John Pilger discusses the role of the media in the contemporary context of whistleblowers and war.
|As part of an ongoing series of interviews for the radio show “Le Mur a Des Oreilles; conversations for Palestine“, Frank Barat talks to John Pilger, one of the most influencial journalist of the last few decades, about the war in Syria, the colonisation of Palestine, the relationship between the corporate media and government propaganda and the actions of a few very brave men, Snowden, Assange and Manning.
FB: Quick question before we start, have you finished working on a new film?
JP: Yes, I’ve almost just finished a new film, which will be premiered at the National Film Theatre here on October 3 and shown on the ITV network on the December 17. It is called “Utopia” and it is about Indigenous Australia and the secret of Australia and the way Australia has embraced an Apartheid without giving due acknowledgment for having done so. It is a subject I have written and made films about over the years but this is quite an epic film.
FB: Let’s start, so Syria is regularly headline news at the moment, what do you make of the corporate media reporting on the issue and as a reporter, do you recognise yourself in this type of journalism?
JP: Well, I’ve never recognised myself being the kind of journalism that misrepresents the Middle East as a matter of routine. I don’t see how any journalist can recognise himself or herself. This is not to say that there are not good reporters, good journalists that work in the Middle East but we rarely glimpse them in what we call the mainstream, that’s a miss known there is no mainstream of course and you’ve described it correctly as corporate media, we rarely glimpse these honourable exceptions. There is a kind of Kissinger’s style to a lot of the reporting in the way that Kissinger made almost an art form of hypocrisy and looking the other way while the United States went about its rapacious business in the Middle East and the way he gave an impunity to Israel which we have to understand, if we are to understand, the problems of the Middle East and how they might be solved but it’s almost as if Israel doesn’t exist and yet it is the core of the problem.
FB: Would it be a fair portrayal if I say to you that I can’t really see a difference between corporate media reporting on Syria and Government propaganda? It seems like they are the same sort of arms of the same Institutions in a way.
JP: Most of the mainstream reporting is simply an extension of what I would call an establishment prevailing view, it is not necessarily the government but generally speaking, it is the government point of view. The mainstream broadcasters for example made no secret of the fact that they framed their political and to a large degree the International coverage on how the political class, the Westminster class in Britain deals with politics and international affairs. So, you have a political reporter, he is limited to report in Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament, a so called diplomatic correspondent is limited to really reporting what the Foreign Office does. So they are by almost their own definition simply echoes of what the government or the establishment point of view.
FB: Talking about journalists such as yourself that we normally call investigative journalists, it seems like it is a dying breed, would you say that people like Snowden and Assange are the new journalists nowadays?
JP: I don’t think it is a dying breed, I think there is a great enthusiasm among young journalists to really be real journalists, in fact investigating journalist is a modern invention really, I mean journalism should be about investigating but people who do the hard work finding out things and encouraging whistle blowers and so on they are there. You’ve got people in the United States like Jeremy Scahill and Gareth Porter.Gareth Porter especially who writes only on the Internet, he is an excellent investigating journalist. So, you know, we exist, we are not dying off, we are always under threat, I suspect we always were.
What we’ve done always in the past is recognise that our greatest source has been a whistle blower, I mean the source of great scoops, great revelations, is not always but mostly someone from within, a sort of conscientious objector, Bradley Manning played that part with great distinction and courage. Snowden is an absolute exemplar of this and I suspect, in fact I know that he represents many others within, the so-called security establishment. The biggest threat is probably still WikiLeaks because it has provided a method by which leakers can leak also blowers can blow. It has a pretty moral principle behind it which Julien Assange has often expressed. So, I would regard them as part of a kind of a band of brothers and sisters if you like, journalists, whistle blowers. It is very interesting, one of the most interesting document which wikiLeaks leaked a few years ago from the Ministry of Defence in London was a document which I think entitled something like how to stop leaks and of course it was leaked, it described the biggest threats to all the wonderful things we hold here in the West, there were 3 major threats. The third threat was Russian spies, believe it or not, the second threat was terrorists but the major threats above all were investigative journalists.
FB: Coming back to the Middle East, you’ve reported on Palestine for many years. How difficult is it to report on Palestine and what do you make of channels such as the BBC calling for impartiality on the issue? Can a journalist be impartial when the situation is so unbalanced on the ground?
JP: Well, they don’t mean impartial, it is just a term that has been drained of all its diction meaning, it has no meaning, impartial means partial actually, it means putting a cross as I described the Western point of view and being very very aware of that unless you put across on the Israeli point of view you are going to be in trouble within your own organisations, the BBC is a particular example, you know I made a film about this in which there were producers which I have known personally talked about being terrified of a call from the Israeli Embassy. The routine intimidation of the BBC has produced without too much difficulty I have to say, has produced a partiality that they describe as impartiality, it is a sort of a Orwellian expression, there is no impartiality. In the language used, so you have a BBC report in which you have two narratives in Palestine you know, the “Israeli – Palestine” conflict and so on. There is very very rarely reporting that is framed within the law. Say it was framed within the law there would be no question of how Palestine would come out and how Israel would come out because Israel is the most lawless state in the world and what it is doing in Palestine is entirely lawless. It’s never framed in terms of law, it’s never framed in terms of dare I say what is right or wrong; it is framed in terms of an equal conflict, which it is, of course not.
FB: You made a film called “Palestine is still the issue” in 2003, if you had to make one again today, what title would you give it and why?
JP: Well, the first film I made about Palestine was in 1974 and it was called “Palestine is still the issue”, the next film I made was in 2002 “Palestine is still the issue” and if I make one now it would be called “Palestine is still the issue” for the obvious reason.
FB: You mentioned words before, for journalists and for propaganda purposes from governments or mainstream media, how important are words? You talked about Orwellian words, it seems they can actually change the meaning of wars, they would call a “massacre” a “pacification”,”ethnic cleansing” becomes “moving borders” etc, can you tell us something about that?
JP: It comes down to much more basic that the word war. A war implies that there are two kind of more or less equal states or army facing each other. So going to war in Syria, having a war in Syria, you hear that time and time again, there is no war in Syria, there is a war going on in Syria but it is a civil war, but as far as the West is concerned there is no such things as going to war because apart from trying to defend itself, Syria will be attacked just as there were no war in Iraq. A war was created, a sectarian war that was the consequence of what was a massive attack and invasion. The same thing happened in 1991, I saw the state of the Iraqi army shortly before that and it was not equipped or able to defend itself or a country or whatever. Yes, it could go on an invade Kuwait but there was no real defence there. Again, that was not a war, they did not call it a war, they called it an invasion. So they are invasion, they are rapacious, they are aggressive, they are lawless.
In Vietnam, the world involvement was used, I remember that, in the Americans press. The US involvement in Vietnam you know is a useless word, it doesn’t really mean anything. In fact, it was the US invasion of South Vietnam, the country was meant to be defending, that term was almost never used.
FB: One of your last film that is called “The war you don’t see”, the people we often don’t see are the people on the ground, the people that are fighting imperialism, fighting for an intervention. Following our interview tonight, we are going to talk to a woman activist from Nablus, a Lady called Beesan Ramadan, what would be your message to people on the ground that are suffering from Western interventions?
JP: I think we all depend on people like that; we all draw inspiration from them because it is just remarkable to me and inspiring. The Palestinians keep going, those who attack them again and again, the Israelis and Americans and former Israelis, Americans, Europeans and so on. These constant attacks on Palestine have not even divided the Palestinians yet, I mean, yes, Gaza has been physically divided from the West Bank, the Occupied Territories but even that division between people in Gaza and people in the West Bank as well as class division, of course there are but the fact that the Palestinian people keep going and this is a spectacle I find very moving, that Palestinian children going to school all dressed up in their school uniforms making their way through rubble, often having had disturbed nights and perhaps disturbing themselves by the attacks on them by the Israelis and so on.
So, because Palestine is still the issue, because unless there is a settlement, unless there is justice that is the key word, justice for the Palestinian people (when I said settlement I mean a just one), there is not going to be peace really in the region or in the broader world so we depend on the people there to keep going.
FB: Thanks John, thanks again.
John Pilger is an award winning Australian journalist and broadcaster/documentary maker primarily based in Britain.
Frank Barat is a human rights activist based in London, UK and is coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
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