Just two days after the downfall of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, television viewers here were witness to a rare event: a Haitian television news crew conducting "man-in-the-street" interviews and giving air time to a prominent political opposition leader.
Televised interviews would be considered routine for an American TV news program. But in Haiti -- where the government-run television station served to forward official government communiques and record Duvalier's public ceremonies -- American-style news gathering seems revolutionary.
Change is occurring at all levels of the media here. Under the Duvalier family dictatorship, journalists who dared dissent or criticize risked arrest, torture, or exile. Opposition newspapers and radio stations often were closed.
But the new military-dominated junta here has listed freedom of the press as its goal, along with free labor unions, organized political parties and respect for human rights.
Less than a month after Duvalier fled into exile, the awakening of the press already has taken hold -- often resulting in some about-faces.
The daily newspaper Le Matin, which though privately owned served as a government mouthpiece, greeted Duvalier's departure with a scathing editorial headlined: "Haiti, Finally Free!" That edition carried two pages of photographs of the celebrations and the violence that followed Duvalier's departure.
Popular radio personality Antoine Herare, who had backed the rule of Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier, was on the air after the departure of his son, accusing him of emptying the government coffers. Herare was touting a prominent exile leader to be president when elections are held.
"Everybody these days claims to have been antigovernment," said a western diplomat.
"Newspapers are actually starting to give news, and before they could not," said Joseph Bataille, an Information Ministry spokesman. "That's the difference between the systems. Under the old system, everything was controlled. Under the new system, there is freedom of the press."
Within a week of Duvalier's flight, at least seven radio stations were operating in the capital. The Catholic Church-run Radio Soleil and the Baptist-run Radio Lumiere, which kept anti-Duvalier sentiment alive during the early days of protest, came back on the air. Duvalier closed them on declaring a state of siege Jan. 31.
The most striking change has come in television news programs, which seem to be gearing up for a resumption of political life that has been dormant since 1957. Tele-Haiti, the official government channel, carried interviews with opposition spokesman Sylvio Claude, who had been in hiding, and with a Haitian pollster, who assessed popular attitudes toward the new government and what type of political system the country should adopt.
The news program also gave prominent coverage to demonstrations in Gonaives, 60 miles north of here, where students and church leaders were criticizing the makeup of the new government as containing too many old-line Duvalierists and military hard-liners.
Sometimes the new vigor of the Haitian press takes an unexpected turn. When Sen. Paul Trible (R-Va.) held a press conference here Feb. 15 after a brief visit, the event was disrupted by a fistfight. One shouting reporter accused another of being a member of Duvalier's dreaded security force, the Ton-Tons Macoutes.
The official government newspaper Nouveau Monde remains closed while the new rulers "restructure" it and search for a new editor.
The National Governing Council has refused to allow the return of scores of opposition journalists who were exiled during Duvalier's 1980 crackdown on press dissent. Most are living in Miami or New York, and many have become schooled in American reporting and interviewing techniques.
One, Marc Garcia, had become a leading radio critic of the Duvalier regime from Miami, where he broadcasts under the name "Marcus." After Duvalier fled, Garcia applied for a visa and had it approved by the new foreign minister, Francois Jacques, according to governmental sources. But at the airport, Garcia found that the visa had been rejected by the military, which is expanding its role in the military-civilian government.
The military role is seen by many analysts as a source of future tension. But the episode with Garcia also highlighted a continuing source of concern for the fragile, fledgling government -- what to do about the political exiles, many of them journalists.
When asked whether the opposition journalists would be allowed to return, the new government's spokesman, Maj. George Valcin, replied: "We don't want a lot of troublemakers coming back and causing problems." Then he quickly corrected himself, and added, "Of course, these journalists are all friends of the new government. But they have to wait."