THE ORIGINAL WHISTLEBLOWER
Can one individual really make a difference in tackling injustice, propaganda, corruption, war?
Two words are all you need in answer: John Pilger.
In a New Statesman survey of the 50 Heroes of Our Time, Pilger came fourth, in the company of legends like Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela.
Pilger has been called Australia’s compensation for Murdoch, and while it’s easy to laugh at the scathing comment on the latter, it doesn’t begin to touch on the incredible contributions of the former.
He’s the investigative journalist and war correspondent who has shaped the conscience of a generation. A documentary filmmaker whose commitment to unearthing the truth – as filthy, dangerous and brutal as it may be – is unshakeable. When history puts the current period under a hard lens it may well conclude that Pilger alone served to bring some kind of balance to the search for justice in an otherwise corrupt age.
That he’s anti-establishment is no surprise; what is, however, is his implacable courage in the face of conflict. He has called the United States “the world’s leading rogue state” and Israel “the American watchdog in the Middle East.” He hasn’t spared his native Australia either, taking on its leaders for their inhuman immigrant detention programmes and appalling treatment of the aborigines.
His battles are at once local and global: the fight for one indigenous peoples is, after all, a fight for them all. If there’s an underlying theme to his perspective, it’s a war on injustice: Pilger painstakingly reveals hidden agendas and the injustices that are inherent to the politics of the high and mighty.
His message isn’t pretty – and neither is his medium. Whether through pictures, words, or his award-winning documentaries, Pilger has mastered the art of weaving an honest, compelling narrative that moves you to feel the suffering and injustice he battles, and the apathy of the “invisible governments”.
Perhaps his greatest asset, though, is his ability to deconstruct the intricate and often hidden propaganda machinery behind governments, corporations and even media: from vested interests to ‘embedded journalists’ perpetuating untruths about a war, to centuries old exploitation of the original inhabitants of a land, Pilger is a myth-buster who reveals the deft techniques used by those in power. Small wonder, then, that Noam Chomsky calls him ‘a beacon of light in often dark times’.
He has reported from the frontlines of every major war in the last few decades –Vietnam, Cambodia and Iraq, among others – and is, arguably, the original whistleblower; the voice that probes chinks in the establishment version of encounters and death tolls, and openly questions the motivations behind international interventions. Mainstream media is as much in his line of fire as the political establishment: he has, in the past, called such journalists and media “channelers and echoers of what Orwell called official truth.”
Hailing from a political family, Pilger’s journalistic leanings were evident right from school: he founded a student paper, The Messenger, then later went on to work with the Sydney Sun and the Daily Telegraph. Later, having moved to London, he worked with the British United Press and Reuters before moving to the Daily Mirror.
In 1969 – a few years into his journalistic career – he made his first documentary on the Vietnam war for World in Action, a TV show on Granada Television. It was the first of over 50 documentaries he would go on to make – and was widely recognised as a scoop of sorts, being the first piece of reporting to document the failing morale of American soldiers in Vietnam.
In the decades since, his skills have sharpened, his voice strengthened, his vision honed – but his desire for justice remains as vivid as it was the day he entered the profession. He’s won two British Journalist of the Year awards, several honorary degrees, a BAFTA for factual reporting and, in 2009, the Sydney Peace Prize ‘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.’
John Simpson, the BBC’s world affairs editor put it more succinctly when he said “a country that does not have a John Pilger in its journalism is a very feeble place indeed.”