Freedom of the press is under threat. Not just from authoritarian regimes, but from the worldwide belief that the mainstream media peddles fake news. This belief is baseless and dangerous – but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Endangered (Sky Documentaries), an HBO film directed by Ronan Farrow’s production company, follows a handful of journalists and photographers and documents the challenges they face. In Brazil, Patricia Campos Mello reported critically on President Jair Bolsonaro. He responded by suggesting that she had offered sex to sources in exchange for negative information about him. In the eyes of millions of Brazilians, says Patricia, she is a whore.
In Mexico, at least 120 journalists have been murdered since 2000 and 90% of these cases remain unsolved. Sashenka Gutierrez, a photographer for a Mexico City news agency, knew one of them personally. His colleague was murdered after posting photos of police confronting protesters. “It’s one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist. You’re in danger the moment you walk through the door,” Guttierez said.
And then there’s the United States, where we’ve seen footage of a reporter pepper sprayed by police and a CNN reporter arrested during a George Floyd protest. Carl Juste said police intimidation has reached a new level. Meanwhile, distrust of the media, stoked by Donald Trump, led directly to the storming of the Capitol in 2021.
Added to all this is the decline of local newspapers – 25% of American newspapers have closed since 2004 – and the rise of YouTube and Facebook. But this film about the importance of journalism was a frustrating light on real journalism. Why are local newspapers closing? Why is faith in traditional journalism crumbling? What role do bad actors play? Watch Channel 4’s The Undeclared War, a fictional tale, and you’ll learn a lot more about troll farms and coordinate fake news campaigns than you will here.
We ended up with a series of character studies, and no clear connection was made between them. A documentary about the shutdown of local news outlets would have been more fruitful, rather than equating it with the murder of journalists in Mexico.
And it didn’t seem useful to include a British journalist from The Guardian, who has crisscrossed the country, looking surprised when Trump supporters wearing a Maga hat told him they don’t like mainstream media, and one woman said, “I’m not going to buy a newspaper that doesn’t reflect my views.