No single day passes, it seems, without some member of the government or of the public establishment being seen to be hauled up by part of the media for alleged wrongdoing. There have been instances when the crudest details are dug up from unknown quarters and splashed out in the front lines. The consequence of this ritual is that the image of the entire public establishment gets tarnished. This continuing pressure impresses on the public the perception of a mal-performing government. This has been happening for quite some time now.
On the other hand, various members of the government have kept exposing themselves to criticism for the clumsy manner in which they have handled public administration put under their charge. When members of the government misbehave or indulge in serial gaffes, of the kind we have seen over the past two years, the journalist’s job is to bring them up for public scrutiny. Nothing wrong with that. Journalists are not responsible whether, out of the hubris of power or sheer arrogance, certain members of the government go off the tangent and invite adverse public comments on themselves. Or that of being carried forward in the media for long.
However, one cannot help noticing that all this is undermining the image of the country almost on a permanent basis. This is because no sooner is a good decision taken in the public interest than another clumsy one reaches the public domain on the back of it.
There is a structural flaw in the government which is feeding the media mill with the “bad news” almost regularly. At the time the Labour-MMM alliance was concocted in 2014 as an unbeatable election-winning behemoth, the MSM hurriedly collected a medley of “electable” candidates to form its own team for that election. It believed they stood the best chance of winning, given the realpolitik of Mauritius’ electoral constituencies. It did not carefully examine their nuisance value before selecting them.
On top of that, it inducted as electoral partner the Muvman Liberater (ML), a split-away group from the MMM, disgruntled at the MMM leader’s decision to form an alliance with Navin Ramgoolam for the polls. It also gave a berth to the PMSD, heretofore an ally of Labour, being rejected from the Labour-MMM alliance possibly at the MMM’s behest.
There was little commonality of purpose and coherence of ideals behind what came to be known as Alliance Lepep by stitching all of this together. It was constituted as a hotchpotch bulwark to be able to resist the Labour-MMM alliance in the elections. The imperative was to have a credible enough front acting as a collecting point for receiving voters’ grievances against the LP-MMM alliance and all past political Labour-MMM abuses that they resented.
It did not immediately occur to the MSM that the team it was presenting to voters could win by a thumping majority, as it happened. Neither did it dawn on Lepep that the quality of many of the candidates it had stood up for elections left much to be desired, irrespective of their intellectual capacities. It was not realised that coalition politics could put parties forming part of the government at risk against the whims and caprices of each other. The PMSD was the first to realise it when it left the ranks of the government last December.
As certain government members pursued their own agenda of personal advancement, they had little time to either discipline themselves or help give coherence to the government’s plan of action, whatever it was. The government’s weaker elements, picked up at random just a while before the elections, didn’t help either.
Soon, they paraded in public their inefficiencies, giving the concerned media enough substance to have an almost regular dig against them and the government. Not even the seniors in politics within the government were able to correct the fissiparous tendencies displayed by distinct members or sub-groups within the government coalition.
It seems that the amount of negative publicity given to government so far on account of all these combined factors is likely to increase, not diminish. For, technology has made it possible not only to heavily publicise information in real time. It has also created a class of real time online interpreters of information – citizen journalism, as it is called – which has the potential to both comment constructively on developments or distort it, according to political preferences.
So much so that the expression “fake news” – a parody of the reality by continuing to press down the bad pedal until conviction is created — has recently been invented. Anything is raked up from relevant and irrelevant information to present the “victim” in bad light. The aim is to sully the good image of the adversary.
Immature and unguarded politicians in power may not know it. But by committing blunders from time to time, on occasion inadvertently, they are helping to align interpretation of government action in peculiar ways as suit specific agendas. The aim is not to rectify. It is to displace, undo.
Already, the government is saddled with a number of wrong decisions taken in the past, which have financial consequences. It has to overtake this handicap while equally having to attend to implementing policies. Typically, nearly all its initiatives in this regard are being subjected to media attacks, for political or other gains.
If the government goes on adding grist to this mill, it should expect that technology will help amplify negativities against it. It might then end up spending most of the time it has at its disposal defending itself, and less on executing the job it has on hand.
The problem is that disconcerting electoral outcomes from other places have shown that the digitally powered, open to all-and-sundry media can become ‘kingmaker’ for the most incoherent and contradictory policy-makers to come to power. Establishments and their own communication channels are unable to counter private media influence effectively. The government should decide whether it will continue painting a bad image of itself and the country in this age of digital technology. If so, it should assume the risks.