By Nobel P. Loser
It came unannounced. The word just erupted in two recent public speeches. It’s about corruption. We don’t know if both gentlemen have been inspired by what is going on in India since a few weeks now. For sure, not by Wikileaks either, but certainly by a few instances brought to their notice by bona fide persons.
You like it or not; you believe it or not, the fight against corruption won’t be done or won without the media, or if you wish without public exposure or scrutiny. How good then is the media in this fight?
If we go as per the record, that is what has been brought to the public’s attention till now, it would seem that corruption is a non issue, because there is no issue at all. To say the least, and after listening to both gentlemen, it looks like as if the media don’t give a damn about it. In the second instance, and even when news forwarded by interested parties “comes” to them, it looks like they are biased and do not know how to go about it.
In one case of “dirty business” (we voluntarily avoid mentioning the word “corruption” at this stage) recently brought to our attention by a newspaper, the writer candidly took a biased position. After reading and cross-checking the arguments put forward by the writer, it came to light that the story favoured a private initiative against public good.
Before we dwell further on the subject, let’s start from zero.
In Mauritius, we started the case against corruption on the wrong foot around mid 90s. A small group of private persons having very strong connections with Corporate Mauritius thought it wise to appropriate the national initiative against corruption through the establishment of an NGO called Transparency Mauritius. This NGO seems to be the voice of Corporate Mauritius.
Second. You must have heard about Good Governance. You will be surprised but again when you hear the songs being rehearsed it comes to mind that the background music relates to Corporate Mauritius.
Third. And this is the crown in the jewel. A couple of years ago, and in the most serious way, the JEC announced that it had identified corruption as its main priority for the year. Certainly with no achievement at all!
In all three instances quoted above, not once had the media taken any of them to task. Not one single day. And this leaves us under the good impression that they are all working hard to rid us of corruption.
Concerning Public Authorities, we had ECO (Economic Crime Office), dismantled within a day or two on the serious ground of anti-government bias. The inside story of this decision is not public yet. Then, we moved a step further to create c.
As of now, the strong public perception is in the negative.
Now back to the media. We strongly feel that without the full involvement of the media (through training of their personnel and allowing a dedicated team of investigative reporters to take on the fight) the war on corruption will never take off.
But there is a sad reality related to news organisations, despite affirmation to the contrary. Most of our mainstream media now cohabit under the same roof with strong partners/shareholders, themselves members of the TOP 100 companies or those who have direct or indirect affiliations and connections with the political establishment or economic power houses. And we cast no aspersions and we put no motives behind this business arrangements and/or ownership shareholding. This business model exists elsewhere.
The book ‘La Face Cachée du Monde’ of Pierre Péan and Philippe Cohen contains many revealing facts pertaining to this business model. It works wonders. But not for you and me, not for the general public! And this business model is not limited to Le Monde but to a wide number of news organisations across the globe.
Not far from us, in India, Nira Radia, the Queen of the PR and Lobbying industry, sets a good example as a reminder to us through her company Vaishnavi Communications (VC).
As reported in the Indian media, the Tata group of companies (90 plus entities involved in as many lines of businesses) at some point in time entrusted VC to take care of its entire PR and publicity account. By then, the PR Queen had established strong links with strong minds in the political circles and the bureaucracy, and also within the media.
Prior to 2004, the Tata group withheld all advertising directed to the Times of India Group and the latter retaliated and decided to completely “ignore the Tata Group in its pages”.
Describing this incident, the Indian media narrows down to this conclusion about the media and Nira Radia, the PR Queen: “She sent out a strong signal to the media that the Tata Group could not be taken for granted.” This needs no translation. Those running news organizations and business conglomerates around the globe are fully conversant with this hidden message.
As regards great little Mauritius, we are sorry but this is the business model which is now privileged and is being blessed by one and all, not you and me, but one and all directly concerned.
We will relate to you one story, and you will understand the rest. One of the leading heads of a leading and old company listed on the Stock Exchange of Mauritius, and of course a prominent member of Mauritius TOP 100, had a private meeting with the head of a newspaper some time last year.
As the story goes, the discussion evolved around a couple of things mostly related to the public image and internal affairs of the company. To avoid his company a bad press, the businessman tried to convince the senior journalist that the matter had to be laid to rest as the company did no wrong and whatever happened was not their fault, not even a fault of omission.
The good thing, a rare thing though, is that the senior journalist never bought this side of the story. The other pertinent thing is that the company paid for a small advert in the newspaper, but the story does not say if this was bought prior to the meeting or after the meeting between the two gentlemen.
It’s common knowledge now that those running news organizations do often say and want us to believe that there is a clear demarcation line between the newsroom and the publicity department. For sure the access door is not the same. But the decision makers and decision takers are different and they are in high command.
As in India and elsewhere, it will be wrong to believe that PR companies are concerned only with PR matters or helping in image building or managing product penetration in different market segments. Many, but not all, are also involved in lobbying practices, sometimes privately and secretly surveying or scrutinizing their targets or clients or competitors or decision makers or lawmakers. Some are hired on and off when it comes to managing exceptional situations.
But the one common thing is that they all direct their load of gossips to media persons to whom they suggest the line of firing and the timing.
In most cases, and as so often revealed by the media, it is always the aggrieved parties who act as “whistle blowers”. And they tend to make the media dance to their tune, seated, as they claim, in the position of “merchants of scoop”. And more often than not, the media tends to raise them to the status of “martyrs”, forgetting to investigate the bigger story behind the story and to make their case as per the facts revealed through their own work.
We must however acknowledge that investigative reporting can be very time consuming and costly for news organizations if ever they choose to go to the extent required by a story worthy of an investigation.
If news organisations happen to meet the two requirements, time factor and cost factor, the problem these days is the availability of trained and experienced media persons.
There are so many stories smelling the dirt of scandals that go unchecked for various reasons. Just take Champ de Mars as a reference point. The mainstream media has become the Champ de Mars’ best partner for promoting the business. The question is – what can we expect from them? Not too long ago, an ex-president of the organisation had privately threatened to leak out the names of media persons involved in fishy business around the Champ de Mars in retaliation to what he termed as biased media pressure on selected issues.
The way ministers and nominees are being handled these days and in the recent past prove that the chief executive officer of the country is now ready to go for the kill. This is the right time for the media to do some adjustments. And we believe that the good days of investigative reporting are ahead. But can the media really initiate this paradigm shift under prevailing conditions?
For the time being, the media should know that those involved in corruption are those who don’t care about you and me, who don’t care about taxpayers, who don’t care about the country, who don’t care for your kids, and they are those who shame you most and your news organization as well when they assemble to watch the night candles burning out slowly in their privately owned happy corners within the greenest valleys of Paradise. While they happily share and enjoy the delicacies bought by obscene profits obtained through corrupt means.
These expenses are even made tax deductible under the various items contained in a P & L account or balance sheet. Thanks to the winning formula of modern accounting systems.
* Published in print edition on 30 December 2010