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Mauritius Media at a Glance: 12 August 2009


What is the agenda of the Media Boss Jean Claude de L'Estrac?

J.C. de L'Estrac is a big boss in the media landscape of the region: he employs over 600 people in various newspapers and radio in Mauritius, and over 150 people in Madagascar. He runs his little empire with an iron fist, as various journalists and radio animators can testify, even imposing the permanent use of the French language by his staff in the corridors, staircase, and other parts of the buildings. He has temporarily accepted to be part of the state apparatus, in the Empowerment Foundation, and has unsuccessfully thrown occasional glances in the direction of the Reduit. Clearly the man is not lacking in ambition.

So why should the Executive Director of several newspapers, who occasionally writes bombastic editorials in his own newspapers, recently give long interviews to other competing papers, interviews that are sometimes even "solicited" by L'Estrac himself. Those interviews have been given after he has resigned as Chairman of the Empowerment Foundation Steering Committee, and after he has started a court case against the present Lalyans Sosyal Government, for the arbitrary and discriminatory award of paid official communiques to different newspapers. So what is this political agenda of de L'Estrac that cannot be transmitted through normal editorials in his own newspapers, or on the Friday afternoon "in-house" programs of Radio One?

In the first interview in the Week End newspaper on Sunday 10 May 2009, a strange place to announce such a momentous decision, we learn that L'Estrac is preparing to withdraw from the direction of the L'Express, at the end of 2009. He equally makes public his close relations with Cuttaree, and the evening he spent with a well-known trade union "leader" on Labour Day. Presumably the latter disclosure is an acknowledgement of the public compliment that the same trade union "leader" paid to him, de L'Estrac, in a workers demonstration at the Champ de Mars on Saturday 28 March 2009, when he was referred to as "kamarad de L'Estrac, enn kamarad apre tu". Still, quite a remarkable encounter, especially on Labour Day, between a trade union leader and a big boss who employs 750 workers: what on earth could they have discussed over a glass of good wine? Perhaps the answer may be found somewhere in the further disclosures in the Week End interview: in reply to a question as to whether the capitalist class had apparently expressed a wish that de L'Estrac should take over control of the MMM, he replies that there are many people in the immediate surroundings of the MMM who would like him to be involved in the setting up of a "real opposition force", because there are people who feel the need to be represented, who would like somebody to tend to their anxieties. The interpretation, be it communal or class, of this statement is deliberately left open by L'Estrac.

In the next interview, in the "People" magazine, L'Estrac confirms his old authoritarian attitudes when he states, in an "I had a dream" style, that he would like to be the Lee Kwan Yu of Mauritius. In the third interview in Mauritius Times, he goes on to say how happy he is whenever he happens to be in Singapore ("a civilised country"), where Lee Kwan Yu made sure that squatters and street hawkers were dealt with "appropriately", where buses and trains run on time (just what people said in Nazi Germany!). Unfortunately the Mauritius Times interviewer did not ask L'Estrac his opinion on the way Lee Kwan Yu dealt with the Singapore trade union movement: this would no doubt have been very interesting reading for his "comrade", the Mauritian trade union leader. Although the question about the atrociously repressive treatment of trade unions by the Lee Kwan Yu Regime was not asked, we have to read between the lines once again: according to de L'Estrac, the political leader who came closest to turning Mauritius into the "Singapore of the Indian Ocean" was without any doubt Anerood Jugnauth, who knew how to put "quelques recalcitrants .. au pas". Of course we all know the way SAJ dealt with the trade union movement: even our "trade union leader" must remember that. Talk about "comrades"!

In the Mauritius Times interview, we get a better idea of the possible political agenda of de L'Estrac: he cannot see the present MMM surviving the after-Berenger period. Is de L'Estrac preparing the after-Berenger MMM? He is clearly establishing the necessary linkages for that: people around the MMM, influential trade union leaders who are competing madly for the same terrain that Gregoire occupies, and especially an economic editorial line in the L'Express that must reassure the bourgeois class. Resigning from the La Sentinelle direction at the end of 2009, and at the same time positioning himself in opposition to the present government, leaves very little to speculation.

RS 12 August 2009