John Pilger

Australian journalist

John Richard Pilger (9 October 193930 December 2023) was an Australian journalist and documentary maker based in London and Sydney.

John Pilger in 2011

Quotes

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1970s

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  • And anyway, I am pro-Vietnamese, I regard their experience over 30 years as unique. They have had to turn back more intruders and vandals than any country in recent history.
    And now as a result of that they are ruined economically and they are facing starvation.

1980s

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  • The consensus, often called "the tolerant society," began to sicken under the Labor Governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan; under Mrs. Thatcher, it is dying. One example: There are 7,000 officially recorded racist attacks each year. The true figure is probably many times that. Of immigrant families I have interviewed, none allow their children to play outside, none has escaped at least one firebombing, none bother to call the police for fear of being arrested themselves on a bogus charge.
  • I have always had a great deal of admiration for Bob Hawke and the work he did as ACTU president; in fact it's a shame he's not still ACTU president.
    If he is as I found him last week, now that he's bereft of booze and smokes and on a Pritikin diet, I would quite frankly prefer he returned to the booze.
  • I always say that the difference between the United States and Australia is that US settlers were on a mission from God whereas Australian settlers were God-forsaken.
  • Twenty years ago today, in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, a gun was fired close to where I was standing. One bullet passed over my shoulder and struck a woman in the face; another lodged in the brain of a man who almost certainly would have become president of the United States.
    Robert Kennedy had seen his assassin leap on to a table and take aim; the flash of the little man's shiny yellow jacket remains indelible with me. "No!" Kennedy had screamed, half glancing for a space against the wall, anywhere, to escape. He lay mortally wounded beside a refrigerator, half smiling, tousled hair, eternal youth applied for; the face on the posters.

1990s

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  • [An account of a visit to East Timor] I carried with me hand-drawn maps of other, unmarked graves where some of those murdered by Indonesian troops at the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre had been buried; I had no idea that so much of the country was a vast grave, marked by paths that ended abruptly, and fields inexplicably bulldozed, and earth inexplicably covered with tarmac, and villages that are not so much human entities as memorials.
    Kraras is one of them. It is known as the "village of the widows", because the whole community of 287 people was slaughtered by the Indonesians. In a meticulous hand that carried on from a faded typewriter ribbon, a priest recorded the name, age, cause of death and date and place of the killing of every victim. In the last column, he identified the Indonesian battalion responsible for each murder. I have the document, which I always find difficult to put down, as if the blood of East Timor is fresh on its pages.

2000s

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  • [On the September 11 attacks] In these surreal days, there is one truth. Nothing justified the killing of innocent people in America last week and nothing justifies the killing of innocent people anywhere else.
  • More terrorists are given training and sanctuary in the United States than anywhere on earth. They include mass murderers, torturers, former and future tyrants and assorted international criminals. This is virtually unknown to the American public, thanks to the freest media on earth.
  • During my lifetime, America has been constantly waging war against much of humanity: impoverished people mostly, in stricken places.
  • There is no War on Terrorism; it is the Great Game speeded up. The difference is the rampant nature of the superpower, ensuring infinite dangers for us all.
  • Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what Orwell called the official truth..."Impartiality" and "objectivity" now mean the establishment point of view...This is internalized. Journalists don't sit down and think, "I'm now going to speak for the establishment." Of course not. But they internalize a whole set of assumptions, and one of the most potent assumptions is that the world should be seen in terms of its usefulness to the West, not humanity.
  • Kim Hill: All this time, then, the United Nations and weapons inspectors have been some kind of puppets of the US.
    Pilger: Are you saying that?
    Hill: I am asking you whether that is what you are implying?
    Pilger: That's a leading question, I wouldn't ...
    Hill: How would you describe the activities of the United Nations up until this point?
    Pilger: Which area of the United Nations? It's a very big organisation.
  • Pilger: 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: What preparation would you have cared for, Mr Pilger?
    Pilger: To read. Read. It takes time.
    Hill: It's a pity you wasted a lot of your time tonight, Mr Pilger. I was looking forward to ...
    Pilger: No, I haven't. I'm quite pleased with my answers. I hope you broadcast them as I've given them.
    Hill: We broadcast you exactly as you are. It's been interesting to speak with you.
  • If those who support aggressive war had seen a fraction of what I've seen, if they'd watched children fry to death from Napalm and bleed to death from a cluster bomb, they might not utter the claptrap they do.
  • The impact of the human tragedies I've reported on is that, more often than not, I'll be angry. I want to know why is this child dying? These are not acts of God; they're results of respectable politicians' decisions.
  • When governments and other vested interests attack me personally I usually regard it as a vindication, otherwise they would use facts. That's why I believe in the wonderful Claud Cockburn dictum, 'Never believe anything until it is officially denied.' It has certainly been my experience.
  • I love irony in pictures. There's one photograph from Vietnam by Philip Jones Griffiths that shows a very large GI having his pocket picked by a tiny Vietnamese woman. It told the whole story of the clash of two cultures and how the invader could never win.
  • I've never seen myself as a campaigning journalist. A maverick, yes. But I'm a reporter and I'll always be a reporter, forever curious. And, I suppose, if anything drives me it's curiosity
  • I stand by every word I've ever written. I can back everything up with facts. I have never made the facts fit an agenda, unlike the corporate media. But, if I didn't annoy all the right people all the time, I would be very upset.
  • [On Barack Obama:] No one knew what the new brand actually stood for. So accomplished was the advertising (a record $75m was spent on television commercials alone) that many Americans actually believed Obama shared their opposition to Bush’s wars. In fact, he had repeatedly backed Bush’s warmongering and its congressional funding. Many Americans also believed he was the heir to Martin Luther King’s legacy of anti-colonialism. Yet if Obama had a theme at all, apart from the vacuous 'Change you can believe in,' it was the renewal of America as a dominant, avaricious bully. 'We will be the most powerful,' he often declared.
  • We are beckoned to see the world through a one-way mirror, as if we are threatened and innocent and the rest of humanity is threatening, or wretched, or expendable. Our memory is struggling to rescue the truth that human rights were not handed down as privileges from a parliament, or a boardroom, or an institution, but that peace is only possible with justice and with information that gives us the power to act justly.
    • Sydney Peace Prize acceptance speech, University of Sydney (4 November 2009).
  • 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 McDonalds is to food.

2010s

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Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what Orwell called the official truth.
  • We journalists... have to be brave enough to defy those who seek our collusion in selling their latest bloody adventure in someone else's country... That means always challenging the official story, however patriotic that story may appear, however seductive and insidious it is. For propaganda relies on us in the media to aim its deceptions not at a far away country but at you at home... In this age of endless imperial war, the lives of countless men, women and children depend on the truth or their blood is on us... Those whose job it is to keep the record straight ought to be the voice of people, not power.
    • The War You Don't See ITV (UK) (14 December 2010).
  • In the circus known as the American presidential campaign, Donald Trump is being presented as a lunatic, a fascist. He is certainly odious; but he is also a media hate figure. That alone should arouse our scepticism.
    Trump's views on migration are grotesque, but no more grotesque than those of David Cameron. It is not Trump who is the Great Deporter from the United States, but the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama.
    According to one prodigious liberal commentator, Trump is "unleashing the dark forces of violence" in the United States. Unleashing them?
  • Donald Trump is a symptom of this, but he is also a maverick. He says the invasion of Iraq was a crime; he doesn't want to go to war with Russia and China. The danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton. She is no maverick. She embodies the resilience and violence of a system whose vaunted "exceptionalism" is totalitarian with an occasional liberal face.
    As presidential election day draws near, Clinton will be hailed as the first female president, regardless of her crimes and lies - just as Barack Obama was lauded as the first black president and liberals swallowed his nonsense about "hope". And the drool goes on.
  • WikiLeaks has achieved far more than what The New York Times and The Washington Post in their celebrated incarnations did. No newspaper has come close to matching the secrets and lies of power that Assange and Snowden have disclosed. That both men are fugitives is indicative of the retreat of liberal democracies from principles of freedom and justice. Why is WikiLeaks a landmark in journalism? Because its revelations have told us, with 100 per cent accuracy, how and why much of the world is divided and run.
  • Obama was one of the most violent U.S. Presidents. He launched or sustained seven wars and left office with none resolved: a record. In his last year as President, 2016, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, he dropped 26,171 bombs. It’s an interesting statistic; it’s three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day, on mostly civilians.
  • Journalists can help people by telling the truth, or by as much truth as they can find, and acting not as agents of governments, of power, but of people. That is real journalism. The rest is specious and false.
  • When I began as a journalist, especially as a foreign correspondent, the press in the UK was conservative and owned by powerful establishment forces, as it is now. But the difference compared to today is that there were spaces for independent journalism that dissented from the received 'wisdom' of authority. That space has now all but closed and independent journalists have gone to the internet, or to a metaphoric underground.
  • The single biggest challenge is rescuing journalism from its deferential role as the stenographer of great power. The United States has constitutionally the freest press on earth, yet in practice it has a media obsequious to the formulas and deceptions of power. That is why the US was effectively given media approval to invade Iraq, and Libya, and Syria and dozens of other countries.
  • WikiLeaks is possibly the most exciting development in journalism in my lifetime... The truth about the Vietnam War was told when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers. The truth about Iraq and Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia and many other flashpoints was told when WikiLeaks published the revelations of whistle-blowers.
  • When you consider that 100 percent of WikiLeaks leaks are authentic and accurate, you can understand the impact, as well as the fury generated among secretive powerful forces. Julian Assange is a political refugee in London for one reason only: WikiLeaks told the truth about the greatest crimes of the 21st century. He is not forgiven for that, and he should be supported by journalists and by people everywhere.
  • Since Chavez’s death in 2013, his successor Nicolas Maduro has shed his derisory label in the Western press as a 'former bus driver' and become Saddam Hussein incarnate.... As the journalist and film-maker Pablo Navarrete reported this week, Venezuela is not the catastrophe it has been painted. 'There is food everywhere,' he wrote. 'I have filmed lots of videos of food in markets [all over Caracas] … it’s Friday night and the restaurants are full.'
  • In the pages of liberal newspapers in the West, race and class are two words almost never uttered in the mendacious “coverage” of Washington’s latest, most naked attempt to grab the world’s greatest source of oil and reclaim its “backyard”. For all the chavistas’ faults — such as allowing the Venezuelan economy to become hostage to the fortunes of oil and never seriously challenging big capital and corruption — they brought social justice and pride to millions of people and they did it with unprecedented democracy.
  • Should the CIA stooge Guaido and his white supremacists grab power, it will be the 68th overthrow of a sovereign government by the United States, most of them democracies. A fire sale of Venezuela’s utilities and mineral wealth will surely follow, along with the theft of the country’s oil, as outlined by John Bolton. Under the last Washington-controlled government in Caracas, poverty reached historic proportions. There was no healthcare for those could not pay. There was no universal education; Mavis Mendez, and millions like her, could not read or write.
  • Julian [Assange] is a distinguished Australian, who has changed the way many people think about duplicitous governments. For this, he is a political refugee subjected to what the United Nations calls 'arbitrary detention'. The UN says he has the right of free passage to freedom, but this is denied. He has the right to medical treatment without fear of arrest, but this is denied. He has the right to compensation, but this is denied. As founder and editor of WikiLeaks, his crime has been to make sense of dark times. WikiLeaks has an impeccable record of accuracy and authenticity which no newspaper, no TV channel, no radio station, no BBC, no New York Times, no Washington Post, no Guardian can equal.
  • The persecution of Julian Assange is the conquest of us all: of our independence, our self respect, our intellect, our compassion, our politics, our culture. So stop scrolling. Organise. Occupy. Insist. Persist. Make a noise. Take direct action. Be brave and stay brave. Defy the thought police. War is not peace, freedom is not slavery, ignorance is not strength. If Julian can stand up, so can you: so can all of us.

2020s

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  • On 28 January China said it would welcome international help as it struggled to contain coronavirus. No substantial help has come. Instead of solidarity and defying WHO, the US, Australia, Britain seek to isolate China, returning it to a state of siege and the dangers of the past.
  • A pandemic has been declared, but not for the 24,600 who die every day from unnecessary starvation, and not for 3,000 children who die every day from preventable malaria, and not for the 10,000 people who die every day because they are denied publicly-funded healthcare, and not for the hundreds of Venezuelans and Iranians who die every day because America's blockade denies them life-saving medicines, and not for the hundreds of mostly children bombed or starved to death every day in Yemen, in a war supplied and kept going, profitably, by America and Britain. Before you panic, consider them.

Quotes about Pilger

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  • But, Pilger objected, "Amnesty produced a catalogue of Saddam's killings that amounted mostly to hundreds every year, not millions. It is an appaling record that does not require the exaggeration of state-inspired propaganda".
    In fact Pilger's own source said (unquoted by him) that, in addition to the number of known executions Amnesty had also collected information on around 17,000 cases of disappearances, over the last 20 years, and "the real figure may be much higher".
  • During the Anfal anti-Kurdish campaign in 1987 as many as 180,000 Kurds disappeared. At Halabja, in one incident alone, more people were killed than in the whole of this latest Gulf war. The most conservative death toll attached to the repression of the Shia uprising in 1991 was 30,000. One million died in the Iran-Iraq war started by Saddam.
    And this is reduced by Pilger to "hundreds every year".
  • Mr Pilger certainly looked the part of the crusading journalist – the open-necked shirt, the unobtrusive make-up, the earnest gaze straight at the autocue. But The Truth Game was not an investigation, it was a piece of special pleading – part polemic, part "drama documentary", the journalistic equivalent of soap opera in which the heroes and villains are readily identifiable. By grossly underestimating the intelligence of its audience (let alone its sensitivity to moral bombast) it diminished the arguments it was trying to make. We may not trust politicians or generals but, on the evidence of last night's programme, we are hardly likely to turn to television instead.
  • John Pilger was once a notable reporter on this newspaper, even if he was the first to say so. [...] Pilger is an Australian descended from German and Irish immigrants. He has never understood Britain. His world is populated by simple Aborigines and sinister capitalists. He espouses the cause of one and enjoys the fruits of the other.
  • John Pilger's excoriation of the American performance in Vietnam was likewise unmatched by any similarly sceptical treatment of the North Vietnamese and their frequent resorts to torture and murder.
  • Oh, Pilger. The thing is, if Pilger wasn't an egomaniac, he wouldn't have done the work he's done. I was keen to talk to him, but he turns out to be a prick. So it goes.
  • Year Zero (ATV) featured John Pilger in Cambodia. Most of what he had to show was hard to look at. Already it has become apparent that Pol Pot's crimes, like Hitler's and Stalin's, are too hideous to take in, even when you are faced with the evidence. Nevertheless Pilger might have found a few unkind things to say about the North Vietnamese who, I seem to remember, have recently taken to offering their internal enemies the opportunity of going on long yachting expeditions with insufficient regard to safety precautions.
    Pilger loudly accused the international relief organisations of playing politics, but forgot to mention the possibility that the North Vietnamese might be playing politics themselves. The way he was telling it, they were philanthropists. He was there and we were here, but it was hard to quell the suspicion that one of the reasons he was there was that North Vietnam likes the way he presents such a neat, easily understandable picture.
    • Clive James "Sorry, Quaterfans", The Observer (4 November 1979), p. 20
    • The "long yachting expeditions" is a reference to the Vietnamese boat people. In the 20 years from 1975 (peaking in 1978 and 1979), approaching 800,000 fleeing Vietnamese were resettled in other countries, but between 200,000 and 400,000 people are estimated to have been lost at sea. The article's title refers to the Quatermass serial then being broadcast.
  • Pilger gained prominence in Indochina in the 1970s. ... He saw what he wished to see and ignored the rest. Pilger's documentaries about Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge inspired humanitarian fundraising, yet failed to disclose that Communist Vietnam, having invaded Cambodia and installed a puppet regime, was trying to control which starving people were fed and which were not.
  • Over the course of nearly three-and-a-half months, the novel coronavirus outbreak has infected over 127,000 and left over 4,700 dead. While this has sparked global panic and a WHO-declaration of a pandemic, then death toll is still a far cry from that of starvation, Malaria and war. This was the point made by BAFTA-award winning journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger who took to Facebook on Thursday, to highlight how, despite the fact that 24,600 people died each day from starvation and 3,000 children from preventable Malaria, no pandemic has been declared for them.
  • His trademark has always been to sidestep the accepted version of the facts, a modus operandi that served him well during the Vietnam war, in the apocalyptic post-Pol Pot Cambodia, the killing fields of East Timor and countless other hotspots... becoming an octogenari­an hasn’t mellowed him in the least.
  • (The Coming War on China) was made before news broke of the upheavals in Xinjiang, along with reports that the Uygur minority was being persecuted. Typically, Pilger’s reaction was to avoid instantly pointing a finger at Beijing, and to look for an alternative narrative... The major broadcasters in China competed to acquire rights to show the film (The Coming War on China) ... All I had to do, they said, was remove the Tiananmen Square sequence. Interestingly, the references to dissidents and other critical sections could stay. I said ‘no’ to any changes, and there were no deals. Within a week, [a pirated version] appeared on the internet with Chinese subtitles – including the Tiananmen Square sequence. Then a friend called from Shanghai to say he had bought a DVD of the film in his local shop – unedited and openly on sale.”
  • Pilger's early Cambodia films, Year Zero (1979) and Year One (1980), were very moving, made Cambodia and the horror of the Khmer Rouge rule a real issue for millions of people and raised a lot of money for Cambodia. But I thought both films were flawed by the equation of America and the Khmer Rouge. By skilful orchestration of emotions and actuality, Pilger seemed to show that, of governments, only the Vietnamese really cared about helping Cambodia and that official Western aid was designed to subvert rather than succour. I thought that this was dangerous nonsense, dangerous for hungry Cambodians, because the Vietnamese had put outrageous restrictions on aid. Also, to accept Vietnamese domination of the country seemed to me like accepting Soviet domination of Poland because they liberated it from the Nazis.

See also

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