January 6, 2021, is likely to have a long section in the indices of history books for some time to come. Those of us who fight to uphold press freedom will view it not only as a day that imperiled our legislators and our physical manifestations of democracy, but also journalists who were trying to capture history in real time in the face of a hostile crowd. T-shirts and hats worn by more than one insurrectionist that day bore the phrase, “Murder the Media” – a slogan that was also scratched on a door of the Capitol.
If we needed an additional reminder of the dangers journalists face, it was provided two days later on January 8 with the release of “The Dissident” on video on demand (VOD). The film, directed by Academy Award-winning director Bryan Fogel, takes a deep dive into the events leading up to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul, the murder itself, and the aftermath – including the lack of international outrage that a state-sponsored killing (as concluded by multiple intelligence agencies) could happen with such impunity.
Khashoggi’s saga is told largely through the voices of Saudi Arabian dissident Omar Abdulaziz (now living in Montreal) and Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hitace Cengiz. Fogel’s storytelling reveals not only the vitality of journalism but also its dark corners, and the lengths that those who oppose freedom of expression will go to silence it. That reality was a prominent topic of discussion in a recent Washington Post video interview with Fogel (as well as Abdulaziz and Cengiz). “The Dissident” received glowing reviews when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, and yet Fogel lamented the hard time he had in finding a global streaming distributor, resulting in his tremendously compelling film being released on VOD.
It is interesting to note that Khashoggi did not really view himself as a dissident, but rather more as a reformer. He had previously worked for the Saudi government and his intent was not to take down the royal family. Fogel described Khashoggi’s columns in The Washington Post as being relatively moderate as opposed to incendiary. Abdulaziz said that there was always a certain politeness to Khashoggi’s criticism. Nevertheless, Khashoggi was well aware of the dangers of his work. As Abdulaziz reveals in the movie, Khashoggi once said to him: “this kind of work might get you killed.” Yet he continued that work, as do many other journalists like him around the world in regimes more hostile to journalists than has traditionally been the case in the United States.
“The Dissident” deserves a widespread audience, so put it on your list of films to view while we remain in home confinement. It, as well as the events of January 6, serve as a chilling reminder of where state-endorsed hostility to journalists can lead.
Dallas partner Robert P. Latham has developed nationally recognized experience in the areas of media law and intellectual property litigation and chairs both practice areas at Jackson Walker. Bob’s trial practice also involves complex commercial disputes as well as sports law, unfair competition, securities, probate, employment, banking, international, and class action matters. Bob is a published author and columnist, and he has spoken internationally on matters relating to free speech, technology, intellectual property litigation, and sports. Bob has also been listed in The Best Lawyers in America under Litigation – First Amendment, Litigation – Intellectual Property, and Sports Law among other categories. Outside of his practice, Bob is a Governing Committee member of the ABA Forum on Communications Law, an International Board member and trustee of ARTICLE 19, and a former president of the Media Law Resource Center Defense Counsel Section.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.