Freedom Without Concession
— NOBEL P. LOSER
Jean Claude de l’Estrac (JCL) gave a speech to what could be described as a select wise audience some time in the recent past. He pointed out specifically that in today’s media landscape, it is necessary for media people to give to readers and their audience the vital tools to understand news.
This, according to him, can only be achieved through proper homework, research, and a good understanding of issues themselves.
What he said was not anything new for any self-respecting journalist; but it was big news for the audience. This trend, as rehearsed by JCL, is gaining ground worldwide since quite some time and for various reasons. Confronted with stiff competition and a new dynamism from radios, televisions and the Internet for coming in with breaking news, newspapers were bound, for their own survival, to react. They have the means to offer their readers a master key to help them better understand important news that affect the lives of people everywhere.
If we are not mistaken, it is against this kind of reasoning that Rabin Bhujun tried in the last edition of L’express-dimanche to link words and statements to facts and figures to tell his audience that Ramgoolam Jr is a joke or nearly so. We take it that the latter needs no one to run to his rescue. And we won’t. We are more interested in what the paper wrote; what it supposedly understood; what were the issues raised in the public statements made; while we do so, our readers can feel free to make their own opinions.
First point. Ramgoolam Jr did in fact state that reports from bureaucrats-cum-experts could not be relied upon to take decisions. He was referring to the much-publicised “report” by a few doctors who were against the idea of setting up a centralised geriatric hospital in Mauritius. Weeks before, the Opposition leader was attempting to use this very “report” to nail down his opponents politically. The simplistic politicking argument comes to this – “you see, doctors said no to this idea of having a centralised geriatric hospital but the politicians went against this view and decided to go against this technical advice; and people now know why their advice was overturned.” It may be true that Ramgoolam Jr made his statement to counter balance the Opposition’s argument on the “report” from the doctors.
Ramgoolam’s no-confidence motion in bureaucrats-cum-experts was juxtaposed against a list of advisers-cum-experts employed by the selfsame Ramgoolam over the years. The British tabloids would probably have used the word ‘bullshit’ to qualify Bhujun’s attempt to contradict Ramgoolam by making this juxtaposition. But the latter is really too young to understand fully serious issues affecting public life and public administration.
Does our young Bhujun know why the Government of the Republic of Mauritius never thought it wise to start the first dialysis centre and the circumstances surrounding the setting up of a private dialysis centre next to a public hospital? And second, who was in charge of the “dialysis file” at the level of the ministry then? Second issue. Does the young Bhujun know why the Government of the Republic of Mauritius was not the first to offer CT Scan services in public health institutions and why all “public” patients were directed instead to private clinics in this regard? Was the Government of the Republic of Mauritius too poor or were the private sector too rich or good traders?
If young journalist comes to know the exact answers to these questions, he would probably think twice or even more before he comments on any issue wherein his lack of knowledge and very poor home work and research would do him professionally more harm than good. More generally, can anybody guess the number of reports – some good, we must say – that are confined to the dustbins of our bureaucracy, and the costs of these reports to public funds!
All governments, some easily and some less easily, succumb to lobbying from traders and industrialists in policy and decision-making and are guilty of errors of omission and/or of crimes against the public interest.
On the issue of advice-cum-report from experts, does our young journalist know and can he explain why the advice tendered by the government’s legal adviser was most unwelcome on the “mari deal” of Illovo by the then government and whose advice was finally sought, obtained and adopted as “la monnaie contan” without any further ado? And also does he know the amount of revenues denied to the State in the process? Same thing happened in the geriatric hospital case, it seems. The ongoing enquiry will confirm if a second opinion was sought and preferred regarding the value of the assets.
Now, it is good to know that no government or minister would be able to perform without support from bureaucrats or independent advisers or experts. Whether Bhujun or Ramgoolam Jr likes it or not. It is a completely different matter whether their views are always taken on board by ministers or governments. En passant, one can see communication experts and/or experienced professional journalists walking and working in the shadow of the most powerful all over the world. Not necessarily as spin doctors as one might be tempted to think. The reason is that their brains work differently, contrary to those of the experts or bureaucrats or politicians themselves.
Our main contention is that far too often, for too long, over the years and decades, some papers have acted or continue to act in complete bad faith or, at times, completely ignoring facts or historical association surrounding many issues. None dared investigate seriously enough the issues they freely comment or analyse. Here are a few such cases, picked up at random.
In the dying months of his government, late SSR, in response to a question from a journalist, said – “Ou kapav arrête développement kokin ou?” Though there was much truth and wisdom in SSR’s answer, this was used in the media opposed to him to pin him down until his defeat in the June 1982 general elections. The distortion of facts paid off, it seems!
SAJ had his share of the same. In the economically and socially awkward situation prevailing during the early eighties, SAJ left behind protocols and diplomatically correct behaviour and accepted ration rice from Taiwan. Under fierce political attacks, he once made this desperate remark in this context– “moralité pas rempli ventre”. This was used as tomato ketchup in all stories, even till recently. If the media was serious on the issue of “moralité”, why then did they all join hands and efforts to see to it that he comes to power in September 2000, against the background of the MedPoint Accord? And let it be said that no government enjoyed so much leniency from the media as the one that ran the affairs of the country from September 2000 to July 2005. Why this selectiveness?
Last. The failed Amul story is rehearsed by the same media in all bad faith. Why did this media never ever, till today, investigate the real story behind the most factual and uncelebrated ICAC report – i.e., the investigation on imports of milk? They know best why they pick up some things but not all.
You see, sometimes, even the media seem not to believe in reports of experts when it does not suit their preferences. It appears to be the same for politicians, for reasons best known to them.
NOBEL P. LOSER