Telecom regulators’ warning to Haitian media could lead to self-censorship: RSF

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  • April 21, 2014

By Alex Phillips*

Press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned last week that a recent statement by Haiti’s National Council of Telecommunications (CONATEL) could lead to self-censorship in the country.

In a statement dated April 8, CONATEL expressed disapproval of “some radio stations that systematically broadcast false information liable to disturb pubic order, destabilize the Republic’s institutions and attack the integrity of many citizens.”

CONATEL also reminded the media that the Haitian State has a monopoly on telecommunications services and a law that states that telecommunications may not “disturb public order, national security, international relations, ethics and morals, or the normal life of society and its institutions”.

The statement did not name any specific news outlet, but CONATEL issued a summons to Radio Tèlè Zènith, accusing it of defaming the government. The station’s CEO, Rony Colin, denied the accusation. The station is receiving support from local press freedom organization SOS Journalistes.

“We are worried by the current political climate, which reflects a desire to gag critical media,” said Camille Soulier, the head of RSF’s Americas desk. “This kind of authoritarian discourse just encourages journalists to censor themselves and is counter-productive. Interior minister Réginald Delva should get CONATEL to retract this worrying statement.”

RSF added that CONATEL’s statement contradicts recent comments made by the new Minister of Communications, Rudy Heriveaux. The Minister said he wished for a peaceful relationship between the press and the ministry, while reassuring the media that he had no intention to silence the press or to undermine freedom of expression.

Edwin Coq, the Head of the Legal Department at CONATEL, defended CONATEL’s actions in Haiti stating that “it is by no means an attack on freedom of expression, but to end abuses reported at some radio stations in Haiti.”

Haiti is ranked 47th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2014 Press Freedom Index, published in February. There has been increased intimidation of members of the press within the past few months, including eight journalists who recently reported being.

*Alex Phillips is a student in the class "Journalism in Latin America" at the University of Texas at Austin.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.