The Leader of the Opposition raised on Wednesday last a Private Notice Question in the Assembly pertaining to the current police investigation in a drug related case involving Jean Jacques Derek and others. Intervening during the question and answer session, the leader of the Front Socialiste Mauricien (FSM) stated holding evidence to the effect that a Minister would have transferred away Rs 25 million from his bank account just at the time the Mauritius Revenue Authority put up a tax assessment of Rs 20 million against Jean Jacques Derek.
In his view, that would amount to the said Minister being implicated in the drug affair. Really?
As far as we are aware, a citizen of this country is allowed to transfer away any funds he has at a bank on his own free will. Assuming that what the leader of the FSM has stated about the amount allegedly transferred from that minister’s account holds, it would be a far cry to link the two matters. On what basis does one presume that there would be a cause-effect relationship between the two issues, notably the MRA’s assessment of the presumed drug dealer and the fund transfer, if any, by the minister? Is there a compelling reason to assume that any funds standing to the credit of the minister’s bank account cannot reasonably be traced to a legitimate source? There is none, until proof to the contrary is established without a reasonable doubt.
Such proof is established after a thorough investigation, first by the police and ultimately by the court, the processes of which the FSM leader should be quite familiar with for having stood trial and been ultimately exempted from prosecution. This is why the threat the FSM leader has levelled to the effect that he will disclose publicly the name of the Minister were the Prime Minister not to take action against the Minister by 10 0’clock today is invalid. The FSM leader claims that he has gone on to meet the PM in this connection because the latter has the portfolio of Home Affairs under his charge. Nothing to do, one is tempted to say! If you really want an allegation to be proved, the best course is to go to the police.
Naturally, there was all the drama surrounding the public announcement by the FSM leader that he would be in possession of incriminating evidence. To all intents and purposes, insofar as this issue has not followed the normal route of denunciation of malpractice, if at all, to the relevant authority in charge of conducting investigations, it will hang in mid-air until tangible evidence is adduced in support of the case being made out by the leader of the FSM.
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We deserve a Responsible Media
In the wake of oncoming village council and municipal elections on 2nd and 9th December respectively, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) has issued a directive to radio broadcasters, requiring them to refrain from broadcasting any live phone-in or recorded programmes on political or politically related matters as from Nomination Day the effect of which will be to create an unbalanced treatment of the different political forces contesting the elections. This has raised a row in certain media quarters describing the action being taken by the IBA as an attempt against freedom of expression. Some have even gone as far as to ascribe the decision to a view that the IBA would be shielding the government from criticism by members of the public.
Nothing of all this is true. In fact, the IBA, anxious to ensure fair and balanced reporting by all broadcasters, has asked the broadcasters to come up with proposals which will convincingly show that radios, including the MBC, will play the game fairly towards all the parties running for the elections, including independent candidates. The radios cannot plead that, notwithstanding whatever they can do, those who make phone calls could make uncontrolled below-the-belt attacks against political adversaries in an attempt to unfairly tilt the balance of public opinion to one side or other. It is for them to demonstrate that they will not allow themselves to be used as platforms for bringing out this sort of biased outcomes.
It is standard practice internationally to give the same amount of chance to all parties contesting elections in terms of time allocated to each side, control over utterances made by diverse intervening parties, avoiding exaggerations or calumnious statements being made, and ensuring a high standard of debate. According to the IBA, broadcasters are allowed to air interventions by members of the public if they can convincingly come up with a proposal as to how they will respect parameters of fairness and balance amongst all the contenders in the political action.
Mauritius Times has always taken a stand that responsibility and fairness in media reporting is a cardinal virtue to be respected by all self-respecting media. This kind of responsible journalism is not incompatible with freedom of expression. It is unfortunate that there is a tendency in some places to allow unwarranted biases to be cultivated against specific establishments, taking advantage of that freedom of expression.
We have witnessed programmes that are of a really low pitch. On occasion, it becomes more than visible that certain media are offering themselves clearly as platforms for creating a perpetual atmosphere of discontent against selected adversaries. Even when it is recognized on occasion that some good action has been done by someone who is treated as a political adversary in some parts of the media, the opportunity is taken to pin him down in other respects. The public takes a cue from such treatment of the news. It is not surprising in the circumstances that the level of debate for opinion goes on sinking.
This kind of situation calls for no less than directives to set matters right. This is what the IBA appears to be doing in the current environment. Had the media, acting on its own, not allowed the situation to drift to one extreme or the other, there would have been no need for the broadcasting authority to direct the media to act more responsibly to ensure fairness towards all in the current elections, with the attendant risk that short of complying with acceptable fairness, the platform for carrying on discussions may itself be lost. We need to look at the long term and help lift the standard of the debate to a level which will do justice to our common intelligence.
* Published in print edition on 30 November 2012
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