Haitian radio is an important channel for political activism and community organizing, but reporters would benefit from further training, said Louise Brunet of Internews Network. Brunet was joined by Miami Herald Caribbean correspondent Jacqueline Charles, and Jean Fedner Chéry, the community leader of RAMAK—a network of Haitian radio stations supported by Internews, at a Dialogue meeting on June 3rd. The luncheon discussion was co-sponsored by Internews Network.
Radio is an indispensible means of communication in Haiti. As much as 92 percent of Haitians have access to radio, and there are over 300 radio stations—while only an estimated 80,000 people read newspapers on a regular basis, and internet access is limited to urban hubs. Unlike other media sources, Brunet said, radio coverage is focused on less populated rural areas. RAMAK alone covers 41 radio networks and approximately 85 percent of the country outside of the capital, Port au Prince.
Fedner Chéry explained that Haitian radio not only connects remote communities with national news, but also serves as a means for community organizing. RAMAK is a voice for the community, said Chéry, and the network can draw attention to injustices such as political oppression and limited health and security. So too, radio stations play an important role in protecting human rights—especially for women and children. Radio fosters community bonds and provides “the education to promote activities to develop society," Chéry said.
Historically, Haitian journalists have mixed reporting with political activism. “Journalists have been very much associated with the political turmoil and political history of the country,” Brunet said, “and (they) fought very much for the freedom of the press of Haiti." The use of radio exploded after the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, but political bias remained a major problem in reporting. Today, the legacy of ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide continues to be a point of contention for many reporters. "The press still reflects the political divide within society," Brunet said.
Miami Herald correspondent Jacqueline Charles cautioned against blurring the line between journalism and activism, saying it is more effective to maintain a reporter's "code of ethics" by maintaining an impartial voice. “Reporters can shake up the system by being objective, telling a story, and reporting the news." Charles advised reporters to avoid becoming so absorbed with advocacy work that they fail to cover relevant news stories objectively.
The level of government regulation of Haitian media remains a contentious issue. The National Telecommunications Council (CONATEL) is the regulatory institution that delivers licenses to radio stations, but according to Brunet, CONATEL does not regulate content, or prevent pirate radio stations. Although there is a movement to update CONATEL, Brunet added that most reporters are opposed to legislative regulation of the media, quoting a Haitian reporter who said: "The best law on media is no law at all."
While biases and inconsistencies in Haitian media will persist, the panel agreed that increased investment in education for media professionals can help improve the quality of reporting. “People love news and very much listen to it, but there is also little investment in it," Brunet added. Training reporters on how to best use technology to disseminate information, ask the right questions when interviewing, and manage an office would allow Haitian radio to be even more effective in information distribution in a fair and balanced way.
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