On 3 May every year, media professionals and related press freedom organisations get together to evaluate the current state of media freedom. The World Press Freedom Day, as acknowledged by the United Nations General Assembly, is dedicated to raising awareness on the importance of press freedom – and on a larger scope, the freedom of speech.
In honour of this day, and the people advocating the true practice of journalism, we have put together a list of films and television shows from the noughties onwards about the aforementioned people.
Shattered Glass (2003)
Before the Counsellor to the US President Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternative facts”, there was Stephen Glass, a young journalist in The New Republic from 1995 to 1998. He lived out his hey days for three years in the publication as a then 25-year-old rising starlet churning out one captivating journalistic piece after another – that is, until he was caught fabricating a non-existent story about a 15-year-old hacker allegedly hired as an information security consultant. The dominoes effect took place after that and subsequently, his Editor of the time, Charles ‘Chuck’ Lane revealed at least 27 out of the 41 articles Glass published were either partially or completely made up.
Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011)
This award-winning documentary may very well be the perfect encapsulation when it comes to the battle between traditional media and digital media. As the world slowly turns into the technological era, The New York Times reveals the challenges of the new impending media platform when it comes to news reporting, especially with the almost sudden establishment of WikiLeaks, which threatens the existence and relevance of print media, in the face of attainable news at the mere click of the mouse.
The Hour (2011-2012)
From modern day journalism, to news reporting in the mid-50s, when the stakes were different but probably just as high. The two-season drama series features a team of broadcasting journalists in a fictional BBC series of the eponymous title. Although defunct, The Hour presented to the public the gritty side of journalism, which endangers lives while uncovering governmental treason espionage, and chasing leads down gangster-stricken back alleys – not to mention the pressure against time to have everything in place for a condensed and pertinent 60-minute show every week.
Lauded as one of the best films of 2014, Nightcrawler delves into the subversive world of crime journalism. Lou Bloom (starring Jake Gyllenhaal) is introduced to the freelance lifestyle when he stumbled upon a car crash. A couple of stringers were hot on the heels with handheld cameras recording the exclusive footage, which is to be sold to news stations with a big price tag, just in time for breaking news coverage the very next day. Bloom’s gig goes awry when the competition for exclusivity grew tough, and he starts chasing crimes for the thrill instead of factual accuracy.
We Are Journalists (2014)
It is hard enough for journalists in countries that practises the freedom of press, even though everyone else seems to “forget” about said practice from time to time. For countries without such luxuries, it is a matter of life or death. Filmed in secret during the merciless Presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran from 2005 to 2013, Iranian journalists reveal the hard hitting censorship and control by the government that they have to endure; a single photo published in the newspaper with just a pinch of controversy could possibly throw the journalist in jail, and even potential execution. How far would these journalists go all in the name of press freedom, or more appropriately, how far could they go?
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014 – present)
John Oliver is one of the many late night talk show hosts in the US taking their turn in roasting President Trump and his administration. However, a little different in style from the likes of Stephen Colbert (The Late Show) and Trevor Noah (The Daily Show), the award-winning Last Week Tonight makes full use of their week-long deadlines, and goes below the surface of sheer heckling with proper investigations of highlighted topics; one of the many facets of journalism that allows viewers to make informed decisions about certain current affairs, instead of laughing along with the rest of the world.
Not only has the film won accolades of its own, including the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay in 2016, the real life investigation itself, carried out by The Boston Globe’s renowned Spotlight team, has won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003. Despite the deficiency in manpower, the team of investigative journalists managed to blow the case wide open: what started out as a child sexual abuse in the Boston area, quickly spread into a nationwide and worldwide exposé of the perverted Roman Catholic system. Their investigation reveals an institution that not only gives sanctuary to the priests but sometimes, promotes them to higher cardinal positions, while at the same time, profiting the law firms that represent the priests with their ever growing clientele.
Renowned for her Peabody Award-winning coverage on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, 60 Minutes Wednesday producer Mary Mapes and her host for the prime time news program, Dan Rather, faced serious allegation on defamed reporting, when the program revealed in 2004 evidence that the President Elect of the time, George W Bush, was given preferential treatment while serving in the military. Based on Mapes’ 2005 memoir, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power, the film showcases the struggle of finding the balance when it comes to political journalism, and the search for the ultimate and most important truth, amongst the white noise of fabrication that helps bury the truth.
True Story (2015)
Anxious for a comeback after his dismissal from The New York Times for deviating his story on African slave trade, Michael Finkel met up with Christian Longo in prison, a man on trial for murder, who had identified himself as Finkel upon apprehension in Mexico. The journalist spent days leading up the trial with the convict, as the latter fed him supposed “true” accounts of the murder, which filled the pages of Finkel’s Edgar Award nominated memoir, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)
Based on the memoir by Chicago Tribune journalist Kim Barker, the film is a refreshing take of the usual adaptations when it comes to journalism. Paired with the comedic prowess of Tina Fey, the film adaptation for The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a humorous tale of a female journalist in the female oppressed and war torn Middle East, during her stint as war correspondent for the War on Terror military campaign.