“Most of the media, with a few honorable exceptions, is an extension of the established order and power.”
These words belong to the recently deceased Australian journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker John Pilger, who is particularly well-known among media professionals. Pilger was a prominent journalist who criticized the American, Australian, and British foreign policies, which he believed operated with an imperialist and colonialist agenda. Although Pilger advocated for oppressive regimes at the height of his fame, he was a principled advocate against human rights violations.
He criticized his own country’s treatment of the Indigenous Australians. What made him internationally renowned were his reports on the Cambodian genocide. His career in documentary filmmaking began with the 1970 production “Silent Rebellion” during a visit to Vietnam and continued with over 50 documentaries.
“A journalist must understand the hidden purpose of the news they report and the mythology that feeds it, not just consider themselves as a mere reporter,” he wrote under his profile in X. His writings were not always supported, but the findings from his research were admirable. He passed away on December 30 at the age of 84.
John Pilger Pilger was a major figure in print and broadcast media during a time when newspapers sold millions and there were only three terrestrial television channels. Politicians and experts praised Pilger for his adherence to the ethical values of journalism and his honesty, but they never accepted his political stances.
In fact, Pilger was not a research journalist, as he never conducted investigations. As a former colleague described, Pilger was a polemicist searching for what he wanted to find. Throughout his nearly 60-year career, he fearlessly illuminated many dark points associated with George Bush and exposed many truths hidden in the distorted reports of mainstream Western media. His commitment to bringing the truth to light was often exploited, but Pilger stood out as someone who made visible differences in this endeavor.
He made numerous contributions to journalism. One such contribution was his documentary “Silent Rebellion,” which discussed minor but significant rebellions among American troops in Vietnam, events that could not be mentioned in the U.S. “I didn’t go there thinking it was the wrong war. I just knew very little about it,” he commented about his first assignment in Vietnam. He brought the massacres committed by the Khmer Rouge to light, presenting heart-wrenching reports in “Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia.”
He faced troubled times, resisting threats from British governments, the U.S. State Department, the CIA, and even the Israeli lobby. In the early 1970s, Pilger focused on the problems of lands under Israeli occupation. He produced two documentaries titled “Palestine is still the issue” almost 30 years apart, showing that not much had changed.
In an interview, when asked, “If you had to remake your ‘Palestine is still the issue’ documentary today, what would you name it?” Pilger replied, “I made my first documentary in 1974 and called it ‘Palestine is still the issue.’ I made the next one in 2002 and named it the same. If I were to make another, I would still call it ‘Palestine
is still the issue.'”
Pilger’s journalism covered various topics like South Africa, Iraq, Palestine, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Venezuela, the Czechoslovak Republic, and Ukraine. He witnessed the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy from just meters away. His interest in his homeland, Australia, led to several documentary series about the terrible treatment of the indigenous people of the colonized continent.
Pilger belonged to a school of Western journalists who challenged difficulties – often their own governments and allies – to separate truth from propaganda or public relations and report what they saw. He was a staunch supporter of the Stop the War Movement and the Palestinian cause. From Vietnam War journalism to Iraq, he was an anti-war voice. He detested the rich and powerful for their ostentation and hypocrisy. He frequently expressed his disdain for cowards and traitors on the left.
He summarized the essential point of his profession as follows: “Even in the face of international pain and evil, a journalist’s duty is to put aside personal biases and partial information, and to report the world not as they wish it to be, but as it is.”
Pilger won the Journalist of the Year award twice. While many view Pilger as someone who conveyed what he knew was untrue and concealed things he found true and important for ideological reasons, others accuse him of being indifferent to human suffering.
In his last interview, he answered a question about the difficulty of reporting on Palestine and the neutrality pursued by channels like the BBC: “This word has been emptied of its dictionary meaning. Neutral now means partisan; it means propagating a Western perspective and understanding that Israel’s viewpoint is correct when covering the Middle East. If you act contrary to this as a BBC reporter, you’re in trouble. Neutrality is an Orwellian expression like ‘war is peace.’ BBC reporters have learned to sterilize. There is a ‘conflict’ between Israel and Palestine. If law were the criterion in reporting Palestine, the news would be entirely different.
The word ‘war’ is a simple deception. War implies a confrontation between two sides of roughly equal power. Whenever the West threatens to attack Syria or Iran, the word ‘war’ is used. There is no war. There is a threat of attack and occupation. When the West attacked Iraq, there was no war. It was an unopposed occupation. Iraq was defenseless. The U.S. mostly attacks defenseless countries.”
Leaving behind a visual and written legacy of decades of service to humanity, Pilger was unique in many ways, though not alone in his efforts. John Pilger left this advice for puppet journalists in Turkey and around the world: “A journalist should oppose tyranny, oppression, and dictatorship.”