Freedom of the Press - Dominican Republic (2005)

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 7
Political Influences: 16
Economic Pressures: 15
Total Score: 38

Population: n/a
GNI/capita: n/a
Life Expectancy: 69
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (95 percent), other (5 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Mixed (73 percent), white (16 percent), black (11 percent)
Capital: Santo Domingo

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respects these rights. The approval and enactment in July of a Free Access to Public Information Act proved to be a positive development. However, the new administration of President Leonel Fernandez declared in November that his government would strive to reduce the amount of government information available in order to protect those involved from unnecessary investigation. Controversy continued over the 2003 takeover by the courts of the editorial empire owned by the now defunct bank Baninter. Following the state's intervention, editors at all the newspaper, radio, and television outlets that formed part of Baninter's holdings were duly replaced by government appointees. Many Dominican journalists contend that in the run-up to the May 2004 presidential election, the daily Listin Diario, whose editorial staff had been replaced with supporters of then-president Hipolito Mejia, became a government mouthpiece. In September 2004, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of temporarily returning the media outlets to the family of Baninter's largest stockholder.

A generalized deterioration in public safety throughout 2004 represented the greatest threat to press freedom, as increased violence and street crime resulted in the death of one journalist, the wounding of another, and unsuccessful attacks on several others. Radio reporter Juan Emilio Andujar Matos was ambushed and killed by gunmen moments after reporting on a bloody crime wave pitting gang members against the police; a radio reporter who witnessed the attack was himself shot and wounded later that same day.

Overall, the media remain subject to some government regulation, with newspapers the object of official pressure through denial of advertising and taxes on imported newsprint. The media generally avoid serious reportage on some subjects, such as the army and the Catholic Church, as well as topics that might adversely affect the economic or political interests of the outlets' owners. The latter is particularly pernicious, as ownership of the media is concentrated in the hands of a few economically and politically powerful individuals.

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