John Richard Pilger
(born October 9
) is a multi-award-winning Australian
filmmaker from Sydney
, primarily based in London
Life and career
Pilger was born in Bondi
, a suburb of Sydney. He attended Sydney Boys High School
and founded a student newspaper there, the Messenger
. He acquired his first job in journalism as a copy boy with the Sydney Sun
in 1958, later moving to The Daily Telegraph
. Pilger left Australia to work for the Daily Mirror
in the early 1960s and has since been based in that country.
Pilger acted as a war correspondent during conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, India, Bangladesh and Biafra. His reputation steadily emerged through both his documentary films and the books he has written. One of his first documentary films, Year Zero, is credited with bringing to world attention for the first time the atrocities being committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. A number of his later documentaries have similarly focused upon what he alleges are human rights abuses perpetrated on civilian populations from the Israeli-occupied territories, to Indonesian East Timor and Iraq under UN sanctions.
In 1987 Pilger was involved with the left-wing tabloid News on Sunday which launched to great fanfare and went bankrupt eight weeks later. He had been appointed the editor-in-chief, but walked out before the first issue, having fallen out with the editor and the paper's backers.
Pilger has won many journalism and human rights awards, including Britain's prestigious Journalist of the Year award twice, and he has a number of honorary doctorates. He has a son Sam (born in 1973) and a daughter Zoe (born 1984).
Western foreign policy
Since his early years as a war correspondent in Vietnam
, Pilger has been a trenchant critic of the foreign policy
of many Western countries
. He is particularly opposed to many aspects of United States foreign policy
, which he regards as being driven by a largely imperialist
Pilger is a strong critic of the institutions and economic forces that structure 'mainstream' journalism. In an address at Columbia University
on 14 April 2006
, he said:
During the Cold War, a group of Russian journalists toured the United States. On the final day of their visit, they were asked by their hosts for their impressions. 'I have to tell you,' said their spokesman, 'that we were astonished to find after reading all the newspapers and watching TV, that all the opinions on all the vital issues were by and large, the same. To get that result in our country, we imprison people, we tear out their fingernails. Here, you don’t have that. What’s the secret? How do you do it?'
He is particularly scornful of pro-Iraq war commentators on the liberal left, or 'liberal interventionists', such as Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch.
In addition to criticizing the policies of United States President George W. Bush, Pilger has also taken aim at former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whom he believes to be just as culpable as President Bush for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
In his column published in New Statesman on 25 July 2005, Pilger ascribed blame for the 2005 London bombings that took place the same month to Blair, whose decision to follow Bush helped to generate the rage that he maintains precipitated those bombings.
In the same column a year later, Pilger described Blair as a war criminal for supporting Israel's actions during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. He also asserted that Blair gave permission to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 to initiate what would ultimately become Operation Defensive Shield.
Support of Hugo Chavez
Pilger is a supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez
. In May 2007 he co-signed and put forward a letter supporting the refusal of the government of Venezuela
to renew the broadcasting licence of Venezuela's largest television network Radio Caracas Televisión
, as they openly supported a 2002 coup attempt
against the democratically
elected government. Pilger and other signatories suggest that if the BBC
used their news broadcasts to publicly support a coup against the British government
, they would suffer similar consequences. Other groups, such as Human Rights Watch
, Reporters Without Borders
and the Committee to Protect Journalists
, have described the RCTV decision as an effort to stifle freedom of expression.
Pilger has written articles about the depopulation of Diego Garcia
by the United Kingdom
during the 1970s. He has strongly criticised Tony Blair
for not making any real response to the 2000 High Court
ruling that the British expulsion of the island's natives to Mauritius
in order to make way for a US Air Force
base had been illegal.
Praise and criticism
Pilger is known for his polemical style, which has attracted both praise and criticism. Harold Pinter
has said of his work: "John Pilger is fearless. He unearths, with steely attention to facts, the filthy truth, and tells it as it is . . . I salute
Auberon Waugh, on the other hand, coined the verb "to pilger", meaning "to present information in a sensationalist manner to reach a foregone conclusion". In reply to this, Noam Chomsky stated that the reason why journalists have invented the terms 'to pilger' and 'pilgerise' is because, when faced with the uncomfortable facts about the consequences of U.S foreign policy that Pilger presents, "ridicule [is] the only response they are capable of".
Sydney Morning Herald columnist Gerard Henderson is one of Pilger's most vocal critics and has accused him in effect of being a conspiracy theorist.
John Simpson, the BBC's world affairs editor, has said, "A country that does not have a John Pilger in its journalism is a very feeble place indeed."
- 1958 – 62 Reporter, freelance writer, sports writer and sub-editor - Daily & Sunday Telegraph, Sydney
- 1962 – Freelance correspondent - Italy 1962
- 1962 – 63 Middle East desk, Reuters, London
- 1963 – 66 Reporter, sub-editor, feature writer and Chief Foreign Correspondent - Daily Mirror
- 1969 – 71 Reporter, World in Action, Granada Television
- 1974 – 81 Reporter/Producer, ATV
- 1981 – Documentary film-maker, Central and Carlton Television
- 1987 – titular Editor-in-Chief but resigned before publication and a founder of News on Sunday, London
Pilger has written for or had articles published in the following publications:
He has also written for various French, Italian, Scandinavian, Canadian and Japanese newspapers and periodicals, among others, and has contributed to the BBC's news service. He is on the advisory board of UKWatch.
Books by Pilger
- The Last Day (1975)
- Aftermath: The Struggles of Cambodia and Vietnam (1981)
- The Outsiders (1984)
- Heroes (1986)
- A Secret Country (1989)
- Distant Voices (1992 and 1994)
- Hidden Agendas (1998)
- Reporting the World: John Pilger's Great Eyewitness Photographers (2001)
- The New Rulers of the World (2002)
- Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and its Triumphs (ed.) Cape (2004)
- Blowin' in the wind (2004)
- Freedom Next Time (2006)
- Descriptive Writer of the Year (1966)
- Reporter of the Year (1967)
- Journalist of the Year (1967)
- International Reporter of the Year (1970)
- News Reporter of the Year (1974)
- Campaigning Journalist of the Year (1977)
- Journalist of the Year(1979)
- UN Media Peace Prize, Australia (1979 – 80)
- UN Media Peace Prize and Gold Medal, Australia (1980 – 81)
- TV Times Readers' Award (1979)
- United Kingdom Academy Award (1990)
- The George Foster Peabody Award, USA (1990)
- American Television Academy Award ('Emmy') (1991)
- British Academy of Film and Television Arts – The Richard Dimbleby Award (1991)
- Reporters Sans Frontiers Award, France (1990)
- International de Television Geneve Award (1995)
- The Monismanien Prize, Sweden (2001)
- The Sophie Prize for Human Rights, Norway (2003)
- EMMA Media Personality of the Year (2003)
- Royal Television Society – Best British Documentary for Stealing a Nation (2004)
Degrees and honorary degrees:
- "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."
- "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."
- (Referring to the September 11, 2001 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."
- Freedom Next Time: Filmmaker & Journalist John Pilger on Propaganda, the Press, Censorship and Resisting the American Empire, Democracy Now!, August 7, 2007,
Listen and Watch:
- "Resisting the Empire": Documentary Filmmaker John Pilger on Struggles for Freedom in Israel-Palestine, Diego Garcia, Latin America and South Africa, Democracy Now!, June 7, 2007,
Listen and Watch:
- John Pilger, The lies of Hiroshima live on, props in the war crimes of the 20th century, The Guardian, August 6, 2008,
- John Pilger at Random House Australia