Of the so-called independent press 

Points to Ponder

By Lex

A First Point: We have heard and read about what people think of the local press and the journalists who work for the various papers in it. To say that those papers are independent papers does not make sense. All papers, except the truly independent ones, have a political bent; however much those who control those papers try to pass themselves off as being independent of all political parties.

I have said it in the past and I am repeating it now, let others judge whether those papers that claim to be independent are in fact independent, but those responsible for the papers are in no position themselves to judge and trumpet that they are independent. What purpose does it serve the editors to claim something that they do not deserve? Most people say that the main dailies are against the government and they have always been for the opposition. Some of the smaller papers too are in favour of the opposition; just one or two are in favour of the government. We agree with the opinion of the people in their judgment of the political bent of the newspapers. But do tell me which newspaper in Mauritius is really independent!

Are our journalists really professionals in their field, and have had proper professional training after having completed their academic education? Here I am talking about those who gather information worthy to be classified as having news-value, prepare the text in a way that people would understand what they want to convey and submit to those who are responsible for publication.

Then we have those journalists who comment on the news, they give their opinion on a piece of news and it is here that we have problems. At times the commentators go looking for some news themselves. And many journalists do not make any difference between the facts that make the news and the comments of the journalists or reporters or the editor thereon. And this is where the problem lies. Many readers accept as fact the comments or commentaries of the journalists. Reporting the news is one matter, interpreting the news is a completely different matter. Every journalist does not understand this.

Depending on the paper for which those reporters or journalists or editors are working, they give the bent required to whatever they write. It is no wonder that most of the articles have a leaning towards the party that the paper follows. However, those papers refuse to accept the fact that they are with their particular party, they insist that they are independent. But people refuse to believe them however much they will insist.

We must accept that some people with their own agenda have joined the media from the start and this is accepted by everybody. What is now needed is a return to basic fundamental principles like ethics and morals in the profession. But to achieve this, we need to train those who want to join the profession, but more than training, those responsible for the papers must genuinely accept where they stand. If they want to publish a paper that is not tied to a political party, it should change its way of presenting daily news. It should not take quarrels between political parties to be its own fight. It should report the fight of course without joining in the fight. Most journalists either deliberately or because they do not understand the difference between fact and opinion, make a mixture of both.

In the last two decades, there has been a proliferation of media groups, but unfortunately, not much time and resource have been dedicated to instil the much required basics of professionalism in the staff.

Though we have a profession that goes back to a few centuries, we have yet to learn the basics, and this is because we do not want to learn from the past. Maybe we do need a good piece of legislation, because the various media houses cannot have a common and proper self-regulatory body. Even those papers that say they have internal regulations do not seem to be working to the satisfaction of the people. Why not have some regulations that will bind all the publications? The authorities should not interfere but the regulations must be credible and people must have trust. It goes to the very existence of the papers concerned.

There is one matter on which I would like to lay some stress, and this is on the fact that the press should be allowed to develop without the interference of any person or group. However, this applies to the really independent press. Other newspapers are dictated to by some politicians or depend upon some group’s resources or they hold a brief for some politicians or some other interest group, in such cases they cannot be called independent. They hit hard against the parties that they regard as their adversaries, and in return they should expect that the parties would hit back at them as hard. This is an accepted fact of daily life and people are all for a good and clean fight. Why is it that when you hit hard at your adversary and he hits back at you, you start whimpering and complaining and you act as if you have the right to hit at your adversary but he must keep quiet?

But the independence of the really independent papers, those papers that give news as they are and analyze them objectively, without any bias, should be given all facilities to preserve their independence. This should be accepted by everyone, isn’t it?  

Education is power 

A Second Point: It is generally accepted that Education is power. The Asian communities have understood this from the very beginning. When our forefathers came to Mauritius, they did not possess any particular education, beyond a knowledge of one of the Indian languages, but their culture and religion were such that education was not far from them at any moment. As soon as their contract period was over, they moved out to the countryside; they bought a portion of land on which to stay and they cultivated the rest. At the same time, they organized themselves into the Baitka system and they did their best to educate their children. They had to endure untold difficulties, they were boycotted by the authorities and they were looked down by the other sections of the population because of their religion.

The Asian community generally had realized that the only way to get out of destitution and poverty was through education. And the long process started. With time, a good system of education was established throughout the country. Primary schools were constructed in all the main villages of the country as well as in all the towns. Later on, many secondary schools were established even in the countryside and then we have had the University of Mauritius and other universities to cater for the increasing number of students.

Children from depressed areas have not been forgotten, special provisions have been made for them. Early childhood education has taken root now with the policy of the government and no child is left out of the school system in Mauritius. In all sectors of education, we have a dedicated group of teachers and I find it surprising that more students do not seize the opportunity to be better educated in their chosen field.

Mauritius is one of the few countries where education is free from early childhood through the primary stage, the secondary stage, the university as well as in the technical aspect. Such a situation does not obtain even in many developed countries, let alone in the African region. Maybe certain people want, in their heart of hearts, that the country should not go on the path of success through education. Otherwise, how can they criticize the government for its education policy? Even now, they are saying that government is not doing enough in the field of education, or if it is doing what should be done, the ministers do not know what they are doing.

But there is one matter that is failing us, that is not allowing the children to progress in their education, it is the lack of parental involvement in the education of their children. Without the parents playing their part in the educational upbringing of the children, the latter will not make the required progress.

Who can tell the parents that it is their duty to accompany their children in their education? This is not the duty of government. The parents should know about this, if not, civil society has this duty, the churches and religious organisations have to take this matter in hand. What are the churches and all those socio-religious organisations doing? They are not doing their religious duties properly, as we all can see. At least they can help the country in the field of education. It is not enough to say that they manage so many schools or colleges, what kind of citizens are they training? They must think of how to involve the parents in education, otherwise we shall not make the progress that we deserve.

As I have said, education is power. We must empower our children so that they will have the necessary tool to forge our country to first world status, and I am sure that this idea is acceptable to most Mauritians.  

Gambling joints

A Third Point: The casino that was situated in the heart of Quatre Bornes and the operating licence of which has not renewed, has not yet given up the fight to operate. When it was operating, there was such an outcry from persons of all sections of the population, of every political hue, that the authorities have had to listen to the voice of the people, especially of the persons residing in Quatre Bornes, and act accordingly.

Now that the gambling house is not operating, there is no outcry, there is no attroupement on the main road and people can come out without any fear of being harassed or of seeing women they do not want to see.

I am not for the ban of all casinos or gambling houses. We do need a few of them in Mauritius, but in any case, these gambling joints should never have been allowed to operate in the countryside, in the centre of towns or in the residential areas.

In so far as we are concerned, Mauritius can afford to license about five or at most six gambling joints. These joints must be situated far away from the residential areas. And the licensing part is interesting. How about selling a licence by auction to the highest bidder? When a licence expires, the authority may choose to cancel it for good if the authority considers that people in the neighbourhood do not want a casino in their area. Or it can choose to renew it but the renewal of the licence should be auctioned and the highest bidder will hold the licence for two years. And here also, there must be conditions attached and those who do not respect the conditions of the licence may be fined, the licence cancelled or will be put on auction anew. I know this will not be acceptable either to the owners of the gambling joints nor to the various authorities.

We are not concerned with the interests of gambling joints nor with those of some people within the authorities. We are concerned with the the interests of the people of Mauritius, we are concerned with their welfare and their well-being. The owners of the casinos are concerned with their business of making money and one would think that their employees are only concerned with earning their salaries. The employees cannot make as if they can milk the government of huge sums of money because government has decided not to renew the licence of a casino. It should not be taken for granted that on its expiry, a licence, any licence for that matter, should be renewed. To renew or not to renew is in the hands of the authorities and in this case of Quatre Bornes the authorities have taken the right decision. Ask the inhabitants of Quatre Bornes, they will tell you. 

Repo rate and Inflation

A Fourth Point: As I understand it, whenever the banks have a shortage of funds to lend to their clients, they can borrow from the Bank of Mauritius. Repo rate is the rate at which the banks borrow from the Bank of Mauritius. A reduction in the repo rate means that the banks can get money from the Bank of Mauritius at a cheaper rate and conversely, when the repo rate increases, it means that it will cost more for the banks to borrow from the Bank of Mauritius.

The Bank of Mauritius charges some interest on the money that it lends and that rate of interest is called the repo rate, which stands for repurchase agreement.

Who benefits from a reduction of the repo rate? Those who borrow money from the banks, obviously. Who loses in the process? Somebody must make good for the loss of the one per cent in the lending rate which the Bank of Mauritius was charging that is from 5.75 % to 4.75%. Those who have some savings in the banks are bound to lose in the interest they have been getting. If they were receiving say, interest of 5%, will now receive only 4%. In other words, those who have some savings in the banks will subsidize the banks in their transactions with the big borrowers.

The commercial banks will not lose in the transaction, the Bank of Mauritius also not lose but those poor people who have been saving will definitely lose. We can ask the question as to the rate of interest that the banks used to charge when they were lending to their clients when the repo rate was 5.75% and what rate they will now charge.

I know that the difference between the rate of interest that the banks give on the savings of the small savers and the rate of interest that the banks claim from the borrowers is 3%, 4% at times 5%. This is how the banks make huge and indecent profits. In my opinion and in the opinion of several of my friends, many of whom are respected professionals, a decent difference between the interest on savings and on lending should not exceed at most 2%, I would say 1%. That 1% should amply cover the administrative costs as well as leave a reasonable profit. Will the Bank of Mauritius look into this very important aspect of the transaction of the banks? If the Central Bank does not have this power, it should ask the government to empower the Bank of Mauritius through legislation to regulate the banks on such important matters. Or maybe the Competition Commission also can look into this aspect of doing business of the banks.

Instead of declaring those huge profits, the banks can use the excess to help both those who save as well as those who borrow. Should there still be the need reduce the repo rate? I know that those who export from Mauritius have been clamouring to get money at a cheap rate and they have been given satisfaction. Those who save have no voice, so to say, and they are made to pay a heavy price.

And I am told that inflation will not be controlled as it is being done now. If inflation starts going up, the consumers will have to pay more for their articles of everyday consumption and this will tell on the budget of the employees and of the pensioners and they will start asking that their salaries and pensions to be adjusted consequently. And if they are not given satisfaction, they will turn against the government and we shall have a very difficult time.

* Published in print edition on 1 October 2010

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