BOB GARFIELD: The struggle for press freedom in Haiti has been a long and dangerous one, full of victories and setbacks, and at times utter tragedy. Like three years ago when radio journalist Jean Dominique, a hero of the free press movement, was murdered in the courtyard of his beloved station, Radio Haiti. Dominique's widow, Michele Montas, has taken up his fight and run Radio Haiti since his death. For several years his words of defiance could still be heard on the air.
MICHELE MONTAS: They have tried everything to sink us, to electrocute us, to drown us, to seduce us. This has lasted more than 50 years. Is there a reason it should stop? Yes, one. Things must change in Haiti.
BOB GARFIELD: But recently the struggle for press freedom has faced yet another setback. After a failed assassination attempt on her own life and mounting deaths against her reporters, Michele Montas has pulled Radio Haiti off the air. Michele Montas, welcome to On the Media.
MICHELE MONTAS: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: When we first heard from you in a report that aired on our program back in March, 2001 it seemed like journalism in Haiti was under a very serious attack. A year after your husband's murder there were death threats against other journalists at your station and elsewhere and threats to burn down the station. And now on Christmas Day an attempt was made on your life. You survived the assassination attempt. Your bodyguard didn't. But only now you have pulled Radio Haiti off the air. Why now?
MICHELE MONTAS: We realized that the danger was not just on me, the danger was on everyone. I did it because I felt that we had to protect lives. We have lost three lives in three years. That's a lot. I was no longer willing to go to another funeral. And we decided that the only way to stop this right now was just to stop broadcasting.
BOB GARFIELD: You've said that the suspension of your transmissions is temporary. What will it take for Radio Haiti to go back on the air?
MICHELE MONTAS: In the case of Radio Haiti we have one specific set of circumstances. The reason, I think, that there was the assassination attempt on me at Christmas time was essentially because they had announced that they would have the final accusation indictments in my husband's case. And these indictments were supposed to come out at the end of December, which might explain why they attempted to kill me on December 25th. Until now, [LAUGHS] those indictments have not come out yet. They are supposed to come out next week, which is one further reason why I think the danger's at a very high level. We feel that we have to wait for those indictments to come out to find out exactly who is implicated in the murder. And I think from there we find out who is trying to kill me, and we'll find out who is trying to force Radio Haiti to drop a number of subjects which I guess worry some people.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, what about those subjects? You have reported and your late husband reported on corruption in the regime of Jean Bertrand Aristide. This regime was supposed to be the democratic alternative to the years of repression under the Duvaliers. But some things, I guess, in Haiti never change.
MICHELE MONTAS: That's true. A few things, of course, have changed to the extent that we don't have censorship the way we did when we worked under Duvalier at Radio Haiti. We don't have open oppression on the press on the part of the government as we did during the coup which was from 1991 to 1994. However, now we have forces, people in the streets, armed people who think that they can, you know, force anyone into silence. If a journalist says anything that they don't like, they can threaten that journalist and there will be no punishment to them. So it has been really kind of an open season against not only journalists but against anyone expressing ideas that are against the party in power.
BOB GARFIELD: There are other radio stations in Haiti, perhaps not as significant politically as Radio Haiti, but there nonetheless. What are they doing with you off the air? Anything more substantial or it's just status quo?
MICHELE MONTAS: We know that there is a radio station where they have started counting days. You know, for the last three years I've been counting days. Every day I've been saying good morning to my husband, every day counting the number of days since he was assassinating. And they have picked up, since we stopped broadcasting, one radio station has started counting but the other way around; it has been one day since Radio Haiti had to shut down, it has been two days, three days, four days. And they keep it up. You know, radio journalists feel very endangered by the fact that Radio Haiti had to close. It is a symbol of the situation that most journalists face because of a general climate of threats against the press. The idea is that if you break the thermometer maybe you will change the temperature. And you have right now a level of self-censorship. And, in fact, when I think of the type of journalism we were doing at Radio Haiti, investigative reporting, I don't think there is any room right now for investigative reporting. I remember recently we covered the story of one congressman that had been assassinated by a known gunman, and it touched people close to the party in power. And right now I don't think any station could do it.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to change the subject a little bit. The director Jonathan Demme has made a documentary about your struggle, and particularly your late husband's struggle. It's a film called The Agronomist. Your husband Jean Dominique was trained as an agronomist. He became a journalist only later in life. But the film isn't about agronomy.
MICHELE MONTAS: Well, it's about not only the struggle of a man for democracy. I think it's the struggle of the country for democracy. And yes, covering the years from the seventies when Radio Haiti was on the air until now. And the whole story is about the love of a man for a land, for a country. And that's why he kept the title, The Agronomist.
BOB GARFIELD: I'm going to ask a difficult question. I don't mean for it to sound indicting. But I must ask it, nonetheless. If this film, the Agronomist, is about a movement and a people who refuse to be intimidated, how should we regard the irony of the possibility that the film will debut for world audiences and Radio Haiti won't even be on the air to speak about it?
MICHELE MONTAS: Radio Haiti stopped broadcasting from 1980 to 1986. We went back on the air then. We went back on the air again in '94 after stopping to broadcast for four years. We haven't stopped fighting. I think our silence is a way of fighting. The fact that we stopped broadcasting is putting pressure on the government to an extent that is maybe even more important than actually speaking out to the extent that right now they are going to be forced to come out with indictments in the case of Jean Dominique. So I don't think it is a-- [OVERTALK]
BOB GARFIELD: So the silence is deafening.
MICHELE MONTAS: It is. It is. I think it's louder than words.
BOB GARFIELD: Michele Montas, thanks very much.
MICHELE MONTAS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Michele Montas is the News Director of Radio Haiti and the widow of Haitian journalist martyr Jean Dominique. [MUSIC]