Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press movie review - Netflix docu is wake-up call for journalism

Mihir Fadnavis

Jun,28 2017 13:24 17 IST

A few days ago, the NDTV office was raided by the CBI. Two days before this, the channel had criticised a senior politician of the ruling party for being reprehensibly uncouth on a live program. There are some sources that demonstrate that the raid was justified because the channel was involved in some dubious dealings. There is little doubt, however, that the timing of the raid — so close to the aforementioned incident is suspect. One can argue that the plausibility of those two events being linked is still up for discussion, but there’s no denying the recent attempts at systematic dismantling of free speech and the obfuscation of the acronym ‘FOS’ both on news and social media.

These are scary times, especially for journalism. The arrival of Nobody Speak: The Trial of the Free Press on Netflix therefore is incredibly significant. Directed by Brian Knappenberger, the documentary chronicles the shocking case of Hulk Hogan suing Gawker media for publishing his sex tape — but it uses that incident as a primer to establish a larger point — that the news media of the world is under severe threat due to a handful of people with deep pockets. Journalism has long been the watchdog of democracies, and every nation that shunted from a democratic to a dictatorial rule has quashed its media empire as a primary step towards an autocratic oligarch based regime.

Hulk Hogan in Netflix's 'Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press'. Still from the documentary.

Hulk Hogan in Netflix's 'Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press'. Still from the documentary.

Knappenberger, for those who haven’t followed his work, has earlier made the excellent We Are Legion — a film on the hacktivist group Anonymous, and 2014’s best film, the Aaron Swartz docu The Internet’s Own Boy. Much like those films, Knappenberger utilises a central figure to establish an alarmist style of social commentary and how governments and rich quasi philosophers in the heartlands of Silicon Valley are exacerbating the situation.

The Silicon Valley honcho in this case is Peter Thiel — the venture capitalist giant. Thiel is a genius who co founded Paypal and was one of the first people to discover the potential of Facebook. His vision in unparalleled, but he also has some scary, autocratic insights into how the world should be run. Thiel is revealed to be a key figure in orchestrating the downfall of Gawker in the court case against Hogan for reasons best left for you to discover. And the fact that he was also a key figure in the ascension of Donald Trump as POTUS speaks volumes. Both men share a love for Supremacist ruling and hatred for news media — the lone section of the world which would have the power to criticise their destructive actions and lies.

Every revelation that the film produces feels like a punch to the gut, not just because of the content but because of the production values and finesse that Knappenberger brings. The pulsating electronic music is rousing and reminiscent of a Soderbergh thriller — sometimes almost to a fault. It’s not all one-sided though because the film is smart enough to question whether Gawker’s actions were justified. Are we corrupting the freedom of speech with yellow journalism? Should Gawker have published the sex tape? Every person has weird kinks, be it sexual or psychological, but does that mean everyone’s dirty laundry deserves to be made public? Who are we to judge and why should a blog benefit monetarily from making fun of someone’s private life?

With journalism sources this unscrupulous and click baity, and an audience more than happy to consume mucky gossip than real news, it’s a system that has made way for more news channels with no other target but to sensationalise and titillate, and help wannabe dictators further weaken the media’s already dithering foundations by using news channels and websites as propaganda.

Beneath the wake-up call for journalism, the film also makes one think of another significant issue — that reality TV has damaged whole nations. The tackiness of these shows somehow seeped into pop culture as hordes of people, bored with sub par and clichéd fiction programming immediately latched onto them. And it was only because the actors in these reality shows were just like the people who watched the shows — ‘real people’, with seemingly real problems. The awful content in the shows have normalised misogyny, racism and blind xenophobia, creating a whole generation of idiots nourished on these values. This is a worldwide phenomenon — if the US had Trump’s The Apprentice and Paris Hilton’s The Simple Life, we have Bigg Boss.

We are a product of our TVs and computer screens and we’re paying attention to the wrong side of those screens. Journalism — the last bastion of hope, the lone thread holding your nation from the brink of totalitarianism — is on the verge of collapse. The most f**ked up part? The final push over the edge is going to be caused by forces which are under the garb of nationalism. If this is the future you envision to gift your children, by all means beat your chest and wave your country’s flags like nunchucks. But if any of this sounds alarming, do your part, watch this movie, share this piece, notify your friends, pay reputed news websites and make Journalism Great Again.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here: