Home > Persistence Resistance > The Keynote Address at Persistence Resistance 2010

The Keynote Address at Persistence Resistance 2010

We bring to you the keynote address delivered by the well known columnist and author,  Ms. Sevanti Ninan, at the inaugural ceremony of  Persistence Resistance 2010: A festival of contemporary films.

Creating spaces;

It may seem odd to you as it does to me that a media watch website should be asked to deliver the keynote for a festival of documentary films. But I guess what is common between the emergence of The Hoot some nine years ago, and the emergence of the Persistence Resistance festival in 2008 is the notion of creating a space. Space for something that may not have a commercial logic, and which neither the media industry nor the film industry may make room for in the normal course of things. But something that civil society nevertheless needs to institutionalize for its own sake.

In the media in India in the last two decades we have seen both the opening and closing of spaces. We have discovered that you can have enormous growth, unhindered by the state, and yet lose the diversity you had earlier. There is possibly more sameness now in television entertainment than there was when Doordarshan was the only channel. And also that many more TV channels do not necessarily mean more room for programme experimentation. The channels may be there, but their definition of entertainment may rule out documentary films altogether, even as film channels on television multiply.

I discovered only very recently that the media industry uses the term real estate to denote the space available on channels for programmes. If you have two 24 hr Hindi entertainment channels you have twice the real estate of a TV company that has only one. Why is it real estate? Because it is an electronic space whose commercial potential can be maximized by the kind of programming you do on it. And that is where your highly paid TV channel creative heads come in.

Yet civil society media initiatives if you can call them that, have also blossomed over the same two decades that real estate on TV has grown by many multiples in many languages.

The public service broadcasting trust was created here in Delhi and even if it has had to contend with the vagaries of Doordarshan’s telecast schedules it was a body that could commission film makers to make the kind of films they wanted to. Its next step was to have a festival to show those films. And in recent years many small film festivals have come into existence all creating space for showing films that may not get censor certificates or be able to get commercial releases. Persistence Resistance is one of them. Even more than the film festival the civil society initiative that the Magic Lantern Foundation has taken in becoming a distributor for documentary film makers is part of the process of creating space for what commercial media might not find saleable. It is a space made possible largely by donor funding.

The Internet has created valuable space for film makers too on YouTube and on the site called Witness which hosts videos on human rights violations.

A whole new level of media space is also emerging with the very fledgling community radio movement. It is highly regulated today—the process fraught with needing clearances from many ministries, but for the men and women who live within the radius of these stations a whole new space for expression is opening up and the day will doubtless come when they will push to expand the limits the government has given them. Which is that you cannot have news bulletins on your very local radio station.

The Hoot was set up nine years ago primarily to create the space for media critiques, something that there was no room for in the daily, independent media. The more freewheeling newspapers and TV channels became, the more you needed a watchdog. The Press Council had no teeth, journalists were having a jolly good time in many ways and had no interest in policing themselves, so we had to turn to the web to create the space for writing about the media.

But today there are emerging concerns which go beyond monitoring journalistic performance or ethics. There are tracts of the country where journalists cannot go in to report because the security forces and the naxals keep them out. So you don’t know what is happening to the populations which live there. In some states like West Bengal there is an emerging political culture which drives out journalists from press conferences held by political parties. Why? Because individual journalists are increasingly seen as partisan, and political party workers have become more intolerant.

There are more and more instances every month of censorship by the mob, which is what drove M F Hussain to become the citizen of another country. So in about two weeks from now the Hoot will be unveiling a free speech hub in cyberspace where it hopes free speech violations of every kind in all parts of the country will be flagged. There will be a calendar, and so far we have recorded 9 incidents in the month of January alone.

These range from police detaining journalists and a film maker in Dantewada, snatching their cameras and erasing their footage, the Bombay High court upholding a ban on a book which was imposed by the Maharashtra government, an ULFA diktat to journalists in Guwahati, an attack on a writer in Kerala by political activists, forced deletion of scenes from a Marathi film, the My Name is Khan incident and so on.

To be viligant about freedoms that are constantly under assault, once again, one needs to create an activist space.

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