John Pilger obituary


John Pilger, who has died of pulmonary fibrosis aged 84, was a journalist who by no means shirked from saying the unsayable. Throughout half a century, in newspapers and in his documentary movies – many for ITV, however later additionally within the cinema – he grew to become an ever stronger voice for these and not using a voice, and a thorn within the aspect of these in authority.

He was a fervent critic of US and British overseas coverage. In 2006, on a panel at Columbia College, New York, to debate Breaking the Silence: Conflict, Lies and Empire, Pilger asserted that “journalists within the so-called mainstream bear a lot of the accountability” for the devastation and lives misplaced in Iraq, by not difficult and exposing “the lies of Bush and Blair”.

The influence of Pilger’s journalism was huge. In 1979, he entered Cambodia after the Vietnamese had thrown out Pol Pot and the murderous Khmer Rouge. In a report that took up a lot of the primary half of the Day by day Mirror, he revealed that presumably greater than two million individuals, from a inhabitants of seven million, had died on account of genocide or hunger, whereas one other two million confronted dying from meals shortages or illness.

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John Pilger at work on the Day by day Mirror in 1976. {Photograph}: Fairfax Media/Getty Photos

Haunting pictures of emaciated youngsters, and medical doctors battling to save lots of lives, had been subsequently seen in Pilger’s documentary Yr Zero: The Silent Demise of Cambodia, which was watched in 50 nations by 150 million viewers, and gained greater than 30 worldwide awards.

Displaying his expertise for placing a human tragedy right into a political context, he laid a part of the blame on the US, which had secretly and illegally bombed Cambodia, creating the turmoil that allowed Pol Pot to grab energy. Additionally, mentioned Pilger, western governments had been unwilling to offer substantial help to these now operating Cambodia for concern of displeasing the US, which had been defeated within the Vietnam conflict solely 4 years earlier.

Pilger’s reporting helped to lift $45m in reduction and earned him a second journalist of the yr title within the British Press Awards (the earlier one was for his dispatches from Vietnam) and the United Nations media peace prize. Over the subsequent decade, he continued to return to Cambodia and report on the ability politics. He himself survived an ambush after being placed on a Khmer Rouge dying checklist.

From his first ITV documentary, in 1970, Pilger made waves. In The Quiet Mutiny, for Granada Tv’s World in Motion present affairs sequence, he broke the story of the disintegration of morale amongst US troops within the Vietnam conflict – and reported that some officers had been being killed by their very own troopers.

Following a grievance by the US ambassador in London, the ITA – then business tv’s regulator – rapped Granada over the knuckles, setting the tone for future battles with Pilger over questions of steadiness and impartiality.

His ITV sequence Pilger (1974-77), made by ATV, seemed into many controversial topics in Britain, Pilger’s adopted nation after he left his native Australia in 1962. He reported on 98 uncompensated thalidomide victims, NHS cuts, racism, poverty and the therapy of youngsters with studying disabilities. Overseas, he went undercover to interview Czech dissidents.

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Nelson Mandela and John Pilger in 1995. {Photograph}: ITV/Shutterstock

All through this time, the ITA’s successor, the IBA, insisted that his movies ought to be launched on display screen as a “private view” somewhat than goal reporting. Pilger described David Glencross, the regulator’s chief programme officer, as “business tv’s chief censor” and regarded the IBA’s requires objectivity, steadiness and impartiality as “code for the institution view of the world, towards which most views are measured”.

Pilger mentioned he checked out politics from the bottom up, and he loved the assist of Richard Creasey, who grew to become ATV’s head of documentaries and negotiated with Glencross the best to display screen movies with out the “private view” label. However, when ATV grew to become Central Unbiased Tv and Pilger tackled the language used to advertise nuclear weapons in his 1983 documentary The Fact Recreation, the IBA insisted {that a} “balancing” programme be made by another person (it turned out to be Max Hastings) earlier than it could possibly be screened.

Pilger was one of many first journalists to return to Vietnam after the conflict, and amongst his different movies of the interval had been Do You Bear in mind Vietnam (1978), and Heroes (1981), for which he took 5 disabled American conflict veterans again to former fight zones to replicate on what he described as a conflict fought “in the reason for nothing”.

Nevertheless, his claims in Cambodia: The Betrayal (1990) in regards to the SAS coaching Khmer Rouge guerrillas within the Nineteen Eighties led Pilger and Central to lose a libel motion.

A lot of his documentaries uncovered human rights abuses. At nice private danger, Pilger and his common director, David Munro, entered nations run by army dictatorships. In Demise of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy (1994), he interviewed eyewitnesses to genocide by the occupying Indonesian regime in East Timor and revealed an unreported bloodbath. In Inside Burma: Land of Concern (1998), he uncovered the generals’ torture.

For Apartheid Did Not Die (1998), Pilger interviewed Nelson Mandela and brought about discomfort to each white and black South Africans by describing a brand new “financial apartheid” that stored many black individuals in poverty.

He explored UN sanctions on Iraq within the decade earlier than the US-led invasion in Paying the Value: Killing the Youngsters of Iraq (2000), globalisation in The New Rulers of the World (2001) and the Center East in Palestine Is Nonetheless the Concern (2002).

When Pilger made Breaking the Silence: Fact and Lies within the Conflict on Terror (2003), he unravelled the background to 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, highlighting “hypocrisy” by the US and British governments. He opened with the phrases: “This movie is in regards to the rise and rise of rapacious imperial energy and a terrorism that by no means speaks its title as a result of it’s our terrorism.”

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John Pilger addressing the media after visiting his pal Julian Assange on the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012. {Photograph}: Oli Scarff/Getty Photos

Related themes emerged in The Conflict on Democracy (2007), about US interference in Latin American nations, and The Conflict You Don’t See (2010), a chronicle of reporting from the frontline made with the director Alan Lowery, one other common collaborator. “Why do many journalists beat the drums of conflict whatever the lies of governments?” Pilger requested.

Later, his focus was on a rustic deemed by the US to be a menace to its world energy in The Coming Conflict on China (2016) and starved assets and creeping privatisation in The Soiled Conflict on the Nationwide Well being Service (2019).

Amongst greater than 60 documentaries, Pilger additionally made Stealing a Nation (2004), on the British authorities expelling the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands, within the Indian Ocean, within the 60s in order that the US may arrange a army base there.

However a relentless topic of Pilger’s movies over virtually 40 years, starting in 1976, was his homeland and the therapy of Indigenous Australians. Most importantly, he made The Secret Nation: The First Australians Combat Again (1985), the bicentenary trilogy The Final Dream (1988) and Utopia (2013), telling the story of his great-grandparents’ arrival in Australia as convicts, Aboriginal poverty and deaths in police custody, and the stolen generations of mixed-heritage youngsters takne from their households.

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John Pilger in Sydney, the town of his start. {Photograph}: GTV/Shutterstock

Pilger was born in Sydney, to Elsie (nee Marheine), a trainer, and Claude Pilger, a carpenter. He attended the town’s highschool and gained medals as a swimmer. In 1958 he joined Australian Consolidated Press, engaged on the Sydney Solar, after which the Day by day and Sunday Telegraph.

He freelanced in Italy earlier than shifting to Britain in 1962 and changing into a subeditor with the Reuters information company. A yr later, he joined the Day by day Mirror as a subeditor, then a reporter famous for his investigative journalism, descriptive writing and tireless campaigns.

Roaming the world, he was banned from South Africa by the apartheid regime in 1967 and was standing metres away when Robert F Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles the next yr. He left the Mirror in 1985 and wrote for different papers, together with the Guardian. He was a supporter of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The ferocity of rightwing criticism of his views indicated the effectiveness of his journalism.

Amongst dozens of honours, Pilger acquired an Emmy for Cambodia: The Betrayal, and, in 1991, Bafta’s Richard Dimbleby award.

His 1971 marriage to the journalist Scarth Flett led to divorce. He’s survived by his companion of greater than 30 years, Jane Hill, {a magazine} journalist, a son, Sam, from his marriage, and a daughter, Zoe, from a relationship with the journalist Yvonne Roberts.


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