Interview: Nita Deerpalsing
“So far, what we have seen from the MSM is gutter discourse. Whether it’s the old man or the very bland younger version, it seems that they take some kind of pervert pleasure in under-women-skirts stories”
“Does anyone really want to dig into the reasons behind Herve Aimee’s views? Is there anyone in that mainstream press who is interested in the fact that Hon Aimee has actually personally lived through times when he, as a Creole, was not allowed to sit in front rows at Church?”
Nita Deerpalsing was earlier responsible for the Labour Party’s communications. She has now moved on to lead the Youth Wing of the Party. But she is likely to remain as vocal – and spirited — as she had been in her earlier capacity as the LP’s communications spokesperson. Her views in this week’s interview on a range of subjects – the mainstream media, CT Power and the ‘No-to-Coal’ lobbyists, Herve Aimee, democratisation of the economy, etc – will confirm this.
Mauritius Times: How come you have left the field of communications and gone fishing in different waters – the youth reservoir — at this particular (mid-term) juncture when opposition parties usually become more aggressive towards the government of the day, which calls for a response in an equal measure from the latter?
Nita Deerpalsing: I believe that it’s good for one’s mental health to move on to new challenges every so often! I took over the responsibility of the Party’s communications some three years ago – feels like ages! — when Dr James Burty David passed away. While I felt I couldn’t ever fill his shoes, I gave it my best, I learned a tremendous lot about a hell of a number of things and while I was learning it was fun. I also had the opportunity to be responsible for communications in times of General Elections campaign and I can tell you that while it was tough, stressful, enormously challenging, the adrenalin of it all was a real kick! Even if it was at the expense of my own campaign in my constituency.
The other downside of this job was that I was definitely way over-exposed in the media and therefore I had become everyone’s obvious and favourite punching ball. About a year ago, I had decided it was time for others to experience the frontline of the battle and that I should focus my energy elsewhere. So, having ‘been there, done that’, I thought it’d be good to have a change of scene!
* Anyway, what’s the feel of your youth ‘ministry’ so far? Does it hold the promise of a more accommodating and fruitful (political) intercourse than the abrasive exchanges you have had with some sections of the media here?
I was a bit apprehensive at first because I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. But I am absolutely enthused about this new responsibility! Having already met the core team of the youths of different constituencies in the Party, I have a feeling this is going to be a great adventure! No doubt it’s going to be demanding, but I will for sure, enjoy working with them and for them.
I am very proud to say that there is great potential in our Young Labour team. I know that for a fact. It’s very inspiring to see how they are bursting with energy and ideas and their profound will to serve their village, their town, their country. Now all they need is to be able to direct all that energy, the ideas bubbling in their minds to the right channels. We are definitely going to do very interesting things together!
* Given those abrasive exchanges with the press, I suppose that you are also all for a review of the media law, as canvassed by the Prime Minister since quite some time? But whatever the nature and scope of the media law reform that’s said to be forthcoming, it has been argued that no amount of official policing will be sufficient to arrest or mitigate the radical shift in power and control away from governments in the rapidly changing media landscape unfolding before us. What do you think?
But media law is not about any shift in power or control! Let’s get to the basics.
As a politician – and I have no qualms to say I’m giving you a responsible politician’s perspective here — I think that in a democratic fabric worthy of respect, the press has amongst other roles, three major responsibilities:
First, is the task of acting as a vigilant, responsible watchdog against anything that is against public interest.
Second, as one of the stakeholders of in a democratic society, it has a vital role in the very building, maintaining and strengthening the fabric of democratic discourse. More than the institution of Parliament, it is the media which shapes the depth and the range of public discourse debate in a society. Therefore the task of lifting the democratic debate, the quality of public discourse lies more on the media than anywhere else.
Third, in their portfolio of responsibility, I would include the task of bringing positive changes to the lives of the people. You may find this surprising and you may argue that this is solely the responsibility of governments. But I believe that bringing positive changes to the lives of people is also within the role of the media. And I’ll elaborate on this in a minute.
That being said, when you analyse the workings of the mainstream press along these three main tasks, I think any levelheaded person would agree that there is a meaningful critique that can be done on where our media is with respect to the three main duties I have mentioned. Unless you think that the media is a sacred cow which is above criticism!
Regarding the watchdog role, one can say that this is more or less on track but the media really does a disservice to the very fabric of democracy when they are not politically neutral and when they are on a rampage to malign the character of individuals, usually with a political objective rather than being guided by a strictly public-interest motivation.
And this leads on to the role of shaping public discourse. The evolution of substance-free, wild accusations, rumours, voyeurism into people’s private lives can only restrict the range and depth of public discourse. I don’t know about you, but I find it revealing of the poverty of our mainstream media in terms of shaping the quality of public discourse when you find that the weekly which sells the most, is the one which comes out with its cover page on a ‘fait-divers’ related to some murder, rape, sexual assault, sexual escapade, some ‘affaire de moeurs’, some quirky stories about someone’s sexual organs being cut, etc! More often than not, these cover pages cannot be left lying on the kitchen table for children to pour over!
What does that tell you about media people who think that this is what the country should ‘consume’ as ‘news’, as subject for public discourse? Is this a great demonstration of responsibility to the country from these very people who preach responsibility to public officials and politicians? Should there not be some professional guidelines agreed upon at least amongst professionals – if I can use that term for some of them?
Next is the role of bringing something positive to the nation, to its people. When criticism is made wittingly, even scathingly if you wish, but constructively, it leads to an opening up of opportunity for the person being criticised to improve, an opening up of possibilities for the country, to change things so that ultimately there is an improvement for the nation at large. But when the articles are written not from a position of wishing for something better but, on the contrary, from a position of visceral hate, howling sarcasm, vitriol, engaging in baseless character assassination, these kinds of articles and opinion pieces are merely soapbox proixies — an outlet to rant, and vent off the author’s own personal frustrations. They are also completely ungenerative of anything possibly positive for the nation.
So to come back to your question, we’re not talking about power. We are talking about responsibility.
* It is not clear whether those who are expressing their voices on social media platforms, in the columns of the press or those at the command of the local media itself already make a majority, but they seem to have been able to reverse government’s decisions, freeze their implementation (e.g. CT Power) or project some people in a negative light (Aimee, Dulthumun, etc), rightly or otherwise. How do you react to that?
Again, I think it’s such a sorry state of affair when things are so bloody personalized! Surely you agree with me that this kind of public discourse is stale and ungenerative! So after you’ve maligned a character, what next? What opening up of possibilities for the country can come out of that?
On the other hand, if the debates were more centred on ideas, these have potential for the country. Let’s take the debate about secularism. When I brought my PQ to parliament about us being a secular country, I was vilified by some idiots who couldn’t even understand the gist of the subject. Some ignoramuses even equated secularism with atheism royally ignoring that India is by virtue of its Constitution, a secular state! So my point is, after having vilified me, what is left? Any hope for any emerging ideas, debates? No. Well tell me how different then is the mainstream press when they just focus on character assassination of X, Y or Z? All they want is for the readers to hate X, Y or Z? What else? Any possibility of an intelligent public discourse stemming out of that? The answer is NO. That’s how a restrictive straight jacket they want to impose on our society, these very ‘donneurs de leçons’ about free speech!
In fact they don’t want free speech. And when I say ‘they’, I mean the bad apples. I don’t want to put everybody in the same basket because we have some very good journalists, I’m thinking of people like Shenaz Patel, Jean March Poche, Touria Prayag, Nabil Moolna, Henri Marimootoo, Nicolas Rainer, etc. But they are very few and far between. The others, they don’t want generative public discourse. What they want is for their own mishaps, their own frustrations, their past-affinities-gone-wrong to be interiorised by their readers. They want their hated persons to be hated. Their loved persons to be loved. The job they have as journalists is simply the channel, the means through which they try to make that happen. That is not Democracy!! And I’d even question whether that is even honesty and integrity, things that curiously, they have no qualms preaching about!
Take Herve Aimee’s case. Does anyone really want to dig into the reasons behind his views? Is there anyone in that mainstream press who is interested in the fact that Hon Herve Aimee has actually personally lived through times when he, as a Creole, was not allowed to sit in front rows at Church and was not allowed to hold the Bible in Church because of the colour of his skin? Or is this too, er, ‘delicate’ a subject? One that cannot, should not be talked about? Is this censorship? No! Surely not from these great ‘donneurs de leçons’!!
* To come back to my reference to CT Power, it’s also not clear what the government wants to achieve in terms of energy security. The CT Power project was turned down by the Cabinet; it was later found that there would have been “manipulation” at the level of the Ministry of Environment (we do not know if a police inquiry has looked into this alleged serious offence); the Environment Appeal Tribunal eventually gave the go-ahead. Thereafter it took a hunger strike to bring government to set up a National Energy Commission, whose legal and constitutional standing is rather unclear. What does all this mean to you? Should we understand that the Environment Appeal Tribunal erred in its findings?
Again, let’s sift through all that noise and focus on the basics of the policy at hand. What is it that Government needs to ensure? That on the one hand we don’t jeopardise our country’s development and on the other hand we don’t jeopardise people’s health and the country’s environment. In an ideal world, we should be right up there in terms of renewable energy. I think that if Reunion island has gone so far in terms of photovoltaic solar, we can at least go a longer way than we have so far, towards that even if it’s true that the subsidies Reunion receives from France for this is humungous.
So yes I think we should do much much more, we should have much more zeal for renewable energy. But this thing about ‘No to Coal’ is so misleading and so biased and so ignorant at the same time.
First, there is no way we can do without any fossil fuel at all even in the long term. And for sure we won’t be able to do without coal in the medium term. By the way, I hope these No-to-coal people know that even when you burn ANY fossil fuel, you have emissions! So why only coal? Why not No-to-oil also? And I hope that they also know that burning bagasse doesn’t come without any air pollution either!
Now this whole drama about health-related risks is so ridiculously naïve and partial! When people burn their garbage in their yards, that’s toxic! When people smoke their lungs to cancer, that’s toxic! When people breathe in fumes on the motorway from these outrageous offending cars, 4×4, buses, etc, that’s toxic! It’s all very well to jump up and down about coal but if at the same time you are a smoker, puffing fumes in your own lungs and other people’s lungs, that’s sheer hypocrisy. Or if you partake in ravenous meat-eating, an activity which has a tremendous carbon footprint.
I’d like to see some logical consistency and see these people directing their energy in campaigns against smoking, in campaigns against consuming too much meat, in campaigns against the authorities who are not controlling the fumes emitted on the roads, in campaigns to educate people not to burn garbage so that themselves and their immediate neighbours are not subjected to toxic fumes in the sanctity of their own homes!
And of course for the sake of consistency, I think it would be appropriate if they were to go and put their No-to-coal banners at St Aubin, and all the other sugar estates which are producing electricity from coal for decades now!! For goodness sake, is there any distinction between the coal used by the sugar industry and any other types of coal? Which is why the Prime Minister rightly asked whether there is White coal and Black coal?! And instead of digging into that, some journalists superficially taxed it as a communal argument!
* As regards the amendments proposed by the Minister of Labour with respect to the Employment Relations Act and Employment Rights Act, in particular those in relation with workers’ rights to go on strikes, you wouldn’t expect government to go back on, would you? Whilst Ashok Subron seems to think that these provisions would amount to an “injustice historique”, Shakeel Mohamed says he does not want a repeat of the 1970s. Is he right?
I think that indisputably there are a number of absolutely great measures in the Employment Rights Act which go a long way towards the rights and dignity of workers. And the minister deserves to be congratulated for those.
However, what I think is unfortunate is that the clash of ego between two men is being carried over into this very important debate. I may be wrong but no, I don’t think Shakeel is right when he talks about a repeat of the 1970s. And I don’t think it was necessary to be so personal in a debate which should strictly be about substance and not about maligning characters – on both sides. Usually inordinate maligning of people’s characters is used when one has no real substantive argument. I can’t help being suspicious when there is so much character-assassination which should rather be on the crux of the argument. Coming back to what we were talking about earlier, this is exactly what some of the mainstream media usually reserve for Labour Party people!
And as far as I’m concerned the question which deserves to be analysed, debated objectively, intelligently and clinically is this: do the proposed amendments to the Employment Relations Act nullify the agreement which was signed between MSPA and the trade-unions? If the answer to that is yes, then there is a problem. So far, I understand it’s a question of interpretation. In my opinion, there should be no room for interpretation on this. I don’t yet understand why this can’t be crystal clear.
* How was the atmosphere like in Parliament on Tuesday? Was the absence of Berenger felt?
Of course his absence was felt! I mean I think everyone who’s ever been in parliament knows that the guy has an inimitable presence! Sometimes that presence can be in the form of a quirky sense of humour, sometimes as derogatory comments, if not outrageously unfounded allegations, sometimes hard-hitting, sometimes very funny and witty. The guy is full of crackling emotions, both negative and positive and that makes for a cocktail which cannot be anticipated! He can unexpectedly provoke anger, indignation, or outright laughter. So yeah, his presence is unique to him and honestly, irreplaceable. Compare that to a Pravind Jugnauth who would probably find it impossible to be more bland, yawningly dull, his remarks so lifeless and lacking of substance, has such a lame presence that if the floor of the National Assembly were to swallow him under his desk, I don’t think anyone would ever even notice!
* We did not manage to obtain some ‘eclaircissements’ – in the absence of PQs from the opposition benches – as regards the Lal Dora theory/story or the « malencontreuse erreur » of a public notary in relation with the purchase of an immoveable property at Floreal. Rather depressing, isn’t it? This begs the question: what’s the opposition up to?
Well I would be hard-pressed to answer a question as to what the Opposition is up to! But so far, what we have seen from the MSM in particular, is gutter discourse. Whether it’s the old man or the very bland younger version, it seems that they take some kind of pervert pleasure in voyeurism, in under-women-skirts stories, etc. What that says about their own psyche, I leave it for your readers to conclude! In any case, I think you would have noticed that there has been not one single interesting or relevant thing uttered about the country’s future from these guys. Only what would be interesting and deeply relevant to THEIR future.
* It’s however said that there might be more to come in the days ahead, when the opposition would again go for the Achilles’ heel of the government, depending on the mental disposition of the PM vis-à-vis the MMM. What do you think?
Honestly, I can only wish that they’d come with substance-filled criticism, even if it’s hard hitting. All that bullshit about voyeurism into people’s private lives is just so stale and useless for the country. I wish they would really focus their firepower if any, on policies, rather than on people.
* Jean-Pierre Lenoir, former editor of Le Cerneen, in an interview to Capital this week spoke of the democratisation agenda of this government in quite disparaging terms. He seems to be saying it would be counterproductive to take away from those who have the know-how the possibility to manage the economy. SSR, he added, had the intelligence to understand that. How do you react to that?
You have no idea how very happy I am when I hear people utter the words ‘democratisation of the economy’ even in critical terms! Because let me remind you that before the Labour Party and the current Prime Minister talked about it in 2003, those very words did not even exist in our public discourse! And when these words and the ‘vision de societé’ which goes with it were spearheaded by the Labour Party, there were all kinds of attempts to shut it down by guess what? Maligning of character! There was talk of communalism, of racism of Mugabe and what not. The Labour Party didn’t flinch and fearlessly pursued the idea. It was our campaign platform in 2005. It was no small feat for the Labour Party to take this idea, this concept and force it from the margins right into the centre-stage of public debate. And yes, we unabashedly take the credit for that!
So when I hear Mr Lenoir lament that democratisation of the economy is counter productive rather than being a communal concept, I think we’ve made some progress!
And when I hear others, who have shamelessly tried to plagiarize the concept and tried to posture themselves as great proponents of the democratisation of the economy when what they are really on about is their own personal enterprise, I also think we’ve made some progress because whereas these people were never heard when we, in the Labour Party were taking all the flak about being racists, etc, now that they are also talking about it, it can only be a good thing.
Democratisation of the economy as it was conceived by the Labour Party is an umbrella concept, a vision de société, rather being about just more SMEs for example. So it is, that it is under this umbrella concept that THIS government, THIS Prime Minister has set up the Truth and Justice Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Competition Commission, the Ministry for Social Integration, etc., etc. Not to mention the historical agreement that the PM signed with MSPA regarding the reform of the sugar sector. These are real, concrete things! Only those with bad-faith or those who are simply unable to comprehend what the ultimate policy objective is, will fail to see what has been achieved so far!
I’m not saying that there isn’t a lot more we can and should do. In fact, I do wish we could move faster and further. But I have also come to realise that we operate within a system which takes an enormous amount of energy and drive to move even just an inch!
So considering where we were prior to 2005, considering what direction the country had taken with the Medpoint 1 alliance MMM-MSM of 2000, considering all the obstacles that the concept of democratisation of the economy has to conquer each and every day from the economically powerful, I’d say we’ve made reasonable progress in the process of steering the country towards ‘Une Ile Maurice Pour Tous’. And the more people utter or publish the words ‘democratisation of the economy’ whether favourably or critically, so much the better!
* Published in print edition on 30 March 2013