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a132: RE: a127: Haitian journalists: Dreyfuss comments (fwd)
From: Joel Dreyfuss <email@example.com>
In October, I spent a day running a seminar for journalists in Haiti that
was sponsored by the InterAmerican Press Association. I was asked to talk
about business and economic journalism, a topic not often practiced in
Haiti, where journalism is often equated with political reporting -- or
Guy Delva made most of the arrangements and organizing and brought some 60
reporters, mostly from the provinces to the seminar in Port-au-Prince. I
found the 60 or so attendees (mostly radio journalists) attentive and
interested in my day-long overview of the fundamentals of economic
reporting. They were especially interested when I spoke about sources of
information abroad -- useful in cases where there is a foreign partner in a
joint venture and that partner is a public U.S. or European company. While
the Haitian partner -- all non-governmental enterprises are by definition
privately-held and not required to provide any data on their activities --
and Haitian government enterprises are hardly anymore forthcoming about
financial information or contract terms, I explained how tapping SEC or EC
filings available on the Internet can provide important information about
the foreign partner.
As happens with any topic in Haiti, even talking about business and
economics inevitably led us to politics: the politics of
information-gathering, publishing or not publishing all that you know; the
politics of government information -- and one that concerns media in other
countries as well -- reporting on companies that are also advertisers.
The most heated debate came on two issues: the first was my broad
definition of economic reporting; I was making the not-so-original point
that economic reporting also includes the informal economy. I recalled a
study done by Michel Laguerre and others on the social order of the Croix
Bossales market. How does the market work in your area, I asked. Who runs
it? Who decides who gets the choice spots? Is there a social order? What
are the economics of Madam Sara? I noticed a certain amount of squirming.
One reporter finally said he'd have a problem doing that kind of reporting
because his colleagues would look down him for reporting on 'ti marchands
(minor merchants); this suggested he was spending too much time reporting on
a class of people considered unimportant. The spirited discussion that
followed also told me that the class status of many reporters was insecure.
Journalists have never had much prestige in Haiti.
But some reporters nearly came to blows over conflicts of interest for
reporters who may also have government jobs. One reporter admitted to us
that he was the regional spokesperson for a government agency but ran the
newsroom of a radio station as well. How did he avoid conflicts?, I asked.
He said he didn't comment on that agency's doings --although he often found
himself reading to his audience from a press release he had written. That
incensed many of his colleagues and they were soon shouting at each other.
In the U.S., the issue would have triggered a simple no way; but what could
I say to reporters who are getting paid $5-10-20 per report? How can they
make a living that way?
It was clear to me that even the government PR guy knew his position was
untenable, but until Haiti can sustain a professional reporter class
independent of government subsidies or salaries, these conflicts are going
to appear. Part of the issue is whether the owners of these media, who may
often prefer reporting that serves their own interests, are willing to pay
the price (both monetary and social)for journalistic independence in Haiti.
Jean Dominique's station was boycotted by many prominent business owners but
he was also cut off socially from many of the people he had grown up and
gone to school with. Some viewed him as a class traitor but he forged ahead
anyway. Not many Haitian news companies are willing to accept both these
burdens to tell the truth to power.