Connect to share and comment

In post-quake Haiti, radio evolves into powerful mouthpiece

Broadcasting from tarpaulin tents, Haiti's radio journalists are striking a more critical tone.

“Where is the change?” challenged Makenson Remy, a commentator for Radio Caraibes. Remy in 2005 was dragged from his car and beaten by men who accused him of supporting former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. A few years ago, as a period of political unrest subsided, Remy turned from political to cultural journalism, hosting a popular talk show on Compas music. Now, like many of his colleagues, he has returned to news and politics, talking about gas shortages, rubble-filled streets and the lack of security for women in Haiti’s sprawling tent cities.

Remy, who tweaks politicians past and present with mocking impressions, believes this moment of relative political calm, sustained by the presence of international organizations, won’t last forever.

“When things are good, everything is OK,” said Remy, 33. “When things aren’t good, everyone’s against you.”

Haiti’s radio journalists have seized a tenuous moment of freedom, even as their stations, hit by a plunge in advertising revenue, have been forced to accept government money in exchange for airing public service announcements.

Richard Widmaier, general director of Radio Metropole, said he agreed to the deal reluctantly, and only because it was drawn up as a business contract.

“The past history of Haitian media and government in Haiti has been one of catastrophe,” said Widmaier, whose grandfather founded Haiti’s first commercial radio station in 1936.

So far, the bailout has had no evident muting effect.

“It’s up to us to denounce the incompetence of the authorities,” said Lucien Jura, news director at Signal FM, the only station in Port-Au-Prince to broadcast continuously during and after the quake. “It’s up to us to reconstruct this nation.”

The station has radically changed its lineup, cutting entertainment programs in favor of news and political analysis, including a show called “Haiti Renewal,” in which experts weigh in on the challenges of reconstruction.

And in Cite Soleil, Radio Boukman reporters continue to ask tough questions.

Orpha Dessources found what she was looking for.

Speaking into the microphone, a young man told her there are places now no one dares go: “Bandits hide in corners to attack people, even to rape girls," he said.

She headed back to her tarpaulin newsroom, to join her voice with his.