Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Monica Narula, Ravi Vasudevan, Ravi Sundaram,
Jeebesh Bagchi & Awadhendra Sharan[Sarai]
+ Geert Lovink
Cover & Design: Renu Iyer @ Sarai Media Lab
496 pages, 14.5cm X 21cm
Paperback: Rs.295, US$15, €15
“The darkest, hottest place in hell waits for that repulsive angel choir
Which, at the hour when crisis strikes, sings equivocal, neutral songs”.
Dante, Inferno, Canto III.
From the very beginning of this century, we have hurtled on as if from crisis to crisis. The images of entire cities being bombed into submission from the air, of planes crashing into skyscrapers, of neighbourhoods aflame, of occupying armies and fleeing civilians, of suicide bombers, ethnic cleansing, and riot police assaulting unarmed demonstrators have branded themselves onto our consciousness with mounting frequency. These are the substance of the meditations of all our mornings, as we pick up the day’s newspaper, switch on the radio in the kitchen, or the television in the living room, or log on to the internet. These are times for sober reflection, and that, precisely, is what we often find missing, as newscasters, editors and experts – contemporary versions of Dante’s “repulsive angel choir” – sing their ‘equivocal, neutral songs’, every day, every night.
Such times demand an urgent renewal, rather than the abdication, of critical sensibilities in media practice. Ranjit Hoskote, in the essay that opens the arguments of this
collection, reminds us that the two words – ‘crisis’ and ‘critique’ – “derive from the same Greek root: krinein, to decide. But where ‘crisis’ denotes the forcing of an individual decision by structural compulsions, ‘critique’ connotes an autonomy of decision, a power of reflexive agency on the part of an individual”.
A commitment to critique is based on the assumption that, when it comes to the things that are most important to us, dissent, difference and disagreement are of far greater value than bland consensus. But passionate commitments need not detract from sobriety. Muzamil Jaleel writes, in concluding his reflection on being a reporter in Kashmir, “We have to have a sense of the boiling point and keep our writing always a few degrees below that threshold ... Flow like a river and follow events as they happen”.
Jaleel is not arguing for reticence, but for an act of bearing witness that remains partisan to what it sees, while ensuring that its narratological credibility can survive to bear the burden of the story that it seeks to tell. This is the difference between ‘safe’ and ‘engaged, but responsible’ practice. The crucial difference between self-censorship and self-reflexivity.
This accumulation of situations of crisis and their rapid, almost real-time, dissemination in the media, has no doubt precipitated new opportunities for communicative action and global reflection, just as they have signalled an onset of a severe crisis within the media – a crisis of over-stimulation and under-statement, of exaggeration and exhaustion, of censorship and spin-doctoring, of fear and favour. The overproduction of crises perhaps leads to a deeper malaise, a persistent and growing lack of attention to what we, in this book, call the ‘Deep Instabilities’ of our times.
Arundhati Roy, while talking of the need to be cautious about the media’s notion of crisis, the media’s obsession with war, television-friendly images of disaster and conflict, and a ‘critical mass’ of the dead and the dying, says, “For most people in the world, peace is war – a daily battle against hunger, thirst and the violation of their dignity. Wars are often the end result of a flawed peace, a putative peace. And it is the flaws, the systemic flaws in what is normally considered to be ‘peace’, that we ought to be writing about. We have to, at least some of us have to, become peace correspondents instead of war correspondents. We have to lose our terror of the mundane”. In variation, we could add: crisis is a state of normality, with stability and prosperity the exception.
Having lost our terror of the mundane, is it possible for us to begin to debate and problematize the whole notion of ‘representation’ itself? The routines of the ‘expert’, the ‘victim’, the ‘star campaigner’, the ‘primary witness’ and even the ‘special correspondent’ are
often deemed necessary to give reality the burnish of crisis in order to make it newsworthy. Can we wrest the desire for attention to reality back from the grip of the need for constant crisis?
This is true not only in situations where, peace, clearly is war, but also in situations that are perhaps best described as ‘lapsed crises’. Lapsed in the sense that they have gone under the radar, and hence, for all intents and purposes, do not exist. This is what Meena Nanji has to say about Afghanistan today. “Afghanistan doesn’t really make the headlines anymore, unless one of the hundreds of international aid workers or American troops is attacked, or more than thirty Taliban are killed ... We hear nothing of the struggles of everyday life, the small, mundane things that are made almost insurmountable by the destruction wrought during the last twenty five years of war. We hear little about how people manage without running water, without electricity, little of the ‘reconstruction effort’ its successes and failures. We hear little of the Afghan women who were so recently asked to galvanize the US call to war”.
These are open questions, with no satisfactory and coherent answers, but Sarai Reader 04 would like to take them on, so as to map new territories of thought about media practice.
sarai READER 04
sarai READER 04
Bearing Inconvenient Witness: Notes in Pro/Confessional Mode - Ranjit Hoskote
Peace is War : The Collateral Damage of Breaking News - Arundhati Roy
Financialization, Emotionalization and Other Ugly Concepts - Toby Miller
Interventionist Media in Times of Crisis - Soenke Zehle
Western Wars and Peace Activism: Social Movements in Global Mass-Mediated Politics - Martin Shaw
Let us become Children ! Training, simulations and kids - Kristian Lukic
What is to be done? - Bhrigupati Singh
Disreputable and Illegal Publics : Cinematic Allegories in Times of Crisis - Ravi Vasudevan
Protesting Capitalist Globalization on Video - Oliver Ressler
Barcelona Pictures - Sasja Barentsen
From One Crisis to the Next : The Fate of Political Art in India - Nancy Adajania
On Representing the Musalman - Shahid Amin
Machines Made to Measure : On the Technologies of Identity and the Manufacture of Difference - Raqs Media Collective
CRISIS MEDIA - CASE STUDIES
Media representations of the Kargil War and the Gujarat riots - Subarno Chatterji
Small Town News - Taran N. Khan
‘Out of the Box’ : Telelvisual Representations of North East India - Daisy Hasan
Lost in Transit : Narratives and Myths of The Crash of Egypt Air Flight 990 Crash in Egyptian and American Newspapers - Mahmoud Eid
Of Nasty pictures and “Nice Guys”: The Surreality of Online Hindutva - Christiane Brosius
Media Looking Beyond Crisis? The Urdu/Pakistani Press in New York after 9/11 - Rehan Ansari
Tried by the Media : The S A R Geelani Trial - Nandita Haksar
“I saw it on CNN so it must be true...wrong !” - Craig Etcheson
“CNN made me do (Not Do) it” Assessing Media Influence on US Interventions in Somalia and Rwanda - Lyn S. Graybill
Left To Their Own Devices -The Impact of Informal Information and Communication Networks on Security in the Tanzanian Refugee Camps - Amy West
Readers vs. Viewers - Ivo Skoric
Cracks in the Urban Frame: The Visual Politics of 9/11 - Ranjani Mazumdar
Truth telling, Gujarat and the Law - Arvind Narrain
CAUTION: REPORTERS AT WORK
Massacres and the Media : A Field Reporter Looks Back on Gujarat 2002 - Darshan Desai
The Everyday Life of the Srinagar Correspondent : Reporting from Kashmir - Muzamil Jaleel
A Reporter in Prison - Iftikhar Gilani
Covering Kashmir : The Datelines of Despair - Basharat Peer
Mumbai(Dongri)-Gujarat-Mumbai-Kashmir : Pages from my Diary - Zainab Bawa
WAR CORRESPONDENCES: FIRST PERSON PLURAL
Thoughts on Afghanistan in Five Parts - Meena Nanji
On Experiencing Afghanistan - Daphne Meijer
The Afghan eXplorer : http://compcult.media.mit.edu/afghan_x/ - The Computing Culture Research Group - MIT Media Lab
Waiting : Entries from a Filmmakers Diary in and around Tel Aviv - Annabel Faroqhi
Last E mail from the Gaza Strip - Rachel Corrie
The Guerrila News Network's Documentaries - Interview with Stephen Marshall - Geert Lovink
Synchronicities : Baghdad/Delhi - Anand Vivek Taneja
Portrait of a Day in Baghdad - Paul Chan
Diary of a News Cameraman : Baghdad, July 2003 - Shakeb Ahmed
Rescued Pages of War Sense - Tarun Bhartiya
Politics in the Picture : Witnessing Environmental Crises in the Media - Sanjay Kak
The Toxic Times of India :The Plastic Monster and a State of Emergency - Ravi Agarwal 1 2
Evictions - Projections : Watching Dharmendra in Suburban Lagos - Hansa Thapliyal
Remembering SARS in Beijing : The Nationalist Appropriation of an Epidemic - Sanjay Sharma
Mediated Guilt : The Illusion of Participation in Delhi’s Social Welfare Advertisements - Omar Kutty
Journey through a Disaster : A Filmmaker’s Account of the Gujarat Earthquake, 2001 - Batul Mukhtiar
CYBERMOHALLA STREET LOGS
LOG OO1, 20th October, 2003 - Dakshinpuri Cybermohalla Media Lab
INFORMATION = POLITICS
P2P : Power to the People - Janko Röttgers
War in the Age of Pirate Reproduction - Nitin Govil
Floss and the ‘Crisis’ : Foreigner in a Free Land? - Martin Hardie
Introducing AIDC as a Tool for Data Surveillance - Beatriz Da Costa + Jamieson Schulte + Brooke Singer
Anagrams of Orderly Discorder (For the New Global Order) - Geoff Cox, Joasia Krysa + Adrian Ward
The Tools and Tactics of A Festival : Looking Back at N5M4 - David Garcia
The Revenge of Lowtech : Autolabs, Telecentros and Tactical Media in Sao Paulo - Ricardo Rosas
Reasonable Restrictions and Unreasonable Speech - Lawrence Liang
‘The Whole Constitution Goes for Six” : Legislative Privileges and the Media - Sudhir Krishnaswamy
Censorship Myths and Imagined Harms - Shohini Ghosh
Homeless Everywhere : Writing in Exile - Taslima Nasrin
Manifesto Against Labour - Gruppe Krisis
Digital Declaration - Infossil Corrective