Exclusive interview with Maxim Behar ‘Well-controlled risk is bringing only benefits to Seychelles’ |11 May 2021
● Freedom of press is one of the greatest achievements of Seychelles’ democracy
A globally renown public relation expert, Maxim Behar is Seychelles’ Honorary Consul General in Bulgaria since 2004, and is a great friend of our country.
He is the co-founder of Seychelles News Agency and creator of the new modern online web look of the Seychelles NATION. He is also a Harvard Kennedy School graduate, president of the World Communications Forum in Davos, Switzerland and founder and owner of the leading PR company in Bulgaria ‒ M3 Communications Group, Inc.
In his capacity of Seychelles’ honorary consul, Mr Behar is a chairman of PR and Media Committee of the World Federation of Consuls (FICAC) and also vice-president and speaker of the Association of Honorary Consuls in Bulgaria. His book ‘The Global PR Revolution’ is one of the best sellers on Amazon and was ranked in the top 10 of PR books of all time.
Mr Behar has been here for the past weeks and Seychelles NATION caught up with him for this exclusive interview.
Seychelles NATION: You are a faithful visitor to the Seychelles and the last time you were here before the present visit was two-and-a-half years ago. What is your opinion of how the country has developed?
Maxim Behar: I have been coming to Seychelles on a very regular basis for the past almost 20 years and if I may compare the country then and now… it is not only a different country, but also in my opinion even different planet. First, market ‒ is much more developed and people totally accepted the great power of competition. This is crucially important not only for the local people, but also for the tourists – new hotels, bars and restaurants have been opened, many more beautiful guest houses, dive centres are more modern, and many more services are being offered.
But the main change is the people. Of course, Seychellois people are traditionally very positive, hardworking, smiling and hospitable, but the young generation now is the one who is digitally committed. Almost 70 percent of Seychellois are on social media these days, which is not only a record for Africa, but also shows that our country is much more ahead than many more countries in the entire world. First of all, it means nothing else but a lot of knowledge and wider horizons for the majority of the population. Secondly, there are more possibilities for marketing, promotion and higher degree of modern business.
Last year’s elections also showed that the democracy is working very well and the voters wanted change and much faster development of the country. So, to make the long story short, I am very, very positive about the future of Seychelles and this is not an artificial optimism only. People of Seychelles are changing this country fast and what is very good this change is based on the willingness to keep clean and untouched the beautiful nature and also the unique Creole traditions.
Seychelles NATION: What is your opinion of Seychelles' fight against Covid-19?
Maxim Behar: It was almost unbelievable for me to see how strict and disciplined people are here. For the past ten days we did not enter a single place without having our temperature checked and asking for names and mobile numbers. In the beautiful guest house at Beau Vallon where we stay, every morning we have a temperature check, masks are obligatory everywhere and I see often people wearing them even on the beach. I can clearly say that Seychelles is keeping the right measure much better than any other country in the world and this is thanks to the understanding of all the people that this is the only way to prevent the spread of deaths. And of course the level of vaccination is one of the highest in the world and it makes all of us very proud. It is important to keep the same momentum and at the end of the day there is no pandemic in the whole human history which had been overcome without vaccine. The massive information about the need for all people to be vaccinated and very proactive governmental measures will help a lot for sure. But still, many more countries in the world can learn and implement “the lessons of Seychelles” in the fight against the pandemic.
Seychelles NATION: Do you think the government made the right decision to open the country to the outside world at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is still creating havoc?
Maxim Behar: The government undoubtedly took a well-controlled risk to help the Seychellois people and economy. It was simply a must. Business must continue its usual existence and it is crucial for the people these days. Of course, the recent picture with the increase in the number of positive cases is worrying, but for sure it was not unexpected. During the past couple of days, I met very high level and responsible people from the government, and I really felt their care and also knowledge how to keep the best balance between the open economy, new tourists coming in every day to the islands, strict hygienic measures and also securing relevant and professional health support to the whole population. Observing many other states in Europe I must admit that it is a great challenge for the new Seychelles government, but also for the whole country. You know, a couple of years ago I published a book with 111 rules of life from my perspective and experience and the first “rule” in the book is “Worst decision is better than no decision”. Something very similar is happening now in Seychelles and I am sure the government understands how important it is for the country on one hand to open for tourists and business and on the other hand stopping the spread of the disease. But we must not forget that this fragile situation cannot be the responsibility of the government of Seychelles only, it must be a priority of the whole population, of every single Seychellois and this is the only way to see the country getting out of this challenge stronger, more united, and better developed.
Seychelles NATION: As an experienced PR consultant do you think patriotic journalism has its place in this day and age?
Maxim Behar: Journalism has changed a lot over the past decade, this is the reality. Social media gave the chance to everyone to test their writing abilities, to own a place for sharing opinions, to like and to hate and even to spread fake news. All people now own media and – unfortunately – all of them think that they are editors in chief, which is not the case. Talking about real journalism ‒ I do not know of any patriotic journalism, of course in the best professional meaning of this term. My long years of journalistic experience show that the most important element in the profession is to tell the truth and to defend not only the global human values and standards, but also to pay attention to the local traditions and relations. It is widespread truth that the world becomes smaller and much more global and international and social media have important drive in this process. And now this is the real professionalism of modern journalism – to differentiate the global trends with the local necessities, interests, traditions and relation.
Seychelles NATION: What is your opinion of the quality of journalism in Seychelles?
Maxim Behar: Modern, stylish, very professional, and fully democratic. In all media I am following every day, no matter where I am in the world, I can see exchange of different opinions, serious domestic and international analysis and good journalistic arguments. The professional abilities of the journalists in the country have grown over the past decades and there is something I have observed with great satisfaction – the tone of hate and negative opinion these days is much lower and articles with positive points and good arguments with debates are prevailing. It is obvious that almost all the media profession is moving online and very soon, sorry to say this exactly here, in the pages of my lovely Seychelles NATION, but the paper body of the newspaper sooner or later will disappear one day, the news will be transferred online as it is much faster, and we all know that it is already happening. It will require completely new abilities of the modern journalist, to be much better prepared, to read a lot, to make notes and to be competitively knowledgeable, so they can react in minutes and deliver the proper content to their readers. Journalists in Seychelles have proven their professionalism for years and I am sure they will do it in the future.
Seychelles NATION: Seychelles climbed 11 places to 52nd place on the World Press Freedom index. What according to you should be done to further improve the ranking?
Maxim Behar: Just two simple words with capital letters – Great Success! And – congratulations to all of you, government, journalists, and readers! Freedom of the media is one of the most important elements of a well-developed democracy. This is a sign of a real freedom, of significant growth of the overall understanding of the importance of media. If you look at the index you can see numerous countries with very developed democracies dropping in the ranking and it makes me feel even more proud of the achievement of Seychelles. In my opinion, the founding of the Seychelles News Agency and the new online platform of the Seychelles NATION have had significant input in this reality. Both media are very modern, professional and independent and with the new software platform and professional content now the whole world knows this much better.
Seychelles NATION: Do you think there should be laws to regulate social media?
Maxim Behar: Hmm… This question is these days under discussion in the whole world. Using and living in social media is similar to driving a car. If you follow the rules and drive correctly, all passengers and people on the road will be safe and your driving license will be clean. From that point of view the probable answer could be “yes”. But due to my nature and heart in keeping the freedom I would say “no”. Sooner or later the formula will be found. Social media created real revolution in the world and this process is still developing. I am sure that fake news for sure must be controlled by the law, even more – they must be criminalised and treated by the penalty code according to the damage they do. If the regulations start with controlling fake news and also with personalisation of each profile account, I am sure everything will fall into place very soon. Freedom of the media, also social ones, start with sharing opinion, stories, and positions with your real identity ‒ name, pictures and opinions. This process is inevitable.
Seychelles NATION: Seychelles' economy is based on tourism. Do you think tourism will get back to the previous high level?
Maxim Behar: Absolutely! Tourism will continue to be crucially important for Seychelles’ economy and wellbeing of the people and the pandemic will make it much stronger, more competitive, and even more innovative. All we know is that the world has changed a lot over the past 14 months and will never be like it was before. Tourists will be much more careful in their travel plan and will look for clean, hospitable, and reliable destinations. Seychelles undoubtedly is exactly such a destination, and I am sure will be forever. We will see more tourists in the coming months and years coming to our beaches and adoring our nature and even though I think the pandemic is now making Seychelles much more different than other destinations, which are exotic indeed, but parts of these countries are dirt and with not very well-maintained nature. We have to be very proactive in promoting our advantages – clean air, great beaches and always hospitable people ‒ now to give us much higher advantage in the world tourism ranking.
By Gerard Govinden