[Reader-list] [Announcements] 4 Updates to Crisis/Media Workshop

rachel magnusson rachel at sarai.net
Tue Dec 31 02:47:18 IST 2002

Four Updates to Crisis/Media Workshop:


For updates, notices, and schedules from now until the workshop, 
check www.sarai.net/events/crisis_media/crisis_media.htm  Links to 
various interesting resources and readings are also available from this 

* Presentations:

Apart from previously scheduled presentations, the workshop will 
feature some open sessions. If you are interested in making a 
presentation in one of the open sessions, please send a brief 
description of what you want to do to crisis-media at sarai.net 

*Support for Travel and Accommodation:

In general, we will not be able to cover any transport or accommodation 
costs, for coming to Delhi for the workshop, or for staying in Delhi. If you 
need a letter of support from Sarai, in order to raise funding for a trip that 
you are planning, then we will be happy to send you one. Write to 
rachel at sarai.net asking for a letter of support.

*Full Description:

CRISIS/MEDIA : The Uncertain States of Reportage 
Workshop at Sarai New Media Centre, Delhi, March 3-5, 2003

"The hottest place in hell is reserved for those 
who tried to stay neutral in times of crisis..."

The Inferno, Dante Alighieri 

Ever since the events of September 11, the image of a  world in crisis is 
something that we have  grown accustomed to. It is not as if crises have 
not had global dimensions before. Perhaps all that is different is the 
frequency, intensity and reiteration of the reportage of  crises, an 
epidemic of images and data of a world out of sorts with itself, which 
marks and distinguishes the contemporary moment on a global scale. 
In times like this to attempt to be 'objective' or 'neutral' is to become a 
mercenary of power, a purveyor of platitudes. At the same time, we have 
little understanding of the complex professional and ethical dilemmas 
that bedevil the act of the media's bearing witness to our world. The 
crisis in the media are the crisis of the media. 

The rise of new information technologies has ensured that crises are 
reported and commented upon even as they unfold on our television 
screens, radio programmes, newspaper pages and computer 
monitors. The trailers advertising news programmes have made 
images of war, violence, terrorism and disaster the staple diet of the 
twenty first century's quotidian sense of the world. Each bulletin 
anticipates tomorrow's, or the next bulletin's crisis, the very next crisis. 
So that the breaking news may break even, all day, everyday. And yet, 
often, they are relinquished to the oblivion from which they emerged, as 
rapidly as they emerged. 

If the spectacle of the crisis becomes quotidian, banal and 
commonplace, does it make sense to speak of a "crisis" anymore, as a 
temporally distinct phenomenon, a time apart from the rhythms of 
normal time? Or does this overproduction of crises give us an 
opportunity to reflect on the making and unmaking of crises, their 
announcement and forgetting? 

Does it allow us to ask questions about media in crisis with 
themselves, about their offerings of uncertain truths to shadowy 
audiences. In what way do emerging alternative paradigms of reporting 
and commenting on crises, like the Indymedia Network, themselves 
become the raw material for mainstream news processing. Where do 
the lines between the mainstream and the alternative harden, and 
where do they blur? Has the "broadcast" model, which was the 
mainstay of the big media business, proved to be too bulky and too 
conservative in a world in which things change by the minute? Has the 
internet really made it possible for correspondents to be 
co-respondents to the realties of a changing world?

To reflect on these and other related issues, Sarai : The New Media 
Initiative at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi and 
the Society for Old and New Media, Amsterdam will be hosting a three 
day international seminar titled - "Crisis/Media :  The Uncertain States of 

This conference will deal with both the ways in which media 
cover/create/manage spectacular crisis events and also how they deal 
with the aftermath of crises. One of the aims of the conference is also to 
shift the focus of reflection away from simply looking at the 'event' of the 
crisis to looking at the structural processes that anchor what gets 
reported as 'the crisis', in everyday life. 

Typically, the media crews arrive instantly whenever a "Crisis" hits the 
surface of what is constructed as 'Global Consciousness'. Usually, by 
the time this happens, the locally available human, cultural and 
intellectual resources available in that society have been severely 
depleted. This means that the "crisis" is interpreted and made 
intelligible mainly by 'experts'. This also means that the global media 
fails very often to recognize  the varied approaches to "living" the crisis 
that exists on the ground, it also makes the crisis a unique event, 
unrelated to what might be linking it to events and processes 
elsewhere. The "crisis" then gets reported away as an instance of that 
happens to 'other' people and 'other' spaces whose realities are 
fundamentally different form that of those who view the crisis from 
outside. Typically, the crisis is treated as  something that no one, not 
even the people the media crews interview can make sense of, almost 
as if it had no history. Finally, the media brings in celebrity intellectuals 
and pop figures to ethically salvage the event for the viewers as a 
cathartic experience and offer redemption as a therapeutic act. Of 
course no one asks the question as to why no one was paying attention 
to the situation when there were people trying to make sense of it before 
journalists, cultural workers, intellectuals, activists, human rights 
groups and other interlocutors succumbed to the crisis that 
retrospectively seems unfathomable.

The problem cannot of course be posed simply in terms of 'local voices' 
versus 'external reportage'. Local voices may be implicated in the crisis 
itself, and may be either acting to fuel it, or be silenced by it - just as the 
reporter who flies in from elsewhere may either seek to turn the crisis 
into a unique spectacle, bereft of context and history, or, be the 
'necessary outsider', who can be trusted to listen and report in a manner 
that is true to the facts on the grounds without fear or prejudice . 

The imperative of critical, analytical reportage, that tries to weave 
together a complex pattern of voices, motivations, facts and processes 
is a function of sympathy, intelligence, curiosity and a commitment to the 
freedom of information that is neither reducible to 'local knowledge' nor 
to the 'universal' agendas of freedom and justice, but is in each case a 
unique combination of distance as well as intimacy. Each situation 
engenders its own vantage points which can be identified as the 
centres towards which the truth about the crisis tends to gravitate. The 
conference will seek to understand this dynamic of the shifting dynamic 
of truth and its relation to the tensions between closeness and distance, 
the local and the global, the mainstream and the alternative versions of 
the crisis and how it unfolds, as event and as representation.

The conference will bring together media professionals, activists and 
scholars in order to create a dialogue between different kinds of 
approaches and spaces. We hope to learn from different crises about 
the processes that were similar. We will learn from Kosovo about 
Gujarat, and from Gujarat about Rwanda. We will examine structural 
similarities in the restrictions on civil liberties after 9/11 across the 
world, we will also assess how the media makes sense of the 
continuing economic crisis in Argentina. We will examine how popular 
culture and cinema 'memorialize' crisis situations, or, create the 
conditions for selective amnesia. We will view riots in relation to the 
degeneration of everyday life, and see unfolding unreported crises in 
realities that have to do with water, housing, health and the environment. 

Crisis Media will first of all recognize that there is a crisis in and of the 
media, and this cannot be addressed simply by calling for less 
reportage and more analysis. Instead  we will argue for analysis in the 
reportage, and a disruption of the apparatus of centralized and 
centralizing information networks. We need to break down the same 
images that everyone sees, worldwide, in many different ways. And we 
need to find news ways to tell stories, and to distribute the untold story. 
The problem of critical media analysis of global crises so far has been 
to deconstruct the ownership of media and its ideological agenda, 
attempting to uncover a 'truth' of state and corporate control behind the 
news. The conference takes this for granted, and seeks instead to ask 
how we may go beyond it, and how alternative media too can stop 
looking and feeling like cheaply produced versions of mainstream 
media production. Crisis/Media will be taking place exactly one year 
after the events of Gujarat 2002, a crisis that was extensively reported 
and could  be either memorialized or passed over in silence by the 
media as the years go by. 

It has become customary in situations of extreme violence to try and 
make sense of the terror in terms of atavistic and primordial passions, 
in terms well rehearsed in the Huntingtonian theses of the 'Clash of 
Civilizations'. In a peculiar sense, this 'normalizes' the crisis more than 
anything else, so the eruption of  the crisis is seen in terms of  
irreconcilable differences, and the return to normality is seen in terms of 
generous 'cultural' accommodation and reconciliation. Both these 
explanatory moves, of the eruption and of the return to normality, offer a 
way out of a critical analysis of the situations that turn into crises. They 
also offer a way of returning to the 'business as usual' attitude that 
eventually papers over the crisis as preparations are made to unravel 
the 'next' crisis on the world stage. The conference will search for 
paradigms other than the vaguely cultural to understand situations of 
crisis, so that crises can be encountered intellectually on concrete and 
material terms.

The conference will have keynote speakers, panels, public interviews, 
screenings, exhibitions. The event will be audio streamed and video 
fragments will be available after the event as streaming files on the 
website of the Society of Old and New Media. The conference will take 
place at Sarai, Delhi in the first week of March 2003, after the 
presentation of the third Sarai reader on February 28, 2003.

A team at Sarai will document the proceedings of the conference and 
interview the presenters to create a log/journal of the conference. 
Transcripts will be made available on the Waag website. The aim is to 
edit the material into a publication that can become a benchmark in 
thinking about media practice

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