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A CRUCIAL LINK

Zoo TV takes on an entirely new dimension as U2 introduce a nightly satellite link-up with the distressful city of Sarajevo. Bill Graham talks to Bono about the idea's conception, downfalls, and ultimate importance.

Bill Graham, 11 Aug 1993



"LET'S FACE it, it's pretty obscene but it's no more obscene than channel-hopping." Thus Bono, reflecting on the latest addition to Zoo TV, a nightly satellite link-up to that most distressful city, Sarajevo.

It may last less than five minutes but this new spot abruptly shifts the meaning and tone of Zoo TV. Till now, it's been a masterclass in media manipulation, an exercise in exposing how technology can disturb our perceptions of reality. But this innovation goes beyond games with perception. From Sarajevo, reality enters bleeding and howling.

It isn't a standard news bulletin. Their link, an American called Bill Carter who works for the city's broadcasting organisation, gives a digest of the day's events, how the bombs and bullets look to the men and women cowering in the streets. Whenever possible, he introduces a guest to personalise and dramatise the struggle for survival against the Serbian stranglehold: one guy broadcast to Bologna, hoping his girlfriend was at the U2 show there, to reassure her he was still alive.

The idea arose accidentally. Playing Verona in Italy, in the first week of July, U2 were visited by Carter to do an interview. Bono was unnerved to learn that in the Sarajevo bunker where people gathered to escape the Serbian bombardment, they watched MTV and even had their own disco where they danced to U2 and other records.

Perhaps, it isn't so surprising. Through the Blitz, Londoners listened to Vera Lynn in their underground shelters. But in much of the Western world, our notions of violence are strangely detached as if it's something that only occurs on the video, on television and in B movies. If nothing else, the link might help people to think long and hard about the values that underpin infotainment.

The insert doesn't come cheap. U2 had to send a satellite dish into Sarajevo and then pay a fee somewhere in the region of £100,000 - to join the European Broadcasting Union so they could legally broadcast.

political inaction

Briefly, very very briefly - as was rumoured elsewhere in the press - U2 did consider a Sarajevo show but the idea was obviously ludicrous since they'd only be offering their audience as targets for the artillery.

Meanwhile the segment can get most emotional. For example, during the Copenhagen gig, a woman in the battered Bosnian city anguished aloud about her young child, wondering whether it would be better if both died quickly rather than that children be reared in such a venomous situation.

Initially, Bono found the Sarajevo sequences were affecting his own performance since they came immediately before 'One'. "I found it difficult to continue the concert, he states. "Now the link comes before 'Bad' and 'Bullet The Blue Sky' which, at least, allows him relieve himself of any bitter anger.

Like so many, he seems ambivalent about the best course of action. "I try not to take sides," he begins then amends that view to add that "there comes a point when you have to take some sort of position."

Hoping to learn more, he's talked to The Guardian's Maggie O'Kane, nominated U.K. Journalist of the Year for her reports from the region. "All the talk of the complexity of the situation is really a smokescreen for political inaction," he reflects.

It's the personal tales that move him most, however. Like how the most dangerous moment is after any "ceasefire," when the artillery goes silent and children can be picked off by snipers. Or how Bosnian Serbs still living in the city will phone up their fellows in the batteries on the surrounding hills with the co-ordinates of targets in the city.

For Zoo TV, it's a daring ploy. If nothing else, it exposes our own daily media voyeurism. Bono thinks it's like "twinning cities nightly just for those moments." And should anyone still question the ethics of the Sarajevo link, he has simple but persuasive fallback position.

"Well," Bono says, "to the people in Sarajevo, it seems very important."

Meanwhile my mind boggles. What happens should the Serbs have entered Sarajevo when the Dublin shows come around? U2 playing 'Street Fighting Man' will hardly suffice.

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