The Other 1989

As Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times, there is something very tragic about Bahrain, the next stop on the Arab World’s 1989 train. That it is one of the most democratic countries in the Arab World may say more about its neighbors than Bahrain itself, but the country indeed made some crucial strides towards democracy in the last decade. In addition to a F1 racetrack, an international banking centre and a US naval base, Bahrain also has a well-educated political classes, constitutional monarchy and representative (if powerless) parliament. Yet, in the last two days, by violently attacking its own citizens, Bahraini government had negated all these steps towards democracy. Even if Bahrain’s Sunni rulers survive in its predominantly Shi’ite state, they will never recover from the bloodshed of yesterday — a poignant reminder of the Other 1989.

The Other 1989. The one in which the Chinese government brutally decimated its own citizens on the Tienanmen Square. Today, we don’t talk much about it for various reasons. Firstly, time had, sadly, clouded our memories. Secondly, positive-thinking forces us to focus more on (and draw parallels only with) on the Cold War that was won in 1989, not on its inconvenient Chinese chapter. Thirdly, we have cravenly abandoned our democratic and humanitarian principles to nurture our (undeniably important) relationship with China. Lastly, within China itself, Tienanmen Massacre was carefully purged out of history and out of collective memory itself.

On another front, the Bahraini protests provide a rare glimpse into how photoagencies and newspapers work alongside one another to cover breaking news from far away lands. Currently, the same photo from Getty Images taken by John Moore near the Pearl Square graces the homepages of major English-speaking news outlets: the New York Times (Global)/IHT; the Telegraph; the Times of London, the BBC; and Time magazine. Le Nouvel Observateur has a smaller version on its homepage and El Pais has another John Moore/Getty Image which is part of the same series. These days, seeing an identical image on such varied assortment of papers is extremely rare, and almost an unique occasion. (In other major papers, Le Monde has an AFP photo and Der Spiegel has a Reuters photo on their homepages).

This is a clear illustration of advantages photographers working for huge photoagencies have over other freelancers or even those who work for individual papers/magazines. This is also another reason that individual papers and magazines do not hire photographers exclusively anymore. For instance, no less than four photographers covered the famous Tank Man moment, but Jeff Widener was able to rely on a network (AP) and managed to distribute it faster than others working independently. It was Widener’s photo that was widely reproduced the next day. Likewise, Charlie Cole, with distribution and publicity power of a weekly (Newsweek) behind him, won a World Press Award for his version, although it can be said that of Stuart Franklin (Magnum, independent) was more aesthetic.



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