The Naiveté of Le Réveil

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

Years ago, when l was a boy at school, I lived in the country. In summer, walking early, I would often hear, in the far distance, a cockcrow. Then a second would follow suit; then a third, always the sound of the cockcrow getting nearer and nearer. One after another, the cocks would crow; as though each was waiting for its predecessor in this chain of cockcrows stretching across the peaceful countryside — peaceful that is, but for the raucous cockcrows.

Since then, I have had little sympathy for cockerels. To me they have appeared stupid birds, incapable of making a decision (to crow, for example) by themselves, but always deciding, to crow just because they have heard some other cock do so first. In fact, they behaved just like so many parrots. And of course, their early-morning crowing amounted to nothing useful in the end.

We all knew it was daytime without a cock having to crow to tell us so; we all knew that the hens did the useful work of laying eggs to eat: the cocks were, apart from a few needed for breeding purposes, largely supernumerary and needed only to fatten for the table.

So, I was secretly amused when I saw that Le Réveil had chosen a cock as its emblem. “How fitting!” I thought; for Le Réveil is just like those cocks l remember from my schoolboy days. It says nothing new or original; it echoes only what has been said before. And it makes a lot of sound which in the end amounts to nothing much — certainly to nothing of importance. (Of course, we must not forget the old English proverb which says that every cock is king (of its own dunghill).

I see, too, that Le Réveil calls itself a journal de combat. Might one ask against whom does the paper intend combattre? Against the people, or againstthe oligarchy who have the economic destiny of Mauritius in their pockets? And of what is it intended we shall see the réveil? Shall we see, in fact, the réveil of that ugly phase of politics in the early thirties, for example, when radical candidates for the Legislative Council were threatened with bodily harm? when those same candidates were prevented by the sugar barons from entering the estates whereas the opponents of the radicals were freely admitted to the same estates? Are we to see a thorough-going reassertion of the denial of human rights which is the secret desire of the Parti Mauricien and, indeed, of all capitalist politicians?

Leaving these generalized speculations, fascinating though it would undoubtedly be to pursue them into the byways of Mauritian politics, and turning to specific issues of Le Réveil, what do we find? At the outset, we find a complete failure to understand what is meant by the freedom of expression in the press. Correspondents of a newspaper write to it on a variety of topics. The editor chooses those letters which he thinks are of interest to readers, which supplement articles which have appeared, or which may (he hopes will) stimulate a controversy in the readers’ letters columns.

There is nothing like a good readers controversy for keeping up interest in a paper, especially a weekly. But, of course, a newspaper does not imply that it agrees with all the views expressed by the writers of the letters chosen for the readers’ letters column. Indeed, how could it, when it often prints letters diametrically opposed in their opinions? But in its naiveté, Le Réveil thinks that all letters in a newspaper reflect the opinions of that newspaper …… so we find it declaring that because the Mauritius Times printed a letter from a reader advocating tests for Council candidates, the Times therefore thinks that such tests would be a good thing. And such is the logic that prevails in M. Gaetan Duval’s office that Le Réveil goes on to argue that because the Mauritius Times (as it alleges) thinks these tests would be a good thing, the Labour Party therefore thinks so! What logic – especially from a paper whose editor declares“… … nous qui devons notre formation à des professeurs français, qui, dans une université française avons profité de l’enseignement généreuse …”

The French are reputed to be a logical nation; surely M. Duval learned better logic than his paper has at times displayed. I assume, charitably, that the lack of logic is due to naiveté; of course, if I wished to be as uncharitable towards Le Réveil as Le Réveil has been towards me, I could suggest that the root cause is not naiveté, but deliberate misunderstanding and misstatement. But of course, I would never be so uncharitable; l leave lack of charity to my inferiors.

Let us look for a while at Le Réveil of November 19. It carries an editorial article headed Le Triste Monsieur Ibbotson. (In passing, let me say that I seldom feel triste; being, in fact, gai bynature). I am alleged to be ready à écrire sur n’importe quel sujet… à diffamer et à insulter pourvu que M. Ramlallah lui en intimé l’ordre. In other words, I am prepared to write on any subject (do I hear jealousy tinging that criticism, M. Duval?) and to slander and insult people, so long as the editor gives me the orders to do so.

H’m — it is well known that we all judge others by our own standards; so, in judging that the role of an editor includes giving orders to an outside contributor to insult this, that or the other person, M. Duval is revealing (according to the popular tradition I have just referred to) his own standards. Or is he?

What else do I read in the issue of Le Réveil of November 19? Rhetorically, it is asked of me. Ne vient-il pas de déclarer dans le M. Times du 7 Novembre que la “Mauritius Amalgamated Labourers Union” est vendue aux employeurs ? The answer to that question was “yes” but I can say “no”. l never said anything of the sort. To begin with, I referred to the organisation in question by its proper title: Mauritius Amalgamated Labourers Association. Note that, M. Duval: Association not Union. An important attribute of the journalist is accuracy, even in the smallest detail. But far from saying that the MALA est vendue aux employeurs – an allegation of which I have no proof and which, if I had made it would indeed, be une bien grave diffamation – I referred to “the belief held in many quarters that it is a company union, or at least very near one”.

And there are many quarters in Mauritius where it is believed that the MALA is a company union: therefore, it is my journalistic duty to bring to readers’ notice the existence of that belief, always supposing that they did not previously know of it; or for that matter, share it. So, the next time, M. le Rédacteur en chef du Réveil, please quote me correctly when you want to start criticising what I have written.

5th Year – No 227
Friday 12th December, 1958

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