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John Pilger, 6 August 2011
|Born||John Richard Pilger|
9 October 1939
|Occupation||Journalist, writer, documentary filmmaker|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (July 2011)|
John Pilger, 6 August 2011
|Born||John Richard Pilger|
9 October 1939
|Occupation||Journalist, writer, documentary filmmaker|
John Richard Pilger (born 9 October 1939) is an Australian journalist based in London. Since his early years as a war correspondent in Vietnam, Pilger has been a strong critic of American, Australian and British foreign policy, which he considers to be driven by an imperialist agenda. Pilger has also criticised his native country's treatment of indigenous Australians and the practices of the mainstream media. In the British print media, he has had a long association with the Daily Mirror, and writes a fortnightly columnn for the New Statesman magazine.
Pilger has twice won Britain's Journalist of the Year Award, and his documentaries, screened internationally, have gained awards in Britain and worldwide, and the journalist has received several honorary doctorates.
Pilger was born and raised in Bondi, a suburb of Sydney. Irish Australian on his mother's side, two of his great great grandparents were Irish convicts transported to Australia. His mother was a teacher of French. He attended Sydney Boys High School, where he started a student newspaper, The Messenger, and later joined a four-year journalist trainee scheme with the Australian Consolidated Press. Beginning his career in 1958 as a copy boy with the Sydney Sun, he later moved to the city's Daily Telegraph where he was a reporter, sports writer and sub-editor. He also freelanced and worked for the Sydney Sunday Telegraph, the daily paper's sister title. After moving to Europe, he was for a year a freelance correspondent in Italy.
Settling in Britain in 1962, working as a sub-editor, Pilger joined British United Press and then Reuters in London on their middle-east desk, and was recruited by the English Daily Mirror in 1963, again as a sub-editor at first. Later, he was a reporter, a feature writer and Chief Foreign Correspondent for the title. Living and working in the United States, on 5 June 1968 he witnessed the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. During the next twenty years, Pilger became the Daily Mirror's star reporter, particularly on social issues. He was a war correspondent in Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, India, Bangladesh and Biafra. Nearly eighteen months after Robert Maxwell bought the Mirror (on 12 July 1984), Pilger was sacked by Richard Stott, the newspaper's editor, on 31 December 1985.
His career on television began on World in Action (Granada Television) in 1969, for whom he made two documentaries broadcast in 1970 and 1971, the earliest of more than fifty involving Pilger. The Quiet Mutiny in 1970 was the first of these. Filmed at Camp Snuffy, the film presented a character study of the common US soldier during the Vietnam War, revealing the shifting morale and open rebellion of Western troops. Pilger described the film as "something of a scoop" – it was the first documentary to show the open rebellion within the drafted ranks of the US military that led to the withdrawal of the land army in 1973. "When I flew to New York and showed it to Mike Wallace, the star reporter of CBS' 60 Minutes, he agreed. "Real shame we can't show it here"", Pilger said in an interview with the New Statesman. Later films about Vietnam followed The Quiet Mutiny, including Vietnam: Still America's War (1974), Do You Remember Vietnam? (1978) and Vietnam: The Last Battle (1995).
Following a brief unhappy period on the BBC's Midweek television series during 1972–73, five reports were completed, but only two were broadcast, the journalist was given a regular television outlet at ATV. The Pilger half-hour documentary series was commissioned by Charles Denton, then a producer with ATV, for screening on the British ITV network. The series ran for five series from 1974 until 1977, at first running in the UK on Sunday afternoons after Weekend World; later it was scheduled in a weekday peak-time evening slot. The last series included "A Faraway Country" (broadcast in September 1977) about dissidents in Czechoslavakia, then part of the Communist Soviet bloc. Pilger and his team interviewed members of Charter 77, and others clandestinely using domestic film equipment. In the documentary Pilger praises the courage and commitment to freedom of Charter 77 and describes the communist totalitarianism as "fascism disguised as socialism".
Pilger's programmes were then extended to fill an hour, placed in the 9pm slot before News at Ten, and gained the journalist a high profile in Britain. After ATV lost its franchise in 1981, he has continued to make documentaries for screening on ITV, initially for ITV Central, and later via Carlton Television.
In 1979, Pilger and two colleagues with whom he collaborated for many years, documentary film-maker David Munro and photographer Eric Piper, entered Cambodia in the wake of the overthrow of the Pol Pot regime. The result was a series of world exclusives, the first of which occupied almost an entire Daily Mirror, which sold out. This was followed by an ITV documentary, Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia, which brought to people's living rooms the suffering of the Khmer people. Some $45 million was raised, unsolicited, in mostly small donations following the showing of Year Zero, including almost £4 million raised by schoolchildren in the UK. This funded the first substantial relief to Cambodia, including life saving drugs like penicillin and the manufacture of clothes to replace the black uniforms people had been forced to wear. According to Brian Walker, director of Oxfam, "a solidarity and compassion surged across our nation" from the broadcast of Year Zero. Pilger and Munro made four later films about Cambodia. During the filming of Cambodia Year One, they were warned that Pilger was on a Khmer Rouge 'death list' and, in one incident, they narrowly escaped an ambush. The British Film Institute (BFI) has described Year Zero as one of the ten most influential documentary films of the 20th century.
Pilger himself described the British reaction to Year Zero in 2006:
The documentary as a television "event" can send ripples far and wide... Year Zero not only revealed the horror of the Pol Pot years, it showed how Richard Nixon's and Henry Kissinger's 'secret' bombing of that country had provided a critical catalyst for the rise of the Khmer Rouge. It also exposed how the west, led by the United States and Britain, was imposing an embargo, like a medieval siege, on the most stricken country on earth. This was a reaction to the fact that Cambodia's liberator was Vietnam – a country that had come from the wrong side of the Cold War and that had recently defeated the US. Cambodia's suffering was a wilful revenge. Britain and the US even backed Pol Pot's demand that his man continue to occupy Cambodia's seat at the UN, while Margaret Thatcher stopped children's milk going to the survivors of his nightmare regime. Little of this was reported. Had Year Zero simply described the monster that Pol Pot was, it would have been quickly forgotten. By reporting the collusion of "our" governments, it told a wider truth about how the world was run... Within two days of Year Zero going to air, 40 sacks of post arrived at ATV ... in Birmingham – 26,000 first-class letters in the first post alone. The station quickly amassed £1m, almost all of it in small amounts. "This is for Cambodia," wrote a Bristol bus driver, enclosing his week's wage. Entire pensions were sent, along with entire savings. Petitions arrived at Downing Street, one after the other, for weeks. MPs received hundreds of thousands of letters, demanding that British policy change (which it did, eventually). And none of it was asked for. For me, the public response to Year Zero gave the lie to clichés about "compassion fatigue", an excuse that some broadcasters and television executives use to justify the current descent into the cynicism and passivity of Big Brotherland. Above all, I learned that a documentary could reclaim shared historical and political memories, and present their hidden truths. The reward then was a compassionate and an informed public; and it still is."
In a 2007 speech, "Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire", Pilger described his experience with executives of the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) who refused to screen Year Zero, which, according to Pilger, has never been broadcast in the USA.
A claim in one of those later Pilger documentaries, Cambodia – The Betrayal (1990), led to a libel case. The Times of 6 July 1991 reported:
Two men who claimed that a television documentary accused them of being SAS members who trained Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge to lay mines, accepted "very substantial" libel damages in the High Court yesterday. Christopher Geidt and Anthony De Normann settled their action against the journalist John Pilger and Central Television on the third day of the hearing. Desmond Browne, QC, for Mr Pilger and Central Television, said his clients had not intended to allege the two men trained the Khmer Rouge to lay mines, but they accepted that was how the program had been understood.
While working for the Daily Mirror, Pilger reported from pit villages during the miners' strike 1984–5, and covered the violent clashes between the striking and working miners. He was present at a meeting between Mirror proprietor Robert Maxwell and National Union of Mineworkers leader Arthur Scargill, which ended in disagreement and turned the Daily Mirror against the strike.
Pilger has long been a critic of Australian government policy, particularly of what he regards as its inherent racism and the poor treatment of its indigenous population. He has made several documentaries on this subject, such as The Secret Country – The First Australians Fight Back (1985), and has wriiten the book A Secret Country published in 1989.
Pilger wrote in 2000 that the 1998 legislation that removed the common law rights of indigenous Australians "is just one of the disgraces that has given Australia the distinction of being the only developed country whose government has been condemned as racist by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination."
In 1993 Pilger slipped into East Timor and shot Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy. The revelations of this film helped alert the British public to the horror of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, which began in 1975. Death of a Nation helped prompt an international outcry which ultimately led to Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor and eventual independence in 2000. When Death of a Nation was screened in Britain it was the highest rating documentary in 15 years and 5,000 telephone calls per minute were made to the programme's action line. When Death of a Nation was screened in Australia in June 1994, Foreign Minister Gareth Evans declared that Pilger "had a track record of distorted sensationalism mixed with sanctimony."
In 1987 Pilger was a founder of News on Sunday in London, and titular Editor-in-Chief, but resigned before publication. Pilger has a fortnightly column in New Statesman, his most frequent outlet, which began in 1991 while Steve Platt was editor of the magazine. Reportedly, Pilger has described his role at the Statesman as a "fig leaf". In 2001, while Piers Morgan was editor of the Mirror, he returned to his old paper in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks.
Following broadcast on ITV in the UK, Pilger's documentary Palestine Is Still the Issue (2002) was alleged by complainants including the Israeli embassy, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Conservative Friends of Israel to be inaccurate and biased. These complaints were, ironically, echoed by Michael Green, chairman of Carlton Communications, the company that made the film. The UK television regulator, the Independent Television Commission (ITC), ordered an investigation. Based on the results of the investigation, the ITC rejected the complaints made about the film, stating:
The ITC raised with Carlton all the significant areas of inaccuracy critics of the programme alleged and the broadcaster answered them by reference to a range of historical texts. The ITC is not a tribunal of fact and is particularly aware of the difficulties of verifying 'historical fact' but the comprehensiveness and authority of Carlton's sources were persuasive, not least because many appeared to be of Israeli origin.
Pilger's documentary, the ITC added, "was not in breach of the ITC Programme Code... Adequate opportunity was given to a pro-Israeli government perspective."
Pilger's 2004 film Stealing a Nation told the story of the people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. In the 1960s and 70s, British governments expelled the entire population of the Chagos Archipelago, dumping them in the slums of Mauritius. The aim was to give the principal island of this Crown Colony, Diego Garcia, to the Americans who wanted it as a major military base, from where US planes have since bombed Afghanistan and Iraq. The International Criminal Court later described this act as "a crime against humanity". Pilger strongly criticised Tony Blair for not making any real response to the 2000 High Court ruling that the British expulsion of the island's natives to Mauritius in order to make way for a United States Air Force base had been illegal.
In May 2006, the UK High Court ruled in favour of the Chagossians in their battle to prove they were illegally removed by the UK government during the depopulation of Diego Garcia, paving the way for a return to their homeland. The leader of the Chagos Refugee Group, Olivier Bancoult, described it as a "special day, a day to remember". In May 2007, the UK Government's appeal against the 2006 High Court ruling was dismissed and they took the matter to the House of Lords. In October 2008, the House of Lords ruled in favour of the Government, overturning the original High Court ruling.
His 2007 film The War on Democracy was Pilger's first cinema release and was named Best Documentary at the 2008 One World Media Awards. The film explores the historic and current relationship of Washington with Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile. Using, among other sources, archive footage sourced by Michael Moore's archivist Carl Deal, the film explores the role of US intervention, overt and covert, in toppling a series of governments in the region since the 1950s. This includes, for example, discussing reports of US involvement in the overthrow of the democratically elected Chilean government of Salvador Allende in 1973 and its replacement by the military dictatorship of General Pinochet. Pilger interviews several ex-CIA agents who purportedly took part in secret campaigns against democratic countries. He investigates the School of the Americas in the US state of Georgia, where Pinochet's torture squads were reportedly trained along with tyrants and death squad leaders in Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil and Argentina.
The film also explores the attempted overthrow of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez in 2002 and how the people of Caracas rose up to force his return to power. It looks at the wider rise of populist governments across South America led by figures calling for loosening ties with Washington and a fairer redistribution of the continent's natural wealth. "[The film]" says Pilger, "is about the struggle of people to free themselves from a modern form of slavery". These people, he says, "describe a world not as American presidents like to see it as useful or expendable, they describe the power of courage and humanity among people with next to nothing. They reclaim noble words like democracy, freedom, liberation, justice, and in doing so they are defending the most basic human rights of all of us in a war being waged against all of us".
In May 2007, Pilger co-signed and put forward a letter supporting the refusal of the government of Venezuela under Hugo Chávez to renew the broadcasting licence of Venezuela's largest television network Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), as they openly supported a 2002 coup attempt against the democratically elected government. Pilger and other signatories suggest that if the BBC or ITV used their news broadcasts to publicly support a coup against the British government, they would suffer similar consequences. Human rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have described the RCTV decision as an effort to stifle freedom of expression.
In addition to criticising the policies of former United States President George W. Bush and, in his view, the administration's exploitation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pilger believes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to be just as responsible as President Bush for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and occupation of Iraq. In 2004, Pilger advocated that the anti-war movement should support "Iraq's anti-occupation resistance" explaining: "We cannot afford to be choosy. While we abhor and condemn the continuing loss of innocent life in Iraq, we have no choice now but to support the resistance, for if the resistance fails, the "Bush gang" will attack another country." His support for the Iraqi insurgency has been criticised by some, including Andrew Bolt, who described him as an "apologist for terrorists".
On 25 July 2005, Pilger ascribed blame for the 2005 London bombings that took place the same month to Blair, whose decision to follow Bush helped to generate the rage that he maintains precipitated those bombings.
In the same column a year later, Pilger described Blair as a war criminal for supporting Israel's actions during the 2006 Israel–Lebanon conflict. He also asserted that Blair gave permission to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 to initiate what would ultimately become Operation Defensive Shield.
For Pilger, United States President Barack Obama, is "a glossy Uncle Tom who would bomb Pakistan." and whose theme "was the renewal of America as a dominant, avaricious bully". Pilger asserts, "In his first 100 days, Obama has excused torture, opposed habeas corpus and demanded more secret government". Gerard Henderson, a conservative Australian newspaper columnist, accused Pilger later in 2009 of "engaging in hyperbole against western democracies."
With others, Pilger supported Julian Assange by pledging bail in December 2010. Pilger said at the time: "There's no doubt that he is not going to abscond". The Wikileaks editor in chief also appeared in Pilger's documentary The War You Don't See (2010). Pilger has described the accusations against Assange in Sweden as a "political stunt" consisting of "concocted charges", an opinion British left-wing journalist Owen Jones has implicitly criticised.
Pilger's bail money was lost in June 2012 when a judge ordered it to be forfeited, as Assange had sought to escape the jurisdiction of the English courts by entering the embassy of Ecuador. Pilger has visited Assange in the embassy and continues to support him. Speaking to an audience in Bali (Indonesia) in October 2012, Pilger asserted that Assange receives opposition from journalists because "he shames us", and criticised people who have, in his view, pretended to be allies of Assange.
He is a strong critic of the institutions and economic forces that structure 'mainstream' journalism. In an address at Columbia University on 14 April 2006, he said:
During the Cold War, a group of Russian journalists toured the United States. On the final day of their visit, they were asked by their hosts for their impressions. 'I have to tell you,' said their spokesman, 'that we were astonished to find after reading all the newspapers and watching TV, that all the opinions on all the vital issues were by and large, the same. To get that result in our country, we imprison people, we tear out their fingernails. Here, you don't have that. What's the secret? How do you do it?'
Pilger said, while speaking to journalism students at the University of Lincoln, that mainstream journalism means corporate journalism, and as such represents vested corporate interests over those of the public. Of the British-American Project, for Pilger an example of "Atlanticist freemasonry", he asserted in 1998 that "many members are journalists, the essential foot soldiers in any network devoted to power and propaganda."
He is scornful of pro-Iraq War commentators on the liberal left, or 'liberal interventionists', such as David Aaronovitch, a "right-wing provocateur" who wears the mask of being a "'liberal'". Aaronovitch responded to an article by Pilger about the mainstream media in 2003 as one of his "typical pieces about the corruption of most journalists (ie people like me [Aaronovitch]) versus the bravery of a few (ie people like him)".
In January 2003 Pilger appeared on the New Zealand television show Face to Face With Kim Hill. Pilger was interviewed by journalist Kim Hill via a link from Sydney and complained that Hill had not prepared: "You waste my time because you have not prepared for this interview, as any journalist does, and I've done many interviews. The one thing is to prepare for them and this interview, frankly, is a disgrace." Hill called Pilger an "egomaniac" in a 2012 interview.
Pilger is a member of the interim consultative committee of the International Organization for a Participatory Society, of which Noam Chomsky is another member, launched in 2012.
Pilger has received human rights and journalism awards, including the Richard Dimbleby Award for factual reporting at the 1990 BAFTA Awards, as well as many honorary doctorates.He was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize at a ceremony at the Sydney Opera House in November 2009. The jury's citation reads as follows: "For work as an author, film-maker and journalist as well as for courage as a foreign and war correspondent in enabling the voices of the powerless to be heard. For commitment to peace with justice by exposing and holding governments to account for human rights abuses and for fearless challenges to censorship in any form." Nick Cohen attacked the award to Pilger, questioning his commitment to peace. "Pilger was not arguing for peace. He was taking sides — the wrong side in my view — in a war. To overcome this formidable obstacle, the Sydney judges fly off into a make-believe world in which ideas lose any connection to meaning."
Other awards include:
Next up is the egregious John Pilger, who thinks the Arab revolts show that the West in general and the United States in particular are "fascist":... Maybe he hasn't noticed, but what most of the Arab protesters say they want are the very freedoms that they know full well, even if Pilger doesn't, to be available in the West. No doubt he believes they are labouring under some massive mind-control delusion engineered by the CIA.
The revolt in the Arab world is against not merely a resident dictator, but a worldwide economic tyranny, designed by the US Treasury and imposed by the US Agency for International Development, the IMF and the World Bank, which have ensured that rich countries such as Egypt are reduced to vast sweatshops, with 40 per cent of the population earning less than $2 a day. The people's triumph in Cairo was the first blow against what Benito Mussolini called corporatism, a word that appears in his definition of fascism.
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