Another Muckraking Show

Carnet Hebdo

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Not so long ago a daily newspaper posted a photo of the wife of a most prominent minister having a drink at a cocktail party and smiling at the CEO of a parastatal body, and the title was ‘La photo qui fait jaser’ (the talk of the town photo). The online version of the newspaper kept posting the photo for more than a year whether you wanted to see it or not on your screen. The ground reality is that it was neither the talk of the town nor the village simply because folks around have other priorities to attend to than interpret smiles and the private matters of public figures. Besides being a malicious attempt at sullying the reputation of the lady and her guest, it was a glaring invitation to arouse the base instinct of voyeurism in the local public and in the Mauritian diaspora across the world, and in the process reap financial profits from thousands of clicks.

In a society marked by Puritanism, the tactic of muckraking in smearing rivals during presidential campaigns has served the interests of both politicians and the media in the US for decades. P – Wiley

Franklin D. Roosevelt, US President during the Great Depression in the 1930s called the journalists who hounded him to find out his womanizing habits: muckrakers. The President borrowed the word from John Bunyan’s 1678 allegorical tale ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ in which one character, called the Muckraker, is tasked to rake up trash and clean the way all along the pilgrimage. So, he smells trash all the way. Ever since, muckraking consists in finding and spreading scandal relating to public figures. In a society marked by Puritanism, the tactic of muckraking in smearing rivals during presidential campaigns has served the interests of both politicians and the media in the US for decades up to now.

How does the public react? It depends on cultural traits, doesn’t it? Lying and cheating in whatever forms are unacceptable to Americans. Generally, the French treat sex issues casually and dismiss the infidelity of their male leaders with a shrug but will tear them apart in case of self-enrichment due to their high-ranking posts in the government. Had the Sofitel scandal in New York, involving the former IMF director, happened in France, there would have been a cover-up. Dominique Strauss-Kahn remains a respected figure, continued to give courses in economics at the prestigious Institut d’études politiques in Paris. He has settled in a gorgeous villa in Marrakech, Morocco, and is far richer now as a consultant for governments of various African countries. The privilege of very bright people, no doubt. 

Mauritian folks are more inclined to let the private lives of public figures remain private…. though they broadly expect a high standard of behaviour from political leaders who represent them. Parliamentary delinquency is no novelty over the past two decades, let alone the case of a former Leader of the Opposition who came to blows with opponents in the august Parliament, promptly filmed by the MBC and broadcast for every household to watch.

Policemen are first row witnesses of the unacceptable behaviour of politicians, especially during nighttime alcohol binges when they are unscrupulously insulted and bullied by the drunken public figures. However, the policemen are decent enough not to leak these incidents to the press, which would have ruined the career of prominent figures for good. But they do talk it over at home, and their folks have the decency not to make the various incidents a matter of household gossip.

Should we say that people are getting more rational and do not give in to slander and palaver of all hues? Nor do they get at one another’s throat on account of party loyalty. At the end of April, the prayer ceremony for haldi at a relative’s place in Triolet was interrupted by the pundit to greet the former prime minister, ex-Pradan Mantri. Later on, in the evening, conversation in a small group popped up on the career and future prospects of the LP leader, though briefly . It was a wedding after all, not the time to spread negativity.

Fortunately, this is not Europe where animosity runs high and ends up in verbal assaults and aggression on account of different party affiliations. Over here, there is no hypocrisy over ideological differences because there are none. And someone concluded that the public is attuned to the game of musical chairs among parties and to the press singing a different tune from the same repertoire every five years. So, there is no need for the public to get worked up and be judgemental every time a ruckus is raised in the media.

The last scene of ‘Animal Farm’ comes to mind, the scene where friends and foes are friends at the end of the day; they dress alike, share the same objective for winning elections, eat petits fours and happily clink glasses at the Assembly despite all the mudslinging, below-the-belt attacks, and muckraking. It sounds like an overstatement, there are differences in the way of running the country and the commitment to further progress and growth to higher levels. There are important events happening around the world that all political parties and the press can focus on. Leave gossip, voyeurism, and puerile behaviour aside. Give us a break!

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 26 May 2023

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