Investigative journalists hold Haiti’s officials accountable

Billions of dollars in foreign aid and reconstruction projects have flooded into Haiti since the earthquake, but the process for deciding how the money will be spent is not transparent. While displaced earthquake survivors languish in tent camps, U.S. government funds have sometimes been directed toward building upscale hotels instead of housing for homeless Haitians.

AJWS grantee Ayiti Kale Je (AKJ) believes people should be asking questions about these kinds of decisions. But in Haiti, the government itself is often corrupt—and the local media often fails to investigate dishonest deeds. Many reporters receive limited training and very low salaries, which is perhaps what leads some to accept gifts from powerful people and to report whatever they are told, without checking their facts.

AKJ is an investigative news network formed in 2010 to keep a closer watch on Haiti’s reconstruction process—and to make sure Haitian communities have a say in how foreign aid gets spent. Their goal is to give average citizens the information they need to demand a fair distribution of relief funds and to hold Haiti’s leaders accountable for their actions.

Revealing corruption through breaking news

AKJ reports stories that reveal corruption to the public. Lately, international media outlets have been picking up the groundbreaking stories. The network was the first to uncover the story that 15 percent of the country’s land was already under contract to mining companies. This came as a shock to the public and non-corrupt lawmakers, who did not realize that certain government officials had struck deals with mining companies behind closed doors.

As a result of the story, the Haitian Senate demanded that mining activities cease, allowing for analysis of the existing contracts and a national debate. This is exactly the kind of impact to which AKJ is dedicated.

Reaching Haiti’s most marginalized people through alternative media

The majority of Haiti’s people are poor rural farmers. This population is largely beyond the reach of news reports and excluded from political participation. Many Haitians can’t read newspapers and lack reliable electricity or televisions. Others have opted to stay out of political affairs, due to lack of information and deep frustration over years of corruption and political unrest. AKJ works to bridge this gap, recognizing that without the participation of informed citizens in shaping their government and its policies, it will be difficult for Haiti to become a true democracy.

To engage Haiti’s population in civic affairs, AKJ reporters work closely with radio stations run by youth and women and with other grassroots organizations, identifying news topics about which communities want to learn and crafting stories that make the impact of politics understandable. AKJ uses radio, a medium that is accessible to low-income people, and organizes community screenings of video news documentaries.

In addition to training its own reporters to provide well-researched news stories that matter, AKJ also trains reporters from other news outlets throughout the country on investigative journalism ethics and skills. In the long run, AKJ hopes to inspire more watchdog reporting—and to get citizens asking the kinds of questions that will keep Haiti’s officials accountable.