Date: 07-19-05

Here is a complete translation from French, the original article is at http://www.lexpress.mu/display_article.php?news_id=30185. (If this webpage has changed, click here and if you did not see 'The Secret Swami' you can click above the blue Swami button.


“The Secret Swami” excites the passions of the Cabinet 

The Cabinet is replacing the IBA, calling for an investigation into a documentary aired by the MBC (Mauritian Broadcasting Company) on Sai Baba. The independence of the State from religion is thereby ridiculed.

The irony is heavy. Four years ago, the governmental alliance committed itself to make the MBC into a “Mauritian BBC”. On Thursday, the Council of Ministers decided to inquire into the re-transmission by the MBC of a documentary made by the BBC. The Cabinet is known to be anxious that this programme aired on a public link “projected a bad image of Sai Baba”. 

The decision of the Cabinet is astonishing. Since Mauritius is a secular state, the executive should affirm its independence of any religion. Yet this principle was rubbished. Reading the official statement of the Council of Ministers can lead to but one conclusion: criticism of Sai Baba is forbidden. 

Comfortably installed in his ashram in the South of India, Sai Baba should appreciate this. Considered to be an avatar, that is to say a divine incarnation on earth, he counts about 30 million faithful followers throughout the world. The movement is well anchored in Mauritius, counting influential members in the higher realms of the Republic among its numbers. Certain members have a large influence on Mauritian policy. 

“The Secret Swami”, the BBC documentary, greatly displeased the excessively pious Sai Baba people in Mauritius. Presenting the hidden sides of this movement, British journalists question former disciples who make major allegations that Sai Baba sexually misused them or their close relations.  

Aired at ca. 22.00 on Wednesday, the documentary would serve nothing but a limited audience. The few disciples of the movement who viewed are shocked and scandalised. The news spread like wildfire. The protests reached the ears of influential members of the government. The following day the matter was taken up as very serious at the Council of Ministers. After all, the Cabinet includes followers of Sai Baba. 

Each Minister is free to choose their religious conviction, as are all citizens. However, he cannot make it a matter of State. Yet this is what the Government did in making the BBC documentary and official item in cabinet discussions. This strategy may held them gain some sympathy with the Sai Baba community, but it also harms its credibility. 

According to current norms, any protest concerning a radio or television sending must be subjected in writing to the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). Admittedly, the Complaints Committee has not sat since April, because its members’ contract was still not renewed, but the procedures did not change. And the Cabinet happily took the place of the IBA. 

Aired in India

Everything has been set in motion at the MBC to answer the questions of the Council of Ministers. Certain facts are already established. The documentary “The Secret Swami” belonged to BBC World, whose transmissions follow on from national British television. It was not sent directly but was recorded on Tuesday to be re-sent on Wednesday evening.- a practice common to international linkages re-broadcast by the MBC; TV5, BBC World and Doordarshan. The only difficulty was that they documentary in question had not been viewed before being re-broadcast. 

At the MBC, one affirms that “someone is partly in the wrong”. This logic does not hold water. By re-sending the programmes of international broadcasters, the MBC wanted to democratise by access to quality programmes. Why censorship? Why should somebody locked in a small office at Forest Side decide what the rest of the population should or should not see? By the logic the State employs, what is good for those who can subscribe to satellite programmes on DSTV is not good for the general public. 

To strengthen the position of the Cabinet, “The Secret Swami” is produced by the BBC, one of the organisations most respected in the world for its ethics. The reputation of the corporation, however, took a bad blow after the Kelly business in 2003, when the journalist Andrew Gilligan produced an imperfect report about the exaggeration by Downing Street of the Iraqi threat. 

Dangerous Liasons 

The Producer’s Guidelines of the British station have since been re-examined. That document dedicates a whole chapter to religious susceptibilities. “The Secret Swami” was even sent in the Indian sub-continent and the Indian Government did not make it a matter of state. The documentary was also re-broadcast by British television in June 2004 without there being a large protest. The Government of Mauritius seems to be more royalist than the king… 

The Sai Baba documentary incident also lifts the veil on the dangerous connections between socio-cultural organizations and the MBC. Wit the passing years, these movements rely on a clause of the MBC act which stipulates that the station must strike the right balance in the allowance of hours of broadcasting relative to culture and the religion. So as to strengthen this, the socio-cultural organizations are looked on as “banks with votes” by the Mauritian political community. They are spared, privileged and cosseted. Over-compensation is obvious, but nobody will want to take the risk of being hurt. 

The result is that the socio-cultural organizations do not cease to influence the programming of the MBC. Some of them became so powerful as to be able to meet the staff of the Street Pasteur whenever they chose. Others are allowed to lose points.

The board of directors of the MBC is content to shrug its shoulders and to sigh that “they are dealing with the realities of Mauritius”. The same is found with other situations like this. Such as the postponed re-broadcast of the match between Man. United and Man. City on Sunday, November 7, which should have been sent direct. The MBC has then decided to satisfy the few leaders of Hindu House instead of the thousands of fans of the FA Cup. Who says that football is the new religion?