The shattering events in New York and Washington on 11 September have opened a new field of crisis and uncertainty in international politics. Some of its many aspects have been addressed already in openDemocracy: the search for a just response to terrorism, questions of international law and geopolitics, the challenge of radical Islam, tensions within western multiculturalism. And from the epicentre of devastation, there have been the moving testimonies of our New York-based media co-editor, Todd Gitlin.
But it has also been clear – from, as it were, the first, terrible moments – that these events belong to the world of the media as much as to that of politics, war or diplomacy. The assaults against two of the media capitals of the world instantaneously became a global information story with endless layers of meaning. From the quintessentially symbolic nature of the targets, to the worldwide and blanket coverage they immediately generated; from the transformations they wrought in the TV schedules (including the cancellation of advertisements) to their longer-term likely impact on the kinds of films and narratives available to Hollywood and allied image-factories; from questions of impartiality and selectivity in news coverage (including the heavily coded language often used to report and discuss issues of terrorism and the middle east) to wider cultural themes like the media’s role in the ‘orchestration of emotion’ and the management of ‘shared national experiences’ – in all these areas, the media impact of 11 September was and will be enormous.
openDemocracy intends to publish arguments and host debates on these issues in the weeks and months to come. We will track the unfolding themes and draw in material from around the world to reflect the truly global nature of the effects of 11 September. For if the heart of the story was the United States, the way it was processed around the world posed a revealing challenge to the powers, responsibilities and values of the media in many different countries. (Hazhir Teimourian’s mordant comments on the Arabic-language press are just one indication of this diversity). We will also seek therefore to frame the American media experience in a comparative context.
How will this coverage affect our existing schedule of debates in openDemocracy’s media strand? The short answer is that we intend to follow a ‘twin track’ approach, creatively adapting to the world after 11 September without being swept away by the torrent of media analyses it must generate – one of which, by Nick Couldry, appears in the current issue. The debate we had planned on the power of media corporations – to succeed the inaugural debate on public service broadcasting – will now be launched (in our featured issue on globalisation) on 17 October with Robert McChesney’s and Benjamin Compaine’s contrasting perspectives. It will continue with contributions from Europe and south Asia as well as the Americas. Some of these may of course register the influence of the terrorist attacks, where these are thought to be directly relevant. In other cases, writers may in time come to view the world after 11 September as not so different in its fundamentals (just as crises like the Gulf or Kosovo wars – epic events at the time, which dominated media coverage for months – were gradually assimilated into a broader media pattern). Either way, we are committed to sustaining the principle of high-quality, purposive and global debate that has been central to openDemocracy’s vision from the outset.
As always, we warmly welcome your contributions, comments, criticisms, and suggestions. They, like openDemocracy itself, are part of the global public dialogue that is surely one of democracy’s healthiest defences against the annihilating instinct in thought, word or deed.