One of Senegal’s main newspapers, and the best known outside the country, is Le Soleil. Its most remarkable feature is that it is government-owned, which means that its editorial independence is comparable with Pravda in Soviet times. All content is filtered to be pro-government, or else is simply ignored.
The two main themes are (i) things are getting better in the best of possible worlds, and (ii) some things are not so great but they are beyond the Government’s control and in any case they’re all part of the Government’s plans to bring further improvements. In short, we are in the world of Orwell’s 1984, where “bad” no longer exists when talking about the Government, merely “ungood”.
With the recent flooding in Dakar’s poorer suburbs, Le Soleil provided a number of excellent examples of my description above.
A headline such as the following sets the tone:
FLOODING IN THE SUBURBS: offensive to maintain the gains made
Another example from yesterday’s edition shows how the Le Soleil attempts to present a balanced view. At first we have a hint of discord from a member of a party other than the President’s:
In reaction to the recent flooding, the Popular Front appears to disagree with the plan to restructure the affected neighbourhoods.(source: Le Soleil)
However, what follows is a call to revive an earlier plan (Senegal is rich in plans; results, not so good) to restructure the suburbs, which had been shamefully ignored by the previous socialist government (boo!). That government was voted out of office in 2000, by the way, but is still a useful straw man to beat with all current woes.
By mid-article, the pretense at opposition can no longer be sustained:
Bacar Dia [leader of the Popular Front], who is also Minister of Sports [ah-ha!], remarked that President Wade went directly to the people in the suburbs as soon as he returned from his trip [on holiday in France and Switzerland]. He evaluated the measures that had been undertaken and clarified prospects, according to the Minister, who added that the Head of State will not stop while on such a good path. The Presidential Council on sanitation, held last week, is an eloquent illustration, in his opinion.
In spite of this persistent bias and distortion, I did find one article in yesterday’s edition that could possibly maybe be interpreted as an attack against the government.
Power cuts: Iba Der Thiam questions the Government
In the face of persistent power cuts, Professor Iba Der Thiam, [asked] “What does the Government think of the following suggestion of transforming the constraints of power cuts into a resource?”
It is a question truly worthy of Orwell’s 1984 — pure doublethink.
Thiam acknowledges that power cuts are inevitable [because …?] before citing the situation in Ethiopia, where the Government has to publish a daily roster of the times of power cuts and the areas affected. Such a programme would allow people to plan their days more effectively, Thiam explained at length; thus businesses could reduce falls in productivity and loss in revenue to a maximum (there’s that wonderful doublethink again).
Thiam seems to be a sly fox, however, because his real intention is perhaps not merely to “accentuate the positive”. In his final remarks, he adds that publishing a programme of cuts would allow people to understand that
all neighbourhoods are affected, apart from strategic sectors, and that there is no bias, or favouritism, and no privilege for social status or rich neighbourhoods, to the detriment of the poor areas.
And there is the rub, of course: the Senegalese Government cannot publish such a programme without revealing that such bias and favouritism are exactly how the cuts are managed (read previous post)!
So only in the absence of information can we perceive a glimmer of a reality that Le Soleil never shines on.
It’s a pretty weak light to read by.