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Free Expression according to Philippe Forget’s L’Express


On Wednesday the senior journalist, in fact Assistant Editor-in-Chief, Vel Moonien, made a formal request to interview Ram Seegobin of LALIT on the political situation in the country.

Ram agreed formally. He suggested 10:00 am on Friday, but as Vel Moonien was not free, they agreed to meet at 11:00 am instead, at the LALIT offices. Ram prepared for the interview, as is his custom, and went to Grand River North West for the meeting.

Half an hour before the interview, Vel Moonien phoned to cancel the interview altogether. The newspaper will come out, of course, but the offer of an interview, though duly accepted, was withdrawn, so it will never see the light of day.

Vel Moonien had had instructions to annul the interview. Humiliated he might have felt, but instructions he had.

This is not the first time that L’Express makes a journalist fall short of minimum normal standards of human decency.

It should be said that social life in civilized society depends upon a minimum mutual respect and honesty. This is called integrity. When an offer is made, once accepted, it cannot then be withdrawn. It would be preposterous to think that this is acceptable behavior. Even the vulgar law of contract, the most minimum of minimum standards that are even upheld by law, recognizes this: when an offer is made, once accepted, it cannot then be withdrawn. Human intercourse depends on invitations, once made, and particularly once accepted, being maintained. Imagine, even in the most informal of cases, inviting an acquaintance to a dinner party in two or three days’ time, which invitation is formally accepted, and then phoning just before the event to say the party will go on, but this particular guest is no longer invited. The word “dis-invite” does not even exist in any language, so low is this form of behavior.

We know that L’Express and the rest of the media are privately owned and controlled, and that they are thus driven, in part at least, by the ideology of the bosses that own the shares in the enterprise and run the thing for a profit. We also know that the advertisers do have a say, in the final analysis, because of their immense control over the enterprise because they fund it. However, it is unusual to be given such clear, bare-faced proof of the censorship imposed by the management on their poor journalists.

Prior to the 2005 General Elections, the late Nazim Essoof did an interview with Ram Seegobin which was never published. When Nazim Essoof, after the elections, contacted Alain Ah-Vee of LALIT for an interview, he naturally replied by asking what had happened to the last one with Ram. Nazim’s excuse was so lame and he evidently felt so humiliated that, sadly, he never could speak to anyone in the LALIT leadership again. The L’Express management clearly has not changed in its politics of causing its journalist employees to behave in ways that are a lower standard than what human decency demands. Vel Moonien will have to bow his head in shame for years, too, no doubt.

But the cake certainly goes to the perpetrator of yet another bit of censorship at L’Express, one in which the journalist came through with integrity: It was 2010, at the time of the free expression controversy around the Danish cartoonist and religious symbols he used. Former senior journalist at L’Express, Deepa Bhookhun, contacted Lindsey Collen of LALIT for an interview on the theme, of all things, of “free expression”. Lindsey agreed. The interview was done, as planned. The content was very measured. Both interviewer and interviewee were satisfied, in terms both of breadth and depth touched during the process of the interview. But it was not published the day it was due. The journalist waited a week. Still no sign of her article. When she enquired why there was the delay, she was informed that it was not possible to publish it because of the content. The irony is that this particular interview, in measured tones, was on the theme of “free expression”.

So, that is three examples:
1. A journalist makes an offer of an interview to a LALIT member, then, when the offer is accepted, is forced to withdraw it half-an hour before the meeting.
2. A journalist actually goes ahead and does an interview with a LALIT member, then it is never published. The journalist concerned remains silent until, months later he has to invent a lame excuse when challenged by a LALIT member.
3. A journalist actually goes ahead and does an interview with a LALIT member, then it is not published. The journalist makes her enquiries, and informs the LALIT member in writing of exactly why the interview was suppressed. She acted with integrity, in the face of the dictatorship of the management.

With the MBC-TV and Radio thoroughly censored by the State, and with private press empires, too, using censorship, it sure is time for society to demand, to claim as a right, a proper democratic control over the media. Unfortunately most of the social media, like Facebook, pose other problems: the weight of anonymity, including secret service full-timers under false identities by the dozen each, and the question of the actual ownership of contributors’ material being in the hands of private companies, that sell it and cede it brazenly to the secret services by granting them what they call “back doors”. The man who gathered together the Tahir Square protest in Egypt that actually overthrew Mubarak, for example, was working for Google, gathering addresses for his bosses. He apologised publicly on Egyptian TV later. But all the articles about this seem to have been blown off the web. LALIT down-loaded some, at the time, fortunately. So, the social media has limitations for politics.

So, new ways of communicating will need to be developed. The theoretical work of Raymond Williams on this will be of help, because he pioneered work on how to de-code manipulation by vested interests. Emails, web-sites, and youtubes go some of the way to achieving new ways of communicating, especially when they are used in conjunction with face-to-face meetings, traditional leaflets, and so on. It certainly is a challenge to parties like LALIT, which have the ambition of really tackling the structural inequalities in society, not just pretending there are “pockets” of poverty, and some people “left by the wayside”, and so on, while all is hunky-dory in society.