Wednesday, 15 December 2010

John Pilger's The War You Don't See questions the illusion of a free press

For anyone who values the freedom of the press as one of the keystones of democracy, John Pilger’s documentary The War You Don’t See on ITV1 last night would have been disturbing. For someone such as me a journalist for more than 40 years, it was deeply troubling.
Pilger is a veteran investigative reporter with an anti-establishment agenda. He believes the West – especially the US – is on a constant war footing as a policy of controlling weaker countries and extracting their mineral wealth. It is as though there is a conspiracy between capitalist governments and their defence industries to forever re-cycle taxpayers’ money.
This doesn’t square with current British government policy at least, which is to slash military spending and scale down our overseas commitments.
But the main thrust of Pilger’s polemic – that US and UK reporters have been manipulated by their governments into misleading their readers and viewers - is not one easily dismissed.
His film gathered together an impressive range of talking heads – BBC and ITN news chiefs, top reporters including CBS news anchor for 24 years Dan Rather, and a one time Foreign Office insider.
Pilger contends whether unwittingly or knowingly war reporters from mainstream news gathering organisations regularly have bought into government agendas – most recently when covering the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine.
The process can be subtle – ‘embedded’ journalists in particular have little opportunity to contradict the stories they are being directed towards. More blatant is the pressure exerted on reporters when they are threatened with being frozen out by military news machines if they don’t follow the ‘party’ line.
I suspect the most powerful influence on reporters is, as Dan Rather admitted, the desire to believe what they are being fed. In the first flush of invasion to question the official version of events would be unpatriotic. Any copy they filed would be spiked back home – along with their job.
However, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and tame the Taliban in Afghanistan has created a sceptical public appalled by the cost in body bags and now less likely to believe its politicians.
As Pilger reminded viewers there are those such as Tony Blair who believe the West should intervene militarily if Iran seeks nuclear weapons capability. Iran says its development of nuclear energy is for peaceful purposes. It would be nice to think our press having learned its lesson will be able to report fairly and independently on the rights and wrongs if conflict threatens.


  1. Ok GC. But do not forget that Iran is fuelling the truly global/international suspicion with its own bellicose statements. and its lack of cooperation on nuclear matters with the world community. And by the way, all those years when Pilger was criticising the West during the Cold War what was the 'uncriticized' USSR doing? [as just one example]. Yours Jaffa.

  2. All the more reason for truly independent journalists. GC

  3. Yes GC. But I do not think you can put Pilger into that category. His agenda has always been the West's values but I don't believe that he gives the same critical attention to other non-Western values. I venture to suggest to you that sometimes democracy can become confused by the pluralism of so many different opinions. For example what if the 'other side' has less of a conscience about its actions than our own leaders? Jaffa.


What do you think? GC