Plummeting standards

We owe it to the people and the country to take back ownership of decisions to urgently set things right

 

Paying homage this week at Les Invalides to Simone Viel, past French Minister and President of the European Parliament who passed away last week, for her immense contribution, the French President, Emmanuel Macron proudly said: ‘Madame, votre grandeur fut la nôtre.

The sentiment of pride whenever one’s country excels or its illustrious citizens take path breaking initiatives for the common good is legitimate As Mauritians we also take pride whenever our country shines, whether it is in terms of economic performance, on our battle to regain sovereignty over Chagos (arbitrarily excised from our territory) or in international sports.

However, of late, kudos and plaudits from the people have dried up as standards in the country in too many areas have plummeted. In politics and in the economy. In society, with the tentacular proliferation of all types of harmful drugs in the country, the erosion of moral values, a rise in sordid crimes and a deteriorating law and order situation.

No to inept propaganda

A glaring and exasperating example of plummeting standards in the country is the current appalling tenor of the prime time news bulletin aired daily on the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation. Since the advent of TV in 1965, people have had a daily tryst with the evening 7.30 TV news bulletin, (and the morning 7.30 radio news). Despite limited means, a more modest format of prime time news had been conceptualized by the pioneers of the MBC as from 1965 according to a template modelled on international news channels such as the BBC news. The prime objective of the news bulletin was to inform and keep TV viewers abreast of key items of local and international news, sports headlines and the weather, in an informative, interesting and succinct format.

However, over the ensuing decades after independence, the national broadcasting station has been systematically undermined and sapped by political interference and straight jacketed. Under the present government, the standard of prime time news has plummeted abysmally. It has lost objectivity, which is the hallmark of the best international news channels in the world. A key element of a vibrant democracy has simply been snuffed.

The present format of the 7.30 pm prime time news financed from public funds has been blithely converted into an abject, partisan and costly government propaganda machine in the best traditions of Goebbels. For the people who are more and more shying away from the inept and tiresome daily propaganda blitzkrieg on national TV, it is above all a terrible let down. Their window on the world has peremptorily been closed shut.

Succinctness which is a key element of good news reporting seems banned. Why on earth can’t events attended and speeches made by the Prime Minister and some from the government front bench be succinctly reported as is the case in the prime time news bulletin of major channels in the world? This is the more flabbergasting as most of these events and speeches are assiduously covered live by the MBC.

Adhering to norms

In contrast, all international news channels aired only one or two sentences of Emmanuel Macron’s moving speech in homage of Simone Veil this week or from President Donald Trump’s momentous speech warmly welcoming India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his state visit to the United States last week. Why should events and speeches extensively aired on prime time TV news be repeatedly rehashed in the news again on the next day? What is particularly galling is when the newscaster sheepishly announces after a lengthy and tiresome reporting of such events that ‘a more detailed report of the event will be presented on the next day’! Le ridicule ne tue plus.

Why on earth should there be extensive coverage of parliamentary sessions and lengthy statements by government ministers on prime time news when a dedicated TV channel already provides live coverage of parliamentary sessions? BBC news only reports succinctly on important parliamentary decisions.

It cannot get worse than this. All this is so daft and counterproductive. Such patently lame indoctrination cannot be a proxy for a test of legitimacy of the government through general elections. No wonder more and more people are shunning the news aired on local TV and swiftly changing channels. This inept daily tom-tomming is just not on.

All this daily rigmarole is eons distanced from the format and content of the prime time news on the world’s major broadcasting channels such as the BBC, CNN, Euronews or Sky News. These channels focus on content, treating all items of news objectively in a well balanced manner and provoke thought through expert analysis. They are above all informative, succinct and capture the viewers’ interest. In an extremely competitive market environment marked in recent years by the inroads made by social media, this is a winning recipe to maintain the loyalty of their very often captive audience. With the help of technological advances, news bulletins have also become more interactive with their audience through social media and constantly benefit from video and audio inputs from the ubiquitous smart phones.

There is an organic connect between the best news channels and their loyal audiences.

No cause for cheers

Another area of falling standards which require immediate attention is the level of comfort of passengers aboard our national carrier Air Mauritius. Anybody travelling on other airlines or changing airlines on long haul flights to say New York can immediately experience the stark difference in comfort in terms of leg space, better seat model, quality of the entertainment programme and the on board video/audio equipment or the quality of food and beverages offered on board. The leonine conditions attached to the frequent flyer programme are also not benchmarked in a competitive manner.

For the multitude that have loyally flown Air Mauritius, this sub standard travel experience on lengthy 11-12 hour flights is totally unacceptable. This is the more so as in too many instances the video/audio equipment is faulty and duty free items advertised in the onboard duty free brochure are out of stock. This is equally the experience of a large proportion of the increased number of some 1,350,000 tourists expected to visit us this year, who opt to travel by Air Mauritius.

In a context of sombre economic outlook highlighted by Statistics Mauritius last week where the only silver lining seems to be the tourists inflow, it is vital that urgent steps are taken to significantly upgrade the level of comfort, leg space, service on board and travel experience aboard Air Mauritius to standards which are materially superior to that of the competition and aligned on the best benchmarks prevailing in the business. This will above all provide much needed competitive advantage to Air Mauritius.

We must not forget that a long flight aboard Air Mauritius is the first glimpse and experience of the tourist with the country, its norms and benchmarks, its standards of on board service, its culture, its culinary fare and its sense of hospitality. Everything must be done to ensure that the travel experience is excellent and an insight into the special joys and unique delight of holidaying in Mauritius. Air Mauritius must likewise revisit its frequent flyer programme and align it to the best benchmarks in the business. Such an approach will help boost tourist arrivals and occupancy rates on planes and hotels in a context where some key players in the sector had registered mixed results last year.

In a fiercely competitive market place, pervasive plummeting standards can surely not be the way forward. Falling standards have ordained and scripted a lacklustre economic performance for too long. Last week’s Statistics Mauritius report depicts a grim picture of a faltering economy. As a nation, this is not a record we can be proud of. We owe it to the people and the country to take back ownership of decisions to urgently set things right.

Mrinal Roy

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