By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
In the wake of the international media coverage given to the protest march staged in the streets of Port-Louis, it is of utmost importance that mainstream world media be shown the bigger picture of the real motivations which lead an ecological issue raised by the oil spill to unfold into a well-organized crowd march. Global media must be informed on the behind-the-scene forces that are at work in Mauritius and the long-term agenda that they are working hard to push forward by manipulating citizens in Mauritius and abroad, creating division and confusion, and trying to win over international public opinion by fine slogans on ecology, patriotism, democracy and so on.
How does news travel around the world today? By WhatsApp, a phone call to one or two journalists and, questionably, a foreign journalist flying in to meet and interview his local counterpart – though s/he will have no deep insight in local politics, ethnic relations, geopolitics and the ambitions of various stakeholders. Actually, the public and media in the European Union, the United States, Britain and Australia get second-hand information from one or two so-called independent Mauritian journalists, and from a few sentences uttered by journalists of dubious integrity on WhatsApp which are repeated and translated in media outlets around the world. As regards the oil spill, any international media outlet, BBC, The Guardian, Le Monde, New York Times, France 24, France Inter and so on can have access to the report issued by the government on the daily follow-up of the Wakashio starting from July 25th to August 6th.
To avoid creating confusion in the minds of the public by anti-government critics right from the start, there should have been daily communication of government officials on television to inform the public on the difference between territorial zone and economic zone. The weather conditions and rough seas during the anti-cyclone are fully detailed. The representative of the insurance company of Wakashio made clear recommendations on the implications of any ill-advised intervention by Mauritian authorities to get near the ship. However, functionaries at the highest level allegedly misinformed the Minister of the Environment and the Prime Minister and misled them into believing that everything was under control.
The public in Mauritius and worldwide is more likely to get worked up by quickie three-word slogans on social networks and WhatsApp, which create sensational news, than to read a lengthy report on a major issue. Mauritians living in Australia, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, France and the US, who had been manipulated to oppose and fear the evolving power equation prevailing in the country, were quick to respond to the call of like-minded people in Mauritius. They have not let go of the idea of victimhood which has become entrenched in their psyche, as well as of the habit of putting down their past misfortunes and socially disadvantaged position to local politics – whereas the historical truth is domination and exploitation by erstwhile colonial masters.
Anti-government criticism stirs up ethnic prejudices and rally disgruntled groups sharing the agenda of toppling the government to take over political power in their hands. The oil spill disaster was the main course dished out to them, the starters were composed of a string of grievances against the government regarding nominations in major public institutions, so-called threats to a free press, discrimination against homeless people, labour laws and so on. Most of the protesters, if interviewed individually, would hardly be able to explain the situation in Mauritius and the reasons for demonstrating in Paris, London or Berlin.
Freedom of the press? By which yardsticks do we measure the degree of freedom the press enjoys in a country? In an older democracy like France, political leaders were constantly dragging journalists, mostly leftists, to the tribunal as late as 1981 till the election of a socialist president. Why? Because centre-right and right-wing politicians were constantly irritated and felt harassed by the media. In the late 90s, President Mitterrand refused to give an interview to RFO television in Reunion because he opined that the right-wing channel did not respect pluralism in political opinions.
Today’s freedom of the press in western democracies is all about unlimited attacks, spreading slanders, calumny, caricatures which poke their nose into private lives and respect absolutely nothing. It is about saying and writing things in all impunity without accountability to anyone. What about political correctness, self-censorship and cowardice which drive a few media outlets to avoid talking about sensitive issues which disrupt social harmony in Europe and the US, thus undermining the very mission of rightly informing the public? Are media outlets a monolithic block of untouchable cows?
Do we expect a young democracy to abide by the same yardsticks as the oldest democracy – the US? Currently, President Trump has the deepest contempt for newspapers like New York Times which he qualifies as fake media. Expect Mauritian politicians not to get carried away and irritated by provocative statements, and remain stoical? Or should we measure freedom of speech with countries like Morocco, for instance, where there are torture chambers for any journalist who dares to say: ‘The King must go’. Or even worse, ‘The guy must go.’ or ‘The woman must go.’ The press over here has carte blanche to demand the resignation of so and so.
How much do BBC, NYT, France 24, and Mauritians abroad know about the real motives behind the protest march? Is it only about the preservation of the lagoon, freedom of the press, democracy, homes for the underprivileged or appointments in key institutions? Western leaders, media and public opinion had better take news from Mauritian journos with a pinch of salt. French public radio France Inter had a Mauritian citizen online, who sounded confused and stammered to explain clearly the reasons for the protest. Right-minded Mauritians should wake up to the reality of the power struggle going on underground. Marches are merely a show for the gallery.
* Published in print edition on 1 September 2020