Toxic Media

The public should not be made to gulp down news from sources which are imbibed with the spirit of division, and lead to ‘parochialism’. It is high time to clean up the pollution which has infected ‘our once cosmopolitan spirit and mind’

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

To the already heightened tensions triggered by different political protagonists for weeks, the oil spill at Pointe d’Esny has released more toxin than the serenity one would have expected when the country is faced with a major environmental issue. Everyone kept presenting their selected experts to justify their points of view and undermine those of their opponents. Constant bickering among warm-blooded males blowing hot air in media talks is quite distressing and brings nothing constructive to rationally enlighten the public on key issues. Everyone watching BBC around the world caught a glimpse of Mauritian-style tropical island male palaver disguised as serious talk on the one hand, and frayed nerves causing loss of composure rather than cool-headed defence of one’s standpoint on the other, much to the disgrace of the whole island.

When a BBC journalist does his job without compromising on principles, that’s no good reason to spit fire at the BBC or to ban it, or whatever. As things stand, though no channels are perfect, there is a serious need to draw Mauritian viewers to fairly good standards of English-language channels to promote the language, in the first place, and to counterbalance the effects of what Samad Ramoly, in the July 20th issue of Mauritius Times, calls ‘a French brand of satellite idiot box’ that ‘continues to conquer screens and minds’. The end result is that after four decades, starting from the 1980s ‘parochialism slowly pollutes our once cosmopolitan spirit and mind,’ promoted by the English language. The satellite idiot box, most probably refers to Parabole and Canal Satellite, which loads of people think are better equipped to give them a sound view of everything under the sun.

Lucky enough for the reputation of Mauritius, the BBC did not interview the leader of a party who surprised everyone by boasting about how France, through its forces and expertise in Reunion, had been the saviour in handling the ecological disaster. That leader further triumphantly announced that the French minister of overseas islands and territories would soon be visiting Mauritius. First, if any French minister is to visit the country, it should be the minister of Foreign Affairs because Mauritius is an independent country, and not any of the Dom-Tom which heavily rely on monthly French transfers of huge sums to pay teachers, the police force, firemen and all the functionaries. What suddenly took hold of the politician to brandish France loudly indicates a subtle, underground tug-of-war going on between different forces vying for political and cultural influence in Mauritius. The ramblings of a man for the land of his ancestors? The days of colonialism are over. Mauritius cannot be compared to Lebanon, Algeria or former French protectorates and colonies in Africa where every visit of the French president triggers a craving for the old system amongst some citizens, which French media capture in their lens and gladly broadcast to the whole world. The opinion of one or two aggrieved citizens over the state of affairs in their homeland is made to reflect the mood of the whole population, as is the case in Lebanon.

Over here, events such as the recent inauguration of the new Supreme Court is engendering dissatisfaction in some sections of the population who hold different views on which countries Mauritius should warm up to. Better swallow their discontent because the 21st century has begun to outline new geopolitical configurations which bring together countries from different continents sharing the same values, and the scenario enacted in the Indian Ocean reinforces cooperation and ties between a few countries, and does not oppose these countries or create conflicting interests.

Only those thinking from the ‘idiot box’ see things with blinkers and through deep-seated local inter-ethnic prejudices, and dream of reshaping Mauritius back to its former situation of cultural and political predominance. The 21st century is turning a few countries in Europe into minor powers on the world stage, and their strength lies in how strongly they can build the European Union, which is unlikely to happen soon.

The hailing of France on a private radio, close to the drivelling politician who could have sold out CWA to Vivendi, lately culminated in the broadcast of the French national anthem on 14th July. The star anchor openly dreams of a separate status for Rodrigues. The private radio feels entitled to comment on the election of the president of Mauritius Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation, a religious association, something which he spares other religions from.

It is worth mentioning that the much-lauded sense of solidarity at Blue Bay also displayed once again how a few people feel concerned about environmental safety especially when they and their brethren live in bungalows in the area. So, children, teenagers, adults and grandmothers were all present there, busy lending a hand to save their region. It is only such rare cases which pull them out of their confined and no-trespass places to mix socially with the public. Otherwise, they tend to be non-existent to help others in flood-stricken zones at Fond du Sac, for instance, or elsewhere.

What beats it all is when you hear simple folks at Triolet referring to the opinion expressed on France 24 over how Mauritius could have avoided Covid-19 contamination if lockdown restrictions were put in place earlier. You have to tell people that four cases of infection broke out early February in eastern France, and it started confinement only by 17th March, and that 90 French citizens, including doctors, are suing the government for not informing the public of Covid-19 cases as early as in October, which by then caused the death of a number of people in Paris itself. The reason for withholding information was, according to public opinion, to put business first, and this implied open frontiers with China.

France certainly has health services of very high standard, but the technocrats at the helm of power have a different set of priorities, and the people are not used to submitting to imposed rules of discipline. So, France 24 is not in a position to pontificate on Mauritian management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The MBC has to review its foreign source of news during its prime time news programme in French. French channels primarily aim at the French public and its sensibilities, influenced by their own political, economic and cultural agendas. Last year, a France 24 broadcast on MBC news showed the Indian PM in a church in Sri Lanka two months after the bomb blast. No one here got to appreciate the content of his speech because it was cut off in the middle of the first sentence he articulated.

It would not be surprising that France 24 is in tune with other French media outlets like Le Monde which reflects the mainstream French way of thinking and its worldview, shaped largely by the French Revolution, and which boils down to simple-minded binary visions of power struggles everywhere, and divides the world between oppressors and oppressed, the good and the bad, the strong and weak, the rich and the poor, etc. Simple-mindedness over world affairs and politics is a current phenomenon in conversations with average French citizens, mostly influenced by their media. Hard thinking is discarded for fine phrases. So too with a few mainstream international media, mainly with a leftist bent.

A broader view of world news on the MBC should include different sources, not rely only on a French channel. The public should not be made to gulp down news from sources which are imbibed with the spirit of division, and lead to ‘parochialism’. It is high time to clean up the pollution which has infected ‘our once cosmopolitan spirit and mind.’


* Published in print edition on 18 August 2020

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