Political interference is an obstacle to progress

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The Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has a lot of good things to offer to the public. It is dynamic and is willing to innovate. We have a variety of films and serials as well as insightful documentaries. Festivals and religious events are exhaustively covered. The public is well treated to educational and entertainment programmes. We also see the institution making efforts to promote local programmes. Recently, we had a series of programmes on history and they were appreciated by both the general public and students. Not many can afford to have private channels, so they rely on the MBC to watch football and other sports.

However, the news segment remains pitifully biased. There is a system put into place by various governments whereby political interference plays a crucial part in the dissemination of news. At times, this is so flagrant that it is a real pain to sit before the television set. News in favour of the government of the day gets the upper hand. Thus, news on television is far from balanced.

Politicians know the tremendous power they possess through access to television and radio. There’s no doubt that the MBC must cover governmental activities. We need to know what it is doing for the public. However, this coverage must not be done abusively. Every day, there are many more exciting and newsworthy events taking place in Mauritius. We need to know about them as well.

The MBC finds itself in a singular situation. On the one hand, it is expected to provide news based on the well-established principles of fairness and a reasonable degree of objectivity, but on the other hand, the government sets its own policies quite subtly. This is an impediment to smooth functioning.

We are not given a wellrounded picture of reality. Having said that, we must avoid reacting passionately and point a finger of blame solely at the MBC, for the real culprit is political interference. The MBC is handicapped in its mission to serve the country as it should. It is politicians, past and present, that we should be criticising for using television shamelessly and with impunity to suit their own ends.

Educational role

Many people in Mauritius do not have a critical attitude when it comes to political affairs. They are blind followers and sentimental supporters and are easily influenced by rhetorical language, sweet words, promises and electoral bribes. They are loyal to a party, a leader or a minister without knowing why.

The MBC could have played its educational role by sharpening people’s ability to understand and assess events critically. There could have been debates, thematic discussions, probing interviews of key players in various fields, and face-à face between politicians. This is how a nation grows. What we have instead is one-sided news. And focus on those in power.

The MBC will never give us a comprehensive coverage of poverty; it will never depict the precarious conditions in which people are living, sometimes without electricity or water and other facilities; it will never initiate a debate about why so much poverty exists in Mauritius; it will never seek the opinions of the poor or make them talk about their plight. It will not do so because it might not please, or may not be in the interest of the government.

Society is going through difficult times and people want to know what is ailing the island. They want to understand the ills that are menacing Mauritius and what has brought the situation to this point, and where we will be in five or ten years’ time. Take police brutality, for example. People want to have a clearer view of why it exists. But the MBC has not organised any programme consisting of an in-depth investigation by inviting in the studio all those concerned, including victims, to discuss the phenomenon candidly in order to enlighten the public.

Similarly, every year, millions of rupees are wasted by our ministries as evidenced by the Audit Report. People want answers. Why has the MBC never conceived a special programme to try to throw light on how the wastage occurs, why, who gains by it, and the way it impacts on the economy? One can therefore understand the disappointment of people with the MBC.

By submitting itself too much to pressure from above, the institution is perceived as a mere lackey of the government. It is not for nothing that people call it the propaganda machine. In other words, it is willing to please and obey the dictates of politicians rather than serve the expectations of the public. No wonder people see the MBC as the official spokesman of the government of the day.

Items telecast in the prime time news bulletin at 7.30 p.m. are often repeated the next day in the noon bulletin. It is as if nothing new has happened in the country in-between. Too much of the same thing is tedious and gets on your nerves.

Replacing one Director General by another isn’t the solution. The real issue lies elsewhere: unnecessary control by the government. It has always been this way. All governments have believed that by exerting control over the MBC, they will consolidate their popularity. The truth is that overdoing it plays against them at one point or another.

When news and images on television are absurdly manipulated, viewers see through the gimmick. When news becomes dull, repetitive and predictable, they have no choice but to turn to other channels because they are not satisfied.

Many reasons may explain Meckraj Baldowa’s resignation as Director General. Could politics be one of them? A reading between the lines of press reports suggests it may be so. «À mon arrivée, la MBC ressemblait à une organisation du tiersmonde.» Having known the MBC from inside, he cannot be lying: we have the picture of MBC in a sorry state.

Stuck in mediocrity

Referring to journalists of the MBC, he adds that they are willing to improve «mais ils ne sont pas maîtres du contenu de leur JT» (le Défi Plus, 28 April, 2018). This cannot be a fabrication on his part. He knows perfectly well what he is saying. To a large extent, news on television is tailored to suit the government.

After 50 years of independence, we are still stuck in mediocrity and methods of another time. There’s a need to reconsider the MBC Act and bring the necessary changes to counter political interference or at least to minimize it and give the MBC the latitude to do its work as well as possible.

We deserve a better television. Many people believe that it is high time for a private television.

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