- The Mauritian daily newspaper l'Express this year celebrates its 40th birthday, thus being one of Africa's oldest "living" newspapers. L'Express however has lived through many near-death-experiences.
One of the biggest challenges to the independent newspaper industry in Africa is simply staying alive. The l'Express newspaper in Mauritius has defied the odds, and this year has celebrated its fortieth year of production. This only has been possible due to constant innovation and search for editorial and technical excellence
At this occasion, the African Press Network for the 21st Century (RAP 21) interviewed Jean-Claude de l'Estrac, the newspaper's director and editor-in-chief. Mr de l'Estrac tells RAP 21 the history of the newspaper and the advantages and challenges it has faced since its founding.
Mr de l'Estrac told RAP 21 that l'Express was founded in 1963 by Philippe Forget, who also was the newspaper's first chief editor. "The country was in a state of political turmoil. The political environment was fragmented. The media too. On one side, there were those supporting independence, and on the other were those against it."
In a time of much passion and little reasoning, l'Express wanted to play a new role, tells Mr de l'Estrac. The newspaper asked people "to think about the question: 'Independence, yes, but what should we do with it?' The Express was communicating a message to those who were simply willing to think." Today, Mauritius is undergoing rapid change in a newly industrialised economy, and this is still the role of the l'Express.
RAP 21 asked Mr de l'Estrac which periods in history had presented the biggest challenges to the newspaper's survival. "The beginning was slow," he answers, but l'Express soon found its identity as an independent newspaper that supported the national policy of economic diversification and industrialisation and promoted liberalism.
Further, Mr de l'Estrac recalls in the interview, the early 70s had been a "dark period", marked by a state of emergency and censorship. After that, the newspaper however had continued its "growth, technological development and the diversification of its activities."
Today's major challenges are posed by the great competition on the Mauritian media market, Mr de l'Estrac told RAP 21. "The diversity of titles in printed media - four dailies and a dozen weeklies - the appeal of sensationalist newspapers and the recent emergence of private radio stations may in time inhibit the potential of traditional newspapers in Mauritius. However, this is not yet the case," concludes Mr de l'Estrac.
A secure financial basis for the national daily has been a main factor in securing its long life, admits Mr de l'Estrac. "Rigorous financial management controlled closely by a visionary and modernist board of directors accounts for the financial success of the group," he says.
- Throughout its history, La Sentinelle, the media group which publishes the l'Express, has been able to innovate and take risks when it comes to technology, Mr de l'Estrac told RAP 21. "For example, today, the l'Express uses a totally computerised printing press that can print up to 45,000 copies an hour."
- What are the advantages of being an older, established newspaper? the RAP 21 journalist asked the editor. "Are there any drawbacks?" Mr de l’Estrac says the Express is now a national institution. "Such a position implies a great sense of responsibility that our journalists try to honour."
- The drawback of this is that the public is extremely demanding, he admits. "However, it is also a driving force that pushes us to continually add value to our products, on an ethical as well as on a technical level."
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