One of the most eye opening documentaries of the summer, ‘ Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press’, has the internet abuzz. A week before the ground breaking film hit Netflix, director Brian Knappenberger shared his thoughts on the films subject matter, with a private panel at the The Human Rights Watch Film Festival closing night at IFC Center.
On why the film should appeal to the public:
“I think the public interest is primarily that you should not be able to close down a news operation because you’re extraordinarily rich. If you think under the U.S system that a journalistic outlet has maligned you in some way, you can indeed go to the courts but it seems that in this case Peter Thiel’s wealth really distorted the system in such a way that normally Gawker would have appealed the verdict and probably would have won on appeal due to rulings made in the past. But really the public interest is that we are on the side of publication rather than suppression because ultimately that’s the price we mostly agreed to pay. As we see from this it’s obviously an imperfect system. What’s interesting is we talked at the beginning about how you set standards, what seems right to a local community, versus a national community, verses a global community. We’re having to make these judgments all the time. But the point is in a democracy there should be ways to exact some kind of punishment for misbehavior for the press but it shouldn’t involve destroying a whole publication just because you can.”
His personal thoughts on the fight between Peter Thiel and Gawker:
“He [Peter Thiel], said that Gawker was a singular sociopathic bully. I don’t think so at all. I think in fact that is kind of absurd especially if you consider the kinds of things we’ve seen in the last year, a figure like Alex Jones who has called the Sandy Hook shootings a false flag operation, think about what that does to the people and the victims that have survived. I’m taking issue at the ‘singular sociopathic bully.’ Also, I can’t leave out Facebook. Facebook itself which Peter Thiel is on the board of, think of what we’ve seen from them up until the election. I think that we, for a long time, have allowed a lot of different voices and some of that is hate speech and the first amendment protects hate speech. So I think in this big landscape of information and news, to start picking and choosing, and for Peter Thiel, to decide is not quite right.”
On the problem billionaires and litigation financing creates for the press:
“The secretive aspect is really key here, really wealthy individuals buying newspapers isn’t new. That’s been going on since Randolph Hearst and the Chandlers in LA, and Jeff Bezos is kind of a new example of this. But the secretive aspect, usually you know who owns a paper you know what their expectations are. So the secretive part is where it gets kind of disturbing. Also with Peter Thiel, litigation financing is not something that is unheard of. Even the ACLU does this with specific cases to prove a point, but you know with the ACLU what the point is. This was done with a grudge to take advantage and silence critical voices.”