Hot Docs' 'Shadows of Liberty' Spotlights U.S. Media Monopoly

5:23 PM PST 04/27/2012 by Etan Vlessing
Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

The Canadian festival debuted Jean-Philippe Tremblay's film about disintegrating American press freedoms as Rupert Murdoch's UK legal woes threaten to reach the U.S. courts.

TORONTO -- The timing couldn't be better for a theatrical documentary about a corporate media monopoly in American journalism.

Canadian director Jean-Philippe Tremblay on Friday saw his film Shadows of Liberty receive a world premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, while he looks to the U.K. phone hacking scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to cross the Atlantic to help him secure a U.S. theatrical distribution deal.

If anything, Tremblay questions why the major U.S. media has so far responded to shocking accusations of journalistic impropriety at Murdoch’s former News of the World tabloid with barely a blink and a yawn.

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“I can only speculate that the ties are so close between the U.S. government, the New York Times and News Corp. It’s self-censorship,” Tremblay, who produced his $1.6 million documentary through London-based Docfactory, insisted.

But Jeff Cohen, a U.S. media pundit with the watchdog group FAIR, predicted Murdoch’s corporate woes will explode into the U.S. media when British lawyer Mark Lewis, who represents claimants in the UK phone hacking affair, decides to file lawsuits in the American courts on behalf of three unnamed clients.

“It’s a Godsend,” Cohen, who appears as a talking head in Shadows of Liberty, said after Lewis recently met with New York-based legal partner, Norman Siegel, a former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Cohen said the New York Times and the rest of the U.S. media have barely lifted a pen in the face of a humbled Murdoch.

“Normally, when a bully is weakened, journalists go after him. And he’s (Murdoch) weakened, and they still don’t go after him,” he observed.

But Cohen said that will change if, as has been reported, Lewis files a lawsuit on behalf of Hollywood actor Jude Law, who claims his phone was hacked while he was at JFK airport in New York.

“It’s New York City and we believe in privacy,” Cohen, who is an associate professor at the School of Communications at Ithaca College, added.

Tremblay’s Shadows of Liberty portrays the U.S. media, including the major TV networks, as controlled by fewer and larger conglomerates that exercise extraordinary political social and economic power.

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He accomplishes that in the doc through 14 vignettes about “black holes” at the U.S. networks, including over the 1996 downing of TWA 800 because of a missile strike or Nike’s treatment of factory workers in Asia, that cost the jobs, and in some cases the lives, of investigating journalists.

Tremblay insists the profit-seeking business priorities of the major American TV networks, and the media giants that own them, trump any search for the truth.

“It’s kind of amazing that the head of CBS would give everyone a gift-bag of paraphernalia from Nike and demand everyone wear the gear,” Tremblay said of former CBS News chief correspondent Roberta Baskin, who appears in his film.

Baskin resigned in 1997 after her reporting on abuses of workers at a Nike factory in Vietnam was followed by CBS News staff told to wear the Nike logo on camera during Nike-sponsored coverage of the Olympic Games.

The documentary treats Viacom acquiring CBS, Disney scooping ABC and GE taking control of NBC, followed by mega-mergers like AOL buying Time Warner, as events that destroyed local news coverage and served corporate interests.

The Hot Docs festival, which kicked off Thursday night with a gala screening of Alison Klayman's Ai Weiwei, continues to May 6.

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