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Journalists Fear State-Run TV Will Be Propaganda Tool for Aristide

January 25, 1995

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Haiti’s former dictators used state television for propaganda. With democracy restored, will President Jean-Bertrand Aristide do it too?

That’s the fear of a group of journalists who quit this month rather than work under the new television director, Dominique Constant, a former Information Ministry official close to Aristide.

In an interview late Tuesday, Constant downplayed those fears, but his responses left room for doubt.

``I will never sell my conscience. Nobody has put pressure on me. There will never be propaganda here,″ Constant said. ``This government says it serves the Haitian people. I serve the government to serve the Haitian people.″

Reporters in Haiti are enjoying unprecedented freedom since Aristide returned Oct. 15. But his administration’s early fits and starts in reviving the state TV network have made journalists nervous about its intent.

Already skeptical of state-run TV, Roland Colbert was persuaded to become news director Dec. 21 when network director Frantz Marcelin promised him full press freedom.

But Colbert, 33, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that he had barely signed on when things started falling apart.

The Information Ministry telephoned television headquarters several times in late December to complain its news coverage wasn’t favorable enough to the government, Colbert said.

Marcelin, appointed to the post by Aristide’s prime minister, was ousted in early January. He was replaced by Constant, who had followed Aristide into exile when he was deposed in 1991.

Nine of the network’s 10 reporters immediately quit and signed two letters Jan. 2 criticizing the decision. The tenth journalist was abroad and hasn’t returned to the station, Colbert said.

The first letter, to Constant, protested the firing and pressed him to prevent state-run TV and radio from becoming a tool of official propaganda. A second letter asked government authorities ``to measure the impact of their decision and to correct it by reconfirming Mr. Marcelin in his post.″

Colbert is a former employee at Haiti-Inter, a radio station closed by the 1991 army coup, and head of Haiti’s journalistic group for a free press. He contends Marcelin was forced out.

When army rulers were removed by a U.S.-led force in September, they cleared out state TV of crucial supplies, including paper, cassettes, even vehicles. Aristide’s government allocated $100,000 for replacements, but the new equipment was blocked at customs for more than a month and didn’t arrive at the station until the day Marcelin was dismissed, Colbert said.

Colbert said he took the state TV job because he felt ``it was necessary to restore the credibility of the state-run media. It was necessary to organize the newsroom so it could endure for any other government that followed.″

He’s afraid that won’t happen under Constant, the Aristide supporter.

``The crux of the issue is elections,″ Colbert said. ``It’s certain that there is a will to control the airwaves.″

Most members of parliament and local offices throughout Haiti are up for election this spring.

Constant has vowed that coverage of the campaign will be objective.

``We’ll see,″ Colbert said. ``We’ll just wait and see.″

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