Why independent journalism is dying in the Dominican Republic

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The Flag of the Dominican Republican

By Shannon Garrido, Content Managing Editor

I knew early on that journalism was a main interest of mine. So, I decided to take a three-month internship at HOY newspaper, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (DR). 

I didn’t think much of it, I wasn’t sure what the internship would entail, but to my surprise, the editor who hired me encouraged me to actually write. She granted me access to state documents and told me to write stories about what I found. I was elated. 

Week after week I would turn in stories, a lot of which contained what I thought was pretty jaw-dropping information that I strongly believed should somehow make its way to the Dominican public. 

However, I soon realized that I was only allowed to write about these things within the confines of the newsroom. As soon as it reached the hands of an editor, the information somehow disappeared. 

I would ask my editor why no one was writing about this and where my stories would go, and she would simply respond that it was out of her control. For so long I was convinced that my stories were just bad (admittedly, they probably were), but it still bugged me that so much of what I wrote about never became relevant news coverage. 

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For Dominican journalists, censorship and self-censorship are among the most serious and common limitations for independent, responsible, and effective journalism.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization has the most concrete information on journalism in the DR. UNESCO’s report states that 63 percent of practicing journalists in the Dominican Republic have self-censored at some point, which puts Dominican journalists at an informational disadvantage and is slowly drowning out independent journalists in the country. The concentration of media ownership in the Dominican Republic falls into very few hands and it undermines journalists’ ability to work for the public. 

By 2010, some 19 groups owned almost all the media in the country. Community-owned media is basically non-existent in a country where 98 percent of all media ownership is in the hands of private investors, while the State and the churches own the remaining two percent. 

The Corripio Group is the main media owner in the country, with its leader José A Corripio Estrada otherwise known as “Don Pepín.” About 40 percent of the country’s total television audience watches their television programs while its four newspapers are read by more than three million people every day.

Privatized information allows a hand to extend in all areas where these economic groups have interest, which includes the government. Government intervention and this incentive to silence fair and honest journalism happens because of how easy it is to manipulate a congested media system.

For example, print media in the DR must be registered with the Ministry of the Interior and Police. These are anachronistic measures that limit freedom of expression by any means. During my internship, I wrote a story about how the General State Budget in 2018 did not recognize the funds for the prevention and repairs of natural disasters that are effective in the country. 

The budget report essentially assigns only one percent of the country’s GDP to public calamities, but in reality the amount spent on these natural disasters is ten times less, nothing more than 0.1 percent. After completing the internship, my access to these records was terminated. 

When I realized this story was not being used, I asked my editor about it. At first, she said that there was no space, so I asked if anyone was going to write a story using some of the information in that report. She looked at me as if to say “you should know the answer by now,” and the answer was no. 

After that I simply handed in story after story, not caring what they were about or how I wrote them because I knew that nothing would come out of it. 

The Dominican population has almost no trust in the media and does not believe the media represents them. In most cases, they are right to believe so. 

According to a national survey on the incidence, importance, and credibility of the media, 78 percent of the Dominicans surveyed said the media does not respond to their interests and 69.3 percent consider that journalists do not maintain a distance between news sources, especially from government officials or prominent investors. 

How are we supposed to have faith in our democracy when the same people who want us to believe we live in a free country own and control every ounce of information that reaches the public? 

The Dominican Republic must undertake a process to reform its media legislation with the intent to expand the guarantees of fully exercising people’s constitutional rights to information and freedom of expression.