Beekrumsing Ramlallah (BR) decided to start a newspaper, the Mauritius Times (MT), in 1954. It was a daunting task. Mrinal Roy recounts in his article in this edition how his father, a Labour patriarch and more famously known as JNR, told BR before he embarked on the venture how demanding a responsibility it was and how taxing it could be on the editor’s available time. With his usual pluck and undaunted vigour, BR decided to take up the challenge.
Events and incidents which characterised Mauritius’ march towards a sovereign state in those days contributed their own part to give the MT an important cause to defend. It was provocative pens such as those of Noel Marrier d’Unienville (NMU) and his vitriolic debasement of all who did not espouse his parochial views of history and its continuity that shaped more sharply the cause MT set out to defend. We owe him a lot for sharpening our will to fight and to enable us to show the alternative that awaited the population if it rose to the occasion.
MT became an instrument to raise public consciousness about how we would be trampled down by clannish pursuits as it suited the prevailing dominant economic and social interests of those who espoused NMU’s philosophy. Our mission was to awaken the population in its entirety and without any discrimination or communal/economic bias whatsoever to the better days awaiting it if it woke up to claim all that should rightfully and justifiably belong to it. In the words of BR in those founding days, “MT is the collective effort of a group of young Mauritians to the making of a happier Mauritius.”
After 60 years of uninterrupted printing of the newspaper week after week with the meagre material means at our disposal, we leave it to historians who have a grasp of the longer perspective to decide on the numerous battles we’ve fought for the advancement of society. On our part, we can say we’ve blasted petty prejudices, spared not even friends when they deviated from their rightful duties, reproached friends and foes alike for straying along the path of error potentially to lose the fruits of hard-won struggles, thrown up perspectives for Mauritius towards a better-sharing of our gains and its further development.
The crossing has not always been a bed of roses; it has oftentimes been strewn with thorns. Had it not been for the unstinting support of a string of dedicated long-standing collaborators sharing the universal values MT has always stood for, we may not have reached the station where we find ourselves today. These have been people not only lofty of thoughts and language. They have also shared the throes of high-quality production to keep the paper from deviating from its set path to fight for universal welfare and the uplift of one and all indiscriminately, free from the shackles of communal/business and such other narrow scopes.
It is this network of selfless non-pecuniary support which MT has enjoyed over the years that has made it what has become on the national plane, a powerful independent force to reckon with in the media environment of the country. One great sympathiser of the newspaper, Yvan Martial (YM), former editor-in-chief of l’express newspaper, stated that MT has successfully filled up a space of its own to refresh the flow of national ideas and views in the media despite not making financial gains its principal objective. It is true we’ve not looked to enrich ourselves despite making considerable efforts to improve, in the words of YM, the “quality of our production week after week”.
We have to reckon however that the landscape of newspaper printing has changed considerably over the past 60 years. Technology has come in very strongly and has challenged the economic viability of numerous newsprints, not only in Mauritius, Venerable titles of the press have suffered and continue doing so due to changed reading habits and the proliferation of electronic and other media with the advent of sophisticated technology and a global surfeit of information. ‘Big Business’ has increasingly been prowling newsrooms the world over to send to people its own version of the truth in an aggressive bid to market itself and change the rules of the game in its favour – whatever it costs to the people at large! Amongst others, social media have occupied the space today which newsprints monopolized in the earlier years. Governments have gone under in quite a few places thanks to the growing influence of social media on populations.
It may be said that the sacrifices the MT team has put up down the years in this evolving environment of increasing technology and competition cannot be described as anything but highly laudable. It rhymes with a selflessness and sense of values that was the hallmark of the past generation. It is this sense of dedication, more than anything else, that helped MT preserve its opinionated independence and make just enough money to keep the enterprise going without diluting its persistent goal to enrich politics, society and the economy.
By not compromising its basic philosophy, MT has held up the fort sacrificing the monetary gains it could have gone after alternatively. Without regrets. True, the changing business and technology platforms impose new and higher costs that could threaten the economic viability of the model on which MT has been operating. We cannot ignore it. There is a clear threat of subversion of values that might undermine the successful track of honest appraisal of news and events we have pursued all the way.
MT knows that it will have to make allowances for changing tastes and preferences of consumers of information and opinions – and new trends in the publishing business – if it wants to survive the oncoming challenges. No newspaper working on the pillars of subsistence as it has been the case for the journey MT has traversed so far can afford to overlook the coming threats to media economic viability. We will need to look out for new opportunities to maintain our voice in the upcoming media storm, but without affecting our commitment to the general good of one and all, of fostering responsible and committed government/business, advancing the common social stage grounded in meritocracy – and also without forsaking our primary objective “to make Mauritius a happier place to live in”.
* Published in print edition on 14 August 2014