Through Wikileaks, phone-hacking, and the obstacles facing journalists across the Middle East, the traditional practices of the media industry have come up against many challenges over the past year. According to Reporters Without Borders, around 57 journalists were killed last year in connection with their work. This month a new play On the Record arrives at London’s Arcola Theatre, dramatizing the dangers faced by the world’s independent journalists.
Stories about journalists are usually reported either in print or in documentaries, so it is rather novel that Christine Bacon and Noah Birksted-Breen have decided to bring the stories of six real-life journalists to the stage. As Birksted-Breen notes, “it has been a challenge, as obviously the relationship between the actors and the audience is quite different in documentary theatre compared with film documentaries. There isn’t a lot of theatre about journalism and when there is, it’s usually satirising journalism. We really wanted to show how big a difference there is between independent journalism and mainstream media.”
The play features stories from journalists in countries where media oppression is known to be rife, through characters such as Lal and Lasantha Wickrematunge from Sri Lanka, and the Israeli Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass. But with testimony from Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho and the Russian Elena Kostyuchenko, a special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, the play also focuses on countries where, to western eyes, such oppression is less obvious. The playwrights, explains Briksted-Breen, “wanted to show examples of countries where, in spite of being modern and developed, the attitude towards journalism is quite backward.”
Mexico has one of the highest death rates for journalists in the world, with some 66 journalists killed there over the past five years. Nathalie Armin, who plays Lydia Cacho, points out that “after Iraq, Mexico is the worst place to be a journalist.” The play documents Cacho’s efforts to expose a child pornography ring and shows the true extent of the death threats and kidnapping attempts that she faces in her search to uncover the truth.
Elena Kostyuchenko is a topical character. Her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, has become famous around the world for its investigative journalism. In the play, Kostyuchenko,…