Al Jazeera Award nomination for Danish press freedom films

Jane Whyatt

Tom Heinemann and Erling Borgen’s documentary series celebrating press freedom campaigners has been nominated for the Al Jazeera International Film Festival.

Two short films from the Danish TV documentary series A Heart That Never Dies from 2015 got the nod for the prestigious prize of Best Short at the Al Jazeera International Film Festival, dominated by films from the Middle East. The two episodes chosen for the contest are Swaziland, the world’s last absolute monarchy and Bangladesh, country of injustice.

Tom Heinemann (Photo: Nana Reimers) Tom Heinemann (Photo: Nana Reimers)

Other films in the series highlight, for example, Serbian investigative journalist Brankica Stancovic, of the ‚Insider’ series on B92 TV. Heinemann and his team travelled the world to portrait journalists from countries where press freedom is restricted.


Tom Heinemann told the story behind the stories at the ECPMF Media Freedom conference in Leipzig in October 2015, shortly before they were showcased at the Prague Film Festival. In conversation with ECPMF’s Jane Whyatt, Heinemann explained why he and his producer Erling Borgen thought that it was important to make films about these journalists, and the difficulties that their crews faced in bringing them to the screen.

"We wanted to pay tribute to people we meet who campaign for press freedom. The people in our TV series The Heart that Never Dies are threatened like hell. We profile six people from all over the world - Swaziland, Serbia, Belarus, Guatemala, Egypt and Bangladesh who are fighting for freedom of expression. There’s an arrest warrant for me in Sri Lanka, I’m banned from India for life. In Bangladesh the authorities want to chop off my head," says Heinemann, describing the problematic working conditions.


Jane Whyatt: What do you think of the Vice News case where the British journalists were imprisoned in Turkey and then freed, but their fixer is still in jail? How can we protect our helpers in country?


Tom Heinemann "We have to look after our fixers and interpreters much better. Here’s an example: We sent a good friend and fixer in India with a Swedish film crew to a place where we had exposed a corrupt factory owner. He was beaten by goons, handed to corrupt police and beaten all night with bamboo canes. We sat in Gothenburg pissing our pants because I’d arranged to call him once an hour and he did not pick up the phone.  Everything went wrong. After that we realized we have to take care of our helpers, also after we’ve gone. I never use my cellphone to call their numbers or use my real name."


The lack of protection for so-called fixers, journalists and other helpers supporting foreign journalists in their investigations, is a big problem throughout the global media sphere. Especially Western journalists are less likely to be threatened or jailed then their local colleagues, when working in other countries, like Heinemann and his team did. Thus he stresses the need for their protection:


"In Bangladesh we investigated two telecom companies Telenor and Ericsson making telecoms equipment under conditions you would not believe. Afterwards when we confronted them, the only thing they wanted to know was the name of my fixer. I said ‘All I know is his name is Ramesh and I don’t have his cellphone number. Sir.’ That’s how it is."

Film clips from TV series: The heart that never dies by Tom Heinemann can be seen here: