Strengthening Election Coverage and Journalism Standards in Haiti
IFES Chief of Party in Haiti Alessandra Rossi attended the first in a series of workshops for Haitian journalists registered to cover the upcoming elections. IFES is co-hosting the workshops with Haiti’s Transitional College of the Permanent Electoral Council.
What is the current media landscape in Haiti?
According to a report by Internews, only one daily newspaper remains in Haiti, Le Nouvelliste, edited in French in the capital Port-au-Prince, and said to have a circulation of about 10,000. Le Matin ceased publication as a daily in 2005, and as a weekly in 2013. Some weekly (Haïti en Marche) or monthly (Haïti Monde) magazines are still on the market, although most of them are edited from abroad, from either Miami or Paris.
Few Haitians can afford to buy a newspaper regularly and only half the adult population can read and write. However, newspapers remain an influential source of news and information for the population as a whole.
Meanwhile, radio is the most popular type of media in the country. There are 57 radio stations in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, and about 375 radios all over the country. Some of the larger radio stations, such as Caraïbes FM, Radio Ginen and Vision 2000 have relay transmitters in other large towns and partner FM stations which broadcast some of their programs.
Most radio programming in Haiti reports on politics from the narrow power play perspective of the country’s ruling elite, instead of analyzing the political, economic and social issues that affect their listeners’ everyday lives. The other challenge for radio programming is an unwillingness to edit interviews. Lengthy monologues fill up air time, but do not help listeners grasp essential information. Talk shows with phone-ins are popular, but the production quality of such programs is often very low.
Haitian TV stations are very small and have limited capacity to produce their own programming. They mainly show films played from DVDs, sports programs and entertainment shows pirated from foreign satellite broadcasters. A large percentage of TV programs shown are therefore in French rather than Creole.
There were about 60 TV stations on air across Haiti in 2012, of which 20 were based in the capital. The largest and most popular TV stations, including Télé Caraïbes, Télé Ginen, Télé Métropole, and State-run Télévision Nationale d’Haïti, belong to media groups which also own popular radio stations.
News websites are offshoots of the daily newspaper (Le Nouvelliste) or broadcast groups. Alterpress is a press agency that delivers information only on its website.
Regarding media regulation, radio and TV licenses are issued by the State-run Conseil national des télécommunication solely on the basis of technical considerations. Applicants must also a pay a fee.
There are two main associations of media owners and one association of journalists, which seems to be representative of the Haitian press corps. Other specialized or local associations exist, with various degrees of membership and efficiency on the ground.
How can a free and independent press contribute to a credible electoral process?
Journalists and media could probably add more credibility to the electoral process in Haiti. The widespread presence of radios all over the country could translate into a network of observers ready to report on campaign developments, vote operations or incidents occurring during the electoral process. This would undeniably increase the level of transparency of the process.
However, media outlets do not have sufficient resources to properly cover the elections. The main problem is that most outlets are not independent from economic power or political interests. A large number of radios are known to be close to politicians, or even simply owned by politicians. This creates a very real public perception of news being manipulated or distorted. This misinformation has even been a source of conflict and incidents during the electoral process, especially during the announcement of results.
Supporting the establishment of an independent press would be an important first step to increase the credibility of the electoral process.
Describe the trainings for journalists taking place in Haiti. What are the main goals of the trainings?
For years, trainings have been organized for Haitian journalists by international organizations, with or without the participation of national organizations. These actions seem to be a substitute to the lack of a credible school or university course for journalists.
A large majority of journalists learn their job on the ground, with no basic skills. This is the ultimate example of learning by doing! This phenomenon of journalists without formal education is aggravated by the turnover in newsrooms. After a few years, due to low wages in the media sector, the majority of journalists quit their jobs in local newsrooms, moves to international organizations or firms, or simply leaves the country.
Short-term trainings have limits: they can’t reach all the journalists around the country and can’t last more than two weeks, as journalists are supposed to simultaneously continue to investigate and report news. In addition, most of the trainings organized for Haitian journalists seem to be more theoretical than practical. In 2012, there was a failed attempt to establish a Master’s of Journalism program through the private Kiskeya University, with the support of a French renowned school.
Has an election date been set in Haiti? What are the challenges and opportunities ahead as the country enters the election cycle?
A political agreement known as “El Rancho Agreement” was signed in March 2014 by the executive power, the Assembly, political parties and civil society organizations. According to this agreement, elections must be organized before October 26, 2014. But the implementation of the agreement has been difficult, with some stakeholders backtracking on key aspects.
Can you tell us about the journalists you have met through the trainings? What are their hopes and aspirations?
The profile of the journalists who attended IFES’ first training held on April 15 in Port-au-Prince was rather young, with limited – or no experience – covering the electoral process.
Some of the participants were being introduced to the concepts of journalism ethics for the first time. Most of them would welcome the opportunity to attend future trainings on both professional ethics and basic reporting skills. Unfortunately, participants agreed that the ethics rules learned in the workshop are hardly practiced in the field or observed in their newsrooms. This common perception stems from the ties of media ownership to special interests, linked to political powers.
Most young journalists I met during the first training session said they would like to have more resources and work for free and independent media outlets.