the country.

Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organisation which defends media freedom across the world, made the appeal against the background of Pradel Henriquez, the director-general of state-owned Télévision Nationale d’Haïti (TNH), bringing a defamation case against two of the five journalists he recently fired on questionable grounds.

Josias Pierre and former editor in chief Eddy Jackson Alexis are being sued after being fired along with Jacques Innocent, Guemsly Saint-Preux, Stéphane Cadet.

The TNH management had alleged that the five put their political preferences before their professional duties, while the journalists accused TNH of biased coverage or even outright propaganda in favour of Martelly during the second round of the presidential election, in which he beat former first lady Mirlande Manigat. They were fired shortly after a courtesy visit to TNH by the president-elect.

“There is a great deal of post-electoral tension and the president-elect needs to speak out before his inauguration on May 14,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The victor by a broad margin, Michel Martelly must promise to guarantee pluralism, civil liberties and basic constitutional principles. By helping to defuse this case, he could calm things down and ease the transfer of power.”

The organisation said that an initiative of this kind by Martelly is all the more urgent as the announcement of the results of the legislative elections has triggered a new wave of violence in which some media and journalists are being targeted, as they were after the first round of the presidential election.

Meantime, Reporters Without Borders has criticised the summoning of four other journalists to give evidence in the defamation case yesterday.

Valery Numa and Maxime Hilaire of Radio Vision 2000 and Jean Monard Metellus and Marc Joël of Radio Caraïbes FM had interviewed the TNH journalists about their dismissal. 

“The journalists who have been summoned as witnesses were just doing their job when they covered this story. They do not have to justify what they did before any court. Using journalists as witnesses in an attempt to convict colleagues in a defamation case constitutes a serious attack on the profession’s unity,” Reporters Without Borders said.

It further called on the management of TNH to reinstate Innocent, Saint-Preux, Cadet, Pierre and Alexis. A three-member special commission that was appointed by the culture and communication ministry on April 15 has until May 2 to decide their fate.

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