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Farewell to the crusading John Pilger

It was extremely sad to read of the December 30 death of John Pilger, who was widely regarded [while also being derided in some quarters] as one of the world’s greatest journalists.

Born in Bondi, New South Wales, in 1939, Pilger spent much of his working life in the UK, although he also served as a war correspondent in Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Biafra.

He was perhaps the epitome of modern ‘campaigning journalism’, offering readers and viewers a level of interpretation – buttressed with detailed analysis – that was rare in mainstream media and is virtually non-existent now.

Whatever one thought of his politics, even his most trenchant detractors could not accuse him of pushing a hidden agenda – it was always firmly pinned to his sleeve, for all to see.

Throughout his long career, Pilger was particularly critical of American, Australian, and British foreign policy, which he considered fundamentally imperialist in nature, as well as his native country’s treatment of Indigenous Australians.

He appears to have fallen out of favour with most if not all media outlets in recent years, perhaps because of his relentless criticism of what he regarded as falling journalistic standards [many in New Zealand may remember him from a rather snippy 2003 television interview with Kim Hill], perhaps because some of his views were increasingly out of step with the ‘mainstream consensus’. His view of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a case in point: although far from a Putin apologist, he saw the current conflict as largely the product of a strategy of military encirclement and provocation on the part of the United States and Nato. Make of that what you will, but his 2014 opinion piece entitled ‘In Ukraine, the US is dragging us towards war with Russia’ [it’s available online] is either eerily prescient or indicates he was remarkably well-prepared pro-Russia propagandist.

Whether one is familiar with his work or not – or inclined to agree with his analysis – a visit to his website,
johnpilger.com, is thoroughly recommended.

To give you a taste of where Pilger was coming from, here are a few bangers from the man himself:

“The real test of journalism is not just reporting what is happening but why it is happening.”

“The role of a journalist is to challenge the status quo, not serve it.”

“You’re working within a system that is inherently hostile to truth-telling. One only has to see the media reaction to the truth tellers Edward Snowden and Julian Assange – the bitter reaction to people who shamed much of the media, almost at a stroke.”

“It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and the myths that surround it.”

“The major Western democracies are moving towards corporatism. Democracy has become a business plan, with a bottom line for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope. The main parliamentary parties are now devoted to the same economic policies – socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor – and the same foreign policy of servility to endless war. This is not democracy. It is to politics what McDonald’s is to food.”

“The true measure of a journalist is not their popularity, but their ability to challenge the powerful and give voice to the powerless.”

We’ll not see his like again.

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