Recognising the vital role of the free press, in this week's list of great docs to watch online we’re focusing on journalists and reporters at work around the world

Journalists around the world are encountering censorship, harassment and violence, everyday, just for doing their jobs. In every region of the world, tyrants are increasing their grip on the press, trying to prevent reporters from holding the powerful to account.

Fred Ryan

These are the words of Fred Ryan, the CEO and publisher of The Washington Post, on the release of the 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Month by month, in countries around the world, press freedom is in decline, and not just in authoritarian or closed states.

Recognising the vital role of the free press in shining a light into dark corners and holding authority to account, we’re focusing on the work of journalists around the world, and various threats that they face.

In Part 1 of our list of docs to watch online, see journalists and investigative reporters at work. Out in the field, on long investigations or battling for tight turnarounds, these fascinating films take us behind the scenes:

This is not a Movie / Yung Chang / 2020 / 106 mins

For more than 40 years, journalist Robert Fisk has reported on some of the most violent and divisive conflicts in the world.

The Independent’s multi-award-winning Middle East Correspondent is known for his uncompromising ethics and insistence on reporting only what he has witnessed first-hand.

Director Yung Chang (Up The Yangtze, China Heavyweight) captures Fisk, now 73, in action – feet on the ground, notebook in hand – and also in reflection as he considers his eventful career.

The Panama Papers / Alex Winter / 2018 / 100 mins

With many twists and turns, The Panama Papers follows the international collaboration of journalists that uncovered vast sums of hidden money in offshore tax havens.

As a wave of world leaders are forced to resign, David Cameron’s own tax evasion gets buried under the attention given to Brexit. Meanwhile, the effects of austerity and the wealthy avoiding tax proves devastating to the 99% of people on lesser incomes.

The Panama Papers is an absorbing and shocking portrait of fearless journalism – with the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana hugely emphasising the level of personal risk at stake.

Watch it on Amazon Prime.

Citizenfour / Laura Poitras / 2014 / 114 mins

In January 2013, filmmaker Laura Poitras was several years into the making of a film about abuses of national security in post-9/11 America when she started receiving encrypted emails from someone identifying himself as “citizen four”, who was ready to blow the whistle on the massive covert surveillance programs run by the NSA and other intelligence agencies.

In June 2013, she and reporter Glenn Greenwald flew to Hong Kong for the first of many meetings with the man who turned out to be Edward Snowden. She brought her camera with her. The film that resulted from this series of tense encounters is absolutely unique in the history of cinema: a real-life thriller unfolding minute by minute before our eyes.

You can watch this film on Amazon Prime.

Attacking the Devil / Jacqui Morris, David Morris / 2016 / 102 mins

As editor of the Sunday Times for fourteen years, Sir Harold Evans famously used the paper to wage a number of high profile campaigns.

As Evans himself details in this stylish documentary, his longest and most hard fought campaign was for the victims of Thalidomide.

You can watch this film on Netflix.

The Great Hack / Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim / 2019 / 114 mins

Tracing the rise and fall of Cambridge Analytica, The Great Hack tugs at the thread of data-mining through social media and the role it played in the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US elections.

The scandal was brought to light through Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, and by the rigorous investigative reporting of Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr. Both Kaiser and Cadwalladr feature in this eye-opening film, which pieces together the jigsaw puzzle of information harvesting and targeted advertising to make a terrifying picture of contemporary democratic process.

Watch it on Netflix

Breaking News / Tomáš Bojar / 2018 / 73 mins

In March 2017, the president of the Czech Republic was preparing to announce whether or not he would be running for re-election, and the press were ready to cover his decision. The announcement, however, was to be made at a private event at Prague Castle and no reporters were to be admitted.

Filmmaker Tomáš Bojar takes us inside two newsrooms in Prague as their teams race to be the first to break the story.

Breaking News is a compelling, entertaining and carefully composed observational look at journalism, “objective” reporting and the cycle of news production in the modern age.

You can watch it on Dafilms.

All Governments Lie / Fred Peabody / 2016 / 92 mins

A look at the legacy of maverick American journalist I.F. Stone, whose one-man crusade against government deception lives on in the work of such contemporary filmmakers and journalists as Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Michael Moore.

Award-winning filmmaker and TV news veteran Fred Peabody explores the life and career of a pioneer in the world of independent journalism, I.F. Stone, and examines his legacy today.

You can watch All Governments Lie on Kanopy.

Karl Marx City / Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker / 2016 / 89 mins

A powerfully personal voyage through former East Germany, as filmmaker Petra Epperlein investigates her father’s suicide and the possibility that he may have worked as a spy for the Stasi security service.

You can watch Karl Marx City on iTunes.


Athlete A / Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk / 2020 / 104 mins

When the Indianapolis Star ran a story on USA Gymnastics mishandling allegations of abuse, the floodgates opened. As several former gymnasts came forward to report sexual abuse by USAG team doctor Larry Nassar, the Star kept reporting and kept investigating the top level policies that protected an abuser over his victims.

In Netflix’s Athlete A, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (The Island President) reveal not just a culture of cruelty in elite gymnastics that kept Nassar’s victims silenced and allowed him to remain in his role for two decades, but also the work of the invesigative journalists at the Indianapolis Star that helped to bring him to justice.

Watch Athlete A on Netflix.

Another News Story / Orban Wallace / 2017 / 84 mins

Since 2015, the ‘refugee crisis’ has flooded every news and media outlet across the globe. Starting at the beach on Lesbos, Another News Story follows the route across Europe that thousands are taking, turning the camera on the caravan of international journalists and the role they play in representing the crisis to the world.

Director Orban Wallace travels across Hungary and Croatia, through camps and across borders, meeting not just refugees like Syrian mother Mahasen, but also the media who are never far away. Their priority is to distil the story and make it digestible to their viewers back home; to make a situation clear and compelling; to look for the ‘interesting’ moments.

Another News Story gives a new perspective on a much-covered situation, raising important questions about what happens behind the camera, and how the life cycle of a news story starts and grows.

You can watch Another News Story Google Play.

Page One: Inside the New York Times / Andrew Rossi / USA / 2011 / 88 mins

Filmed a decade ago, Andrew Rossi’s behind-the-scenes look at this US news institution makes fascinating viewing today. It captures the moment that the full ramifications of the internet were felt on a declining newsprint industry, as the internet surpassed print as our main news source. In the intervening ten years, several newspapers have folded, and some have been more successful than others at establishing a new hybrid identity online and in print.

With unprecedented access to the New York Times newsroom for a year, Rossi’s riveting film is an exceptional portrait of a crucial time in the history of media and information.

Watch Page One on Google Play.