Orwellian Ministry of Truth

The war in Ukraine shows how daily spin doctoring and propaganda repeatedly rehashed and recycled by the media and political leaders can systematically mask and occult the truth. There are also clear signs of a ‘Ministry of Truth’ culture in Mauritius as well.

By Mrinal Roy

The war in Ukraine is a major eye opener for the world and people in general on the insidious role of government propaganda and a compliant media in shaping the tenor and thrust of narratives regarding the evolution of the war. It has also exposed a skewed international order sullied and undermined by double standards in respect of fundamental principles and basic standards of equity. It also shows how daily spin doctoring and propaganda repeatedly rehashed and recycled by the media and political leaders can systematically mask and occult the truth.

The profound divide over the war between the US, Europe, NATO countries, Ukraine and Russia has polarized information about the war. In this propaganda battle, the United States, EU and NATO countries and their media have a major control over the information disseminated in the world. The daily information about the war aired by them is echoed by other countries and their media. The polarization is such that no mainstream media channel dares question any of the information and narratives propagated. 

Across the world, governments want to control the tenor of information. Despite paying lip service to freedom of opinion and free speech, they are allergic to criticisms and chary of independent media channels and all forms of alternative media on the internet. Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have been censoring any posts that question the official narrative on the Ukraine conflict.

US ‘Disinformation Governance Board’

The control over the content of information and the media message is taking an ominous form in the United States with the announcement made by the White House and the Department of Homeland Security last week that an inter-agency team named ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ has been set up to coordinate department activities related to disinformation aimed at the US population and infrastructure. It is quite revealing that Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation expert with experience working on Ukraine and Russia issues, was chosen to helm the board. Critics have promptly likened the ‘Disinformation Governance Board,’ to the ‘Ministry of Truth’ from George Orwell’s 1984.

It is flabbergasting that the US government wants to arrogate to themselves through the ‘Disinformation Governance Board’ the contentious right to decide and designate what the ‘truth’ is. This would mean a dangerous letdown of basic democratic values in a country where the First Amendment of the US constitution guarantees fundamental freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly and the right to petition. There is a justified apprehension that the hidden intent of this disingenuous proposal is to groom and shepherd people to ‘gobble and accept what they are told’ and doctor algorithms to sway public opinion.

Outcry

As expected, there is a legitimate outcry against this contested proposal by many outside the mainstream media, the more so as governments and private corporations have a history of not divulging key information through questionable stratagems or decried confidentiality clauses, etc. It is noteworthy that Republican Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky told Alejandro Mayorkas,the Homeland Security Secretary at a Senate hearing last week that ‘Americans don’t need his new Disinformation Governance Board to know what is true’ and claimed that ‘the US government was the ‘largest propagator of disinformation in the history of the world.’

Elon Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter and his declared commitment to uphold people’s absolute right to free speech risk upset the apple cart.TheElon Musk Twitter avatar could therefore become the de facto platform for dissent and contestation of government narratives and policies.

Government narratives invariably distract public attention away from the real issues which need to be addressed. The daily reports and hype about war crimes, schools being bombed, children and civilian casualties or Ukrainian citizens being sent to Russia against their will shift attention away from the core reality that tens of billions of dollars worth of high tech weaponry, supersonic missiles and other support provided by the US, Europe and NATO countries to Ukraine will prolong the war and destruction of Ukraine, add to the woes of Ukrainian civilians and the widespread distress and misery caused to billions of people across the world who are being forced to bear the adverse impact of the war on escalating costs of energy, groceries and basic commodities and the erosion of their purchasing power. The arms manufacturers are having a bonanza.

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Signs of desperation

There are also clear signs of a ‘Ministry of Truth’ culture in Mauritius as well.

The hullabaloo and profuse legalese being trumped up in the protracted debate relating to the Slovak Peter Uricek distracts attention from the burning question of how he was granted a three-year Occupation permit in April 2019 to work for a company with hardly any contribution to the national economy by the Economic Development Board despite being blacklisted as an illegal drug dealer and manufacturer since 2015 by the Slovak authorities and being the object of a Red Notice by Interpol. It is only when his Occupation permit came for renewal in April 2022 that his Resident Permit was revoked. As in the case of Alvaro Sobrinho, the Peter Uricek three-year permit once again exposes the incompetence with which the due diligence exercises are carried out. It is such ineptitude and absence of rigour which exposed the feet of clay and systemic strategic deficiencies of our financial jurisdiction.

In a desperate bid to garner funds by all means, an Occupation permit, which is a combined work and residence permit, is granted to a ‘professional’ earning a monthly basic salary of at least MUR 60,000. It is therefore crucial that the tenor of these questionable schemes be overhauled and more rigorous control and due diligence protocols are in place in strict compliance with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and EU norms, now that Mauritius has recast its jurisdiction to eliminate its strategic deficiencies and been removed from boththe FATF grey and the EU black list.

Still want some more

The decried Independent Power Producers (IPP) contracts have hit the headlines to haunt government once again. The patently leonine and carved-in-stone contracts are still not good enough. The raging debate between government and the opposition regarding Terragen’s decision to stop energy production yet again distracts attention from more fundamental issues and principles relating to the production of energy, a public utility, in the country.

Despite the government rhetoric that ‘60% of the country’s energy needs will be produced from green sources by 2030 and that the use of coal will be totally phased out by 2030’, the reality is that with the dwindling share of bagasse in the production of energy by the power plants, the IPPs do not have a leg to stand on without using highly polluting coal which represented the lion’s share (39.5%) of energy source in the country in 2020. It must be remembered that highly polluting coal, apart from having health damaging side effects, emits nearly twice more carbon dioxide than natural gas and about one and half times more than gasoline. The IPPs produced around 59.2% of the total electricity generated, and the Central Electricity Board (CEB) the remaining 40.8% in 2020.

If the country is to resolutely eliminate coal use and phase out fossil fuels in line with COP 26 commitments to prevent an impending climate change catastrophe, it is high time to chart a clear roadmap as to how and with what renewable and green energy mix will the objective of producing 60% of the country’s energy needs from green sources be achieved by 2030. It is equally important that the shareholding of power producers of a prime public utility is no longer ring fenced by a handful but opened up to include a wider public shareholding and investment funds.

Rhetoric versus decisive action

Too often the government has catalogued the flawed policies and failures of previous governments to distract attention from its own patent inaction to address socio-economic problems currently faced by the people in a context of continuously rising prices, falling purchasing power, deteriorating economic fundamentals, a flawed economic model and a crippling mode of governance.

A ‘Ministry of truth’ culture and contrived narratives cannot sweep the distress and misery of people under the carpet. This is therefore not the time for hollow rhetoric but competent and decisive actions to address the core concerns of the people and the many ills which hobble the prospects of the country. Not to do so is to reap the whirlwind.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 13 May 2022

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