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'Beaming it live': 24-hour television news, the spectator and the spectacle of the 2002 Gujarat carnage

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'Beaming it live': 24-hour television news, the spectator and the spectacle of the 2002 Gujarat carnage
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   PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE This article was downloaded by: [Jain, Anuja]  On: 16 July 2010  Access details: Access Details: [subscription number 924495105]  Publisher Routledge  Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK South Asian Popular Culture Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713689797 'Beaming it live': 24-hour television news, the spectator and the spectacleof the 2002 Gujarat carnage Anuja Jain aa Department of Cinema Studies, New York University, New York, USAOnline publication date: 16 July 2010 To cite this Article Jain, Anuja(2010) ''Beaming it live': 24-hour television news, the spectator and the spectacle of the 2002Gujarat carnage', South Asian Popular Culture, 8: 2, 163 — 179 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/14746681003797989 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14746681003797989 Full terms and conditions of use:http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.  ‘Beaming it live’: 24-hour television news, the spectator and thespectacle of the 2002 Gujarat carnage Anuja Jain*  Department of Cinema Studies, New York University, New York, USA Recently, following the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Bombay, the electronicmedia itself became the story. While many commended the extensive 60 hour coverageof the attacks, a debate soon began around the relentless live coverage, and its effect onthe security operations and the government actions. Most importantly there emergedlarger questions about the changing ethics and aesthetics of the electronic media inIndia. My essay proposes to understand this marked shift in the concerns, politics, andmodes of representation by the media by looking at the electronic media representationof the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, the first major Indian riots of the 24-hour television age.I argue that it is with the extensive coverage of Gujarat conflagration, the 24-hournews phenomenon forever changed the representation of ‘crisis’ and its affect withinthe public sphere. Introduction The economic liberalization of 1990s affected two pertinent shifts within the socio-material life of the Indian nation-state – the rapid satellite television expansion, and therise of the new middle class identity. In less than a decade following the 1990s cabletelevision revolution, beset by the simulating images of the Gulf War pouring in livethrough CNN, the coming of STAR with its package of Star Plus, Prime Sports, MTV,BBC and American television shows and Hollywood films in 1991, the launch of Zee TVand its Hindi language based programming in October 1992, by the first decade of thetwenty-first century the satellite television industry grew to be an almost 300 channelindustry, reaching approximately 39 million homes in just 10 years with an estimatedrevenue of Rs. 500 billion (‘Channel Viewing’). Significantly, out of these 106 channelsbroadcasted news in 14 languages and at least 50 were 24-hour satellite news channels,broadcasting news in 11 different languages (Mehta 1). Operating at an interface of capitalism, technological expansion and globalization while these television channelsscoured the skies for satellite space, the dramatic rise of the international private satellitenetworks offering an array of foreign and indigenous cultural products to millions of Indian households ushered in new concerns around national communication systems, andconstructions of ‘local’ cultural identity.With the rapid transformations in media ownership and control, the 2000s not onlyproved to be a watershed in this evolving relationship between the market forces, the newaudio-visual medium and its message, but also between the long standing genealogy of sectarian strife and its representations within the public sphere in India. On 27 February2002 the Sabarmati Express pullingout of Godhra in Gujarat was stoned, and subsequently ISSN 1474-6689 print/ISSN 1474-6697 online q 2010 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/14746681003797989http://www.informaworld.com *Email: anuja.jain@nyu.edu South Asian Popular Culture Vol. 8, No. 2, July 2010, 163–179  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ J ai n ,  A n uj a]  A t : 13 :00 16  J ul y 2010  a coach carrying kar-sevaks returning from Ayodhya was set on fire by an irate mob.The passengers were largely supporters and affiliates of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)returning home after participating in a political rally to mobilize support for beginningconstruction of the Ram temple at the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi – Babri Masjid site inAyodhya by 15 March 2002. 1 Despite the varying accounts about the identity of theattackers and their motives, the Hindu right called for ‘retaliation’ against the Muslims. 2 Consequently, there ensued one of the biggest ever pogroms against the Muslims in India,with women and children as the targets of the violence. 3 This moment of murder andmayhem was much reported by both the electronic and the print media with an immediacyand urgency befitting the magnitude of the genocide that Gujarat witnessed. While manycommended the extensive 24-hour coverage of the genocide, following Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s victory in the assembly elections after the genocide, soon adebate began around the relentless live coverage. Both the media practitioners as well asthe cultural theorists were faced with the urgent questions about the changing ethics andaesthetics of the electronic media in India. My essay analyzes this marked shift in theconcerns, politics, and modes of representation that informed the electronic mediationsof the 2002 Gujarat genocide, the first major Indian riots of the 24-hour television age.I interrogate how the extensive coverage of Gujarat conflagration, the 24-hour newsphenomenon, forever changed the representation of ‘crisis’ and its affect within the publicsphere in India. The essay address questions about the mediation of suffering, the waysin which, informed by the changing social practices, politics of economic and urbanrestructuring and rampant techno-capitalism, satellite television uses new mediatechnologies, and the possible implications of the discourse for its intended spectator.As I articulate the relation between transnational media forms and their socio-politicalcontext, I ask: what are the implications of the emergence of the new electronic mediagenre, and its representation of communalism for understanding the very meaning of theterm ‘communalism’ today? What role does television, especially electronic media, playin re/thinking about the idea and ideals of nation, national identity and secularism in postGujarat India? ‘An ounce of image, a pound of performance’ – debates on the role of the electronicmedia Many media critics and scholars have criticized the role of the 24-hour electronic media,raising questions about the media ethics, and implications of the new media revolutionwithin the country. Many deem the coverage ‘dull and disappointing,’ arguing thatthe broadcasts began commendably with extensive broadcast of the violence from theworstaffectedareas, andattemptedtoshake theviewers,especiallythebourgeoisarmchairspectators by repeatedly showing horrific scenes of ‘middle class women collectingammunition for the battle ahead and otherwise smooth-talking, accomplished peopledriving down their Marutis to loot electronic items from hitherto splendid showrooms’(Salam). However, soon it was the statements of the political leaders and not the actualtragedy, the nature of the violence and its implications that became the lead stories foralmost all the channels. The human death and human dimension of the violence becamemerely statistics. Many others point out that the media was manipulated by the GujaratChief Minister Narendra Modi. Television provided Modi with a ‘national pulpit’ and an‘arena for mass mobilization’ (Desai 228–34; Mehta). Even though much of the nationalmedia coverage of Modi and the partisan role of his government were negative, Modi usedthis to underline the radicalism of his political message and play to his constituency.164 A. Jain  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ J ai n ,  A n uj a]  A t : 13 :00 16  J ul y 2010  He managed to remain in the news by constantly issuing controversial statements, and themedia constantly chased him everywhere. Constantly iterating that the criticism of hisgovernment’s handling of the riots was an attack on 50 million Gujaratis and an insult toGujarati ‘ asmita ’ (pride), in speech after speech he managed to successfully mobilize, andmaintain the anger against the national media.This national-regional manipulation thesis does situate the 24-hour media reportageof the genocide within the evolving relationship between communalism and technologythat defined the post liberalization Indian landscape, and suggests the ways in which newaudiovisual technologies were being used for the purposes of political mobilization andideological indoctrination. However, within the same post liberalization landscape italso becomes imperative to situate and analyze the extensive media representation of thecarnage within the emergence of a wider national socio-political culture, one that ismarked by the shift from the older ideologies of a state managed economy to a middleclass consumption culture. This is not to overlook the tenuousness of deterministicstructures of popular perception and adequate availability of frames to understand massmedia genres like news in the Indian public sphere which is marked by an enigmaticallydiverse media culture. However, this is to underline the significance of the rapid expansionof satellite television, the emergence of 24-hour television news, and their representationalethics and aesthetics is part of the wider array of visual images and public discourses thathave accompanied the economic reforms and policies since the 1990s, and are constitutiveof as well as constituted by the shifting role of the middle class, their attitudes, lifestylesand consumption practices. 4 Henceforth, my essay argues that the analysis of theelectronic media representation of the genocide should be examined as a complexdiscursive formation, situated within the nexus of the economic liberalization that firstbegan in Rajiv Gandhi’s regime in 1980s and has since expanded through the 1990s periodof economic reforms, the new identity constructions of the urban middle classes and theirpatterns of commodity consumption, globalization and technologies of mediation thatcame to inform the Indian social and political life at the time of Gujarat pogrom. Theemergent new moral order following liberalization was one where consumption was nomore ‘a social act in a specific sense; the individual had to be mindful of nationalconstraints, avoid waste, and refrain from self-indulgence’ (Rajagopal ‘The Public Sphere’14). With government policies increasingly promoting middle class consumption, newforms of commodity consumption appropriate for urban lifestyle became patent andconsequently so did new identities, such as those one could call consumer-spectator  .In the post liberalization landscape, right from the emergence of multiplexes as anexclusive space within the historically contested public space of the cinema hall, intendedand consumed by a privileged social group, the desire for the management of public spacealso extended to urban restructuring and constitution of new civic cultures for themiddle classes through beautification projects undertaken by resident associations andcivic organizations in various neighborhoods in metropolises like Mumbai (Fernandez2415–30). The production of middle-class identity was growingly linked to a politics of ‘spatial purification’ which ‘centers on middleclass claims over public spaces and acorresponding movement to cleanse such spaces of the poor and working classes’(Fernandez 2416). Creation of such urban aesthetics was informed not only by strict classbased separations, but it constituted the new public culture where consumerism was notmerely circumscribed to material consumption, but also extended to a new form of visualconsumption. It was the consumption of an excess, the spectacular and its sensationalpleasure – the bright street lighting of urban gated communities, the opulent houses, hugebillboards on the roads, popular Hindi cinema with its new visual landscape where there South Asian Popular Culture 165  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ J ai n ,  A n uj a]  A t : 13 :00 16  J ul y 2010  were neon lights in the background, glossy beverage brands and palatial designer homes inthe foreground, foreign automobiles and locations everywhere, the expensive shiny glassstructures of the shopping malls, and the glittering shop windows with their attractivemannequins. These new practices of looking constituted a new consumer-spectator  whogrowinglycomestoinhabitaworldthatpromisesconstanttransitoryhighintensitystimuli,and informs a public sphere which is selective and rigidly class defined, ‘one which definesthe individual through their consumption, and gives them a sense of belonging’ (Shah 5).Constitutedandconstitutiveofthisleisurecultureanddynamicmediaeconomywasalsothe expandingsatellite television,itsmanytextsandimages.Itwasanothermediumdirectedat the new social group, and was a key facilitator in new trade of images defining thecontours of the transforming relationship between modernity and middle class citizenshipin the Indian society. Unlike Doordarshan which primarily still ‘attempted to reach out tothe masses – and even the rural masses who can’t afford TV sets – with a bizarre mixof programming that satisfies nobody,’ satellite television was definitive about its targetaudience (Sanghavi). As Sanghavi further points out, ‘because the money comes fromadvertising, and because advertisers are only interested in people who are affluent enough toaffordtheir products, most commercialtelevision isdirectedatthe middleclass’(Sanghavi).Thus it was this middle class consumer-spectator in/formed by a consumer capitalism thathad finally succeeded in weaning him away from a ‘strongly entrenched culture of thrifttowards a system of gratification more firmly in its (capitalism’s) own long term control’(Prasad) who was the intended audience of the extensive 24/7 reportage of the genocide.Moreover, as my discussion of the electronic media representations would explicate it isthis consumer-spectator  whoisatthecentreofanewinterfaceofmedia,politicsandmarket,andhas resonating implications for representations of ‘crisis’ and their affect. ‘Beaming it live’: 24/7 phenomenon, the spectator and the spectacle of the 2002Gujarat carnage Within the genealogy of sectarian strife that has always been fraught by concerns anddebates over the representation of emotive and communally charged moments of strifeand mayhem by the televisual apparatus, long standing state monopolized news cultureand consequent censoring of images and idioms of communal strife, the 24-hour newschannels emerged as one of the most popular and propelling agents of the extensivesatellite TV expansion, with particular implications for ‘crisis’ and the context in whichit is mediated and understood. The extensive 24-hour news reportage of the Gujaratgenocide was unambiguously marked by intent to lend visibility to the violence, and showthe failing of the nation-state.Being the first major Indian riot of the 24-hour television age with no prolificprecedents within the Indian media, taking its cue from the American model of September11 media broadcasting, and informed and informing the public culture marked bya rampant ecology of images and use of new image technologies, the reportage wasincessantly marked by a deluge of images of violence: brutally wounded victims, weepingorphaned children, abused and raped women, debilitated houses and other spaces withtraces of human blood and amputated limbs. The attack on the World Trade Centre is saidto be the most photographed disaster in the history, producing a spectacle for a citydesigned to look at itself from spectacular vantage points. The spectacle of 9/11 which wasincessantly photographed and consumed globally was the ultimate ‘Kodak moment’providing ‘flashbulb memories’ to those who were not present at the site of the attack, butwere allowed a powerful sense of having been present for a momentous historical event166 A. Jain  D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ J ai n ,  A n uj a]  A t : 13 :00 16  J ul y 2010
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