While the press around the world has always been the object of much criticism, in Haiti the practice of journalism has reached a worrying level, to the point where some see it as disfigured, denatured and in need of remaking. When asked about this issue, career journalist Roberson Alphonse acknowledges that things are not going well, and calls for a Estates General of the Press in Haiti.
"At the beginning, it was extraordinary for the young journalist I was at the time to enter the National Palace to cover a press conference alongside the journalists I enjoyed listening to as a child", testifies Magik9's News Director. His words reflect his nostalgia for a generation of journalists such as Clarens Renois, Rotchild François Junior, Jean Max Blanc and Tony Bélizaire, who, for him, were true role models. Roberson Alphonse, a journalist known for his rigorous approach to the profession, recalls that in his early days there was no room for the excesses we see today.
"There were so many professional, high-calibre journalists. There was also a fine up-and-coming generation alongside these great names", he points out, citing Méroné Jean Wilkens, Marie Raphaëlle Pierre, Goudou Jean Numa with an extraordinary pen, who, he says, produced much-appreciated reports in Métropole. While the Haitian press had its heyday with professional journalists fluent in both languages, press workers who offered good reporting with all the rigor it demands, Roberson notes that those days seem to be over. "But over time, for various reasons, the profession is no longer as attractive. There is a proliferation of media. Financial requirements are not being met to attract quality in terms of professional and intellectual competence," he laments.
According to the journalist, if the press in Haiti is subject to all kinds of abuses, it's partly because there are so many people who hold journalistic positions, without actually being journalists. "Unfortunately, there are people on the air and on the networks who perform a function similar to that of a journalist, but who are not necessarily journalists", he complains, stressing that these are not people who have gone to school, who have training and who are above all, he insists, bound by the principles of ethics and deontology of the profession. "Being a journalist is much more than that. It's professional training. If you haven't been to a journalism school, you learn the rudiments of the trade in a recognized media outlet. And most importantly, you have to respect the ethics of the profession," explains Roberson Alphonse.
According to Alphonse, journalism demands a certain attitude. You have to stay as close as possible to the truth, not be prejudiced, recognize that a story can have several versions, seek out and always act on contradictions, and verify information. With this in mind, Roberson Alphonse calls for a distinction to be drawn between professional journalists and those who occupy a journalistic function, but are not subject to the professional and ethical requirements of the profession. "When there are people in positions of expression that we present as journalists, their deviations are detrimental", analyzes the Knight-Wallace fellow, believing that we need to improve what we have. More training, more responsibility, more ethical and professional requirements. More professionalism.
Practices that threaten press freedom?
While Roberson Alphonse describes a press prey to sensationalism, with a generation of workers flouting the professional and ethical requirements of the profession, he recognizes, at the bottom of the abyss, the work of certain journalists who stand out from the crowd. But, he believes, the fact remains that they face criticism, whatever their level of professionalism. "It's not a phenomenon specific to Haiti that people decide to attack journalists, for the simple reason that politics for these people is inseparable from disinformation, intoxication and misinformation", he says.
For him, those who attack credible journalists are part of a pernicious process aimed at undermining the credibility of journalism. According to Roberson Alphonse, it's a way for these people to break the traditional architecture that still exists and has some credibility. This, so that they can operate in a world of propaganda, lies and self-serving speech, because they have political interests to defend. "They do it to discredit the sector and to allow the emergence of something totally pirate that doesn't take into account the public interest, the collective interest", he analyzes.
From this, he sees three major threats to press freedom in Haiti. "Gang violence is the first major threat to press freedom today. Gangs are used by political and economic actors to defend their interests", explains Roberson Alphonse, pointing out that this reinforces the spiral of violence, the work of corrupt politicians who want to gain or keep power, such as the squanderers of Petrocaribe funds. The second threat is attacks on credible and honest journalists," he adds. Roberson Alphonse believes that we need to take these attacks seriously, and look at their origin and purpose. In the same breath, he argues that the third threat to press freedom is the exercise of press freedom itself.
"The exercise of unbridled freedom, outside the law, ethics and deontology, becomes liberticidal. When freedom becomes liberticide, it becomes a danger", warns the voice of Panel Magik9. For him, defamation, saying anything, without verification, is detrimental to the public interest. When you fall into this trap, you lose something - your credibility, he says.
Roberson Alphonse is among those who believe that information is a fundamental right. Information is in the public interest. And to mitigate all the harm that a press thrown into anarchy can do to society and to journalism itself, he proposes the holding of for an Estates General of the Press in Haiti. He believes this should be the responsibility of universities, journalism schools, journalists' associations and associations of media owners. For Roberson Alphonse, the main task of these Estates General will be to revisit the practice of the profession, training curricula, salary conditions, and so on.
"This work needs to be done at a time when there is a proliferation of information media and people, some of them well-intentioned, who hold journalistic positions. This proliferation, this atomization of information media can create a cacophony to the point where, at some point, we won't even be able to hear ourselves as professionals, the community won't be able to hear us. And we're already at that crossroads," he concludes.