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Mauritius Media at a Glance : 11 July 2007


Most newspapers that covered the Preliminary Enquiry on the Vanessa Lagesse case mentionned the statement of the accused B.Maigrot at the hearing of Monday 9 July; he accused a number of newspaper titles of being in some form of conspiracy with the police and the prosecution to declare him guilty, and he produced a number of newspaper cuttings to support his statement.

During the police enquiry, it was obvious to most people that the reporting in the press was very selective and very often biased. So was there a conspiracy? We believe that the conspiracy is in the system.

There is a worldwide tradition that for high profile cases, in which there is widespread public interest, a senior police officer will hold regular press briefings to inform the public of the facts and leads at different stages of the enquiry. This procedure has the double function of informing the public as well as preventing wild speculation, be it through the press or in the market place. But here, what do we have: official and unofficial leaks by different police officers, bits of accused and witness official statements to enquiring officers published verbatim in the papers, statements from unnamed "official sources". This all adds up to possibilities of planned and unplanned manipulations of public opinion, and eventual interference in the process of "fair trial", particularly in assises cases, where the final decision lies with a jury.

The kind of manipulation that B.Maigrot is complaining about could be minimised if there was a system where the press and therefore the public, could be kept regularly informed in a rational manner, of various stages of the enquiry, specially in high profile cases. The press itself should ask for such a system, as should all professional bodies involved in the administration of justice.

But of course the media section that reaches the highest proportion of the public is undoubtly the state-owned MBC, with its main 7.30 pm News Bulletin. Can we expect that the MBC would somehow present things in a rational and unbiased way? After the first 20 minutes of coverage of the Prime Minister in his various activities, 5 minutes of other lesser ministers, 5 minutes of various religious services, there is not much time left for anything else. But perhaps this is all for the better, as it would be too much to expect anything rational and unbiased from the present management team.

But mindless news coverage is no excuse for propagating false news. This is what we saw on the MBC news when they broadcast the Prime Minister's speech from China: he stated that the literacy rate in Mauritius is 88 percent. But the TianLi investors will soon find out the truth, once they start recruiting for their 17 billion development.