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John Pilger
Born 9 October 1939 (1939-10-09) (age 70)
Sydney, Australia
Residence United Kingdom
Nationality Australian
Occupation Journalist, writer, documentary filmmaker
Children Two

John Richard Pilger (born 9 October 1939) is an Australian journalist and documentary maker based in London. He has twice won Britain's Journalist of the Year Award, and his documentaries have received academy awards in Britain and the US.[1][2] Noam Chomsky, the noted intellectual, said of Pilger: "John Pilger's work has been a beacon of light in often dark times. The realities he has brought to light have been a revelation, over and over again, and his courage and insight a constant inspiration."[3]


Life and career

Pilger was born in Bondi, a suburb of Sydney. He attended Sydney Boys High School, where he started a student newspaper, The Messenger. He began as a copy boy with the Sydney Sun in 1958 and later moved to the city's Daily Telegraph. In the early 1960s he was recruited by the British Daily Mirror. He has been based in London ever since.

On June 5, 1968 he witnessed the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Pilger says "there's no question that there was another gunman".[4][5]

During the Daily Mirror 's campaigning heyday Pilger became its star reporter, particularly on social issues. He was a war correspondent in Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt, India, Bangladesh and Biafra. Later, TV documentaries and books cemented his reputation.


"The Quiet Mutiny" in 1970 was the first of over 60 documentary films by Pilger. Filmed at Camp Snuffy, the film presented a character study of the common soldier during the Vietnam War, revealing the shifting morale and open rebellion of Western troops. Pilger described the film as "something of a scoop" because, he said, it was one of the first pieces to demonstrate the low morale of US troops in Vietnam. "When I flew to New York and showed it to Mike Wallace, the star reporter of CBS's 60 Minutes, he agreed. "Real shame we can't show it here," Pilger said in an interview with the New Statesman."[6]

Further films about Vietnam followed on from "The Quiet Mutiny" - "Vietnam: Still America's War" (1974), "Do You Remember Vietnam?" (1978) and "Vietnam: The Last Battle" (1995)


In 1979, John Pilger and two colleagues with whom he collaborated for many years, film director David Munro and photographer Eric Piper, entered Cambodia in the wake of the overthrow of the Pol Pot regime. The result was a series of world exclusives, the first of which occupied almost the entire Daily Mirror, which sold out. This was followed by an ITV documentary, "Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia", which is credited with alerting the world to the suffering of the Khmer people. Some $45 million was raised, unsolicited, in mostly small donations following the showing of Year Zero, including almost £4 million raised by schoolchildren in the UK. This funded the first substantial relief to Cambodia, including life saving drugs like penicillin and the manufacture of clothes to replace the black uniforms people had been forced to wear. Thanks to "Year Zero", said Brian Walker, director of Oxfam, "a solidarity and compassion surged across our nation".[7] Pilger and Munro went on to make another four films on Cambodia. During the filming of Cambodia Year One, they were warned that Pilger was on a Khmer Rouge 'death list' and, in one incident, they narrowly escaped an ambush. The British Film Institute (BFI) has described Year Zero as one of the ten most influential documentary films of the 20th century.

East Timor

In 1993 Pilger slipped into East Timor and filmed "Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy." The revelations of this film are credited with alerting much of the world to the horror of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, which began in 1975. "Death of a Nation" prompted an international outcry and helped force Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor and eventual independence in 2000.

Diego Garcia

Pilger's 2004 film Stealing a Nation told the story of the people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. In the 1960s and 70s, British governments expelled the entire population of the Chagos Archipelago, dumping them in the slums of Mauritius. The aim was to give the principal island of this Crown Colony, Diego Garcia, to the Americans who wanted it as a major military base, from where US planes have since bombed Afghanistan and Iraq. The International Criminal Court later described this act as "a crime against humanity". Pilger 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.[8]

In March 2005, Stealing a Nation was awarded Britain's most prestigous documentary prize, the Royal Television Society Award.

In May 2006, the UK High Court ruled in favour of the Chagossians in their battle to prove they were illegally removed by the UK government during the depopulation of Diego Garcia, paving the way for a return to their homeland. The leader of the Chagos Refugee Group, Olivier Bancoult, described it as a "special day, a day to remember". In May 2007, the UK Government's appeal against the 2006 High Court ruling was dismissed and they took the matter to the House of Lords. In October 2008, the House of Lords ruled in favour of the Government, overturning the original High Court ruling.

Latin America

His 2007 film The War on Democracy was Pilger's first cinema release and was named Best Documentary at the 2008 One World Media Awards.[9] The film explores the historic and current relationship of Washington with Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile. Using archive footage sourced by Michael Moore's archivist Carl Deal, the film shows how serial US intervention, overt and covert, has toppled a series of legitimate governments in the region since the 1950s. The democratically elected Chilean government of Salvador Allende, for example, was ousted by a US backed coup in 1973 and replaced by the military dictatorship of General Pinochet. Pilger interviews several ex-CIA agents who purportedly took part in secret campaigns against democratic countries. He investigates the School of the Americas in the US state of Georgia, where Pinochet’s torture squads were reportedly trained along with tyrants and death squad leaders in Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil and Argentina. The film also unearths the real story behind the attempted overthrow of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez in 2002 and how the people of Caracas rose up to force his return to power. It looks at the wider rise of populist governments across South America lead by indigenous leaders intent on loosening the shackles of Washington and a fairer redistribution of the continent's natural wealth. "[The film] is about," says Pilger, "the struggle of people to free themselves from a modern form of slavery". These people, he says, "describe a world not as American presidents like to see it as useful or expendable, they describe the power of courage and humanity among people with next to nothing. They reclaim noble words like democracy, freedom, liberation, justice, and in doing so they are defending the most basic human rights of all of us in a war being waged against all of us".[10]

Other documentaries have exposed human rights abuses in Burma, Australia, the Israeli-occupied territories, in Iraq as a consequence of UN sanctions and in Afghanistan.

Sydney Peace Prize

Pilger has received human rights and journalism awards, including the Richard Dimbleby Award for factual reporting at the 1990 BAFTA Awards, as well as honorary doctorates. He was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize at a ceremony at the Sydney Opera House in November 2009. The jury’s citation reads as follows: "For work as an author, film-maker and journalist as well as for courage as a foreign and war correspondent in enabling the voices of the powerless to be heard. For commitment to peace with justice by exposing and holding governments to account for human rights abuses and for fearless challenges to censorship in any form."[11]

In October 2009, Pilger described his 'ideal world' to underground magazine La Bouche

Pilger has a son, Sam (born 1973) and a daughter, Zoe (born 1984).

Political views

Criticism of Australia

Pilger has long been a critic of Australian government policy, particularly of what he regards as its inherent racism and the poor treatment of its indigenous population. Pilger wrote that the legislation that removed common law rights of Aborigines (Wik), "is just one of the disgraces that has given Australia the distinction of being the only developed country whose government has been condemned as racist by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination." [12]

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 agenda.

Mainstream journalism

Pilger has a bi-weekly column in New Statesman, which is his most frequent outlet. He 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:[13]

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?'

Pilger said, while speaking to journalism students at the University of Lincoln, that mainstream journalism means corporate journalism, and as such represents vested corporate interests over those of the public.[14]

He is particularly scornful of pro-Iraq war commentators on the liberal left, or 'liberal interventionists', such as Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch.

World leaders

In addition to criticizing the policies of former 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.

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.[15]

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.[16]

Pilger has also criticised United States President Barack Obama, describing him as "a glossy Uncle Tom who would bomb Pakistan."[17] and whose theme "was the renewal of America as a dominant, avaricious bully." Pilger asserts, "In his first 100 days, Obama has excused torture, opposed habeas corpus and demanded more secret government." [18]

Hugo Chavez

In May 2007, Pilger 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 (RCTV), as they openly supported a 2002 coup attempt against the democratically elected government. Pilger and other signatories suggest that if the BBC or ITV used their news broadcasts to publicly support a coup against the British government, they would suffer similar consequences.[19] 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.[20]


  • "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" (1998)[21]
  • "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." (2005)[22]
  • "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." (2009)[23]
  • "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." (2009)[24]
  • "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." (2002)[25]
  • "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." (2002)[26]
  • 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." (2001)[27]
  • "During my lifetime, America has been constantly waging war against much of humanity: impoverished people mostly, in stricken places." (2001)[27]
  • "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." (2005)[22]
  • 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." (2009)[28]
  • "The censorship is such on television in the US that films like mine don't stand a chance." (2002)[29]
  • "Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what George Orwell called the 'official truth'. They simply cipher and transmit lies. It really grieves me that so many of my fellow journalists can be so manipulated that they become really what the French describe as 'functionaires', functionaries, not journalists. Many journalists become very defensive when you suggest to them that they are anything but impartial and objective. The problem with those words 'impartiality' and 'objectivity' is that they have lost their dictionary meaning. They've been taken over... [they] now mean the establishment point of view... Journalists don't sit down and think, 'I'm now going to speak for the establishment.' Of course not. But they internalise 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." (2002)[30]
  • "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." (2005)[22]

Praise and criticism


  • According to Nobel Laureate and member of the Stop the War Coalition Harold Pinter, "John Pilger is fearless. He unearths, with steely attention to facts, the filthy truth, and tells it as it is... I salute him."[2]
  • Martha Gellhorn, the American novelist and journalist widely considered to be one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century, said that "[John Pilger] has taken on the great theme of justice and injustice. The misuse of power against the powerless...John has an assured place among them. I'd say he is a charter member for his generation"[31]
  • 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."[32]


  • Gerard Henderson, the former Chief of Staff for John Howard, is one of Pilger's most vocal critics[33] and has accused him of "engaging in hyperbole against western democracies."[34]
  • The humorous writer Auberon Waugh, writing in The Spectator in the 1970s in response to an article Pilger had written alleging Thai complicity in child trafficking, coined the verb "to pilger", to present information in a sensationalist manner to reach a foregone conclusion.[35] Noam Chomsky has expressed the view that "pilger" and "pilgerise" were "invented by journalists furious about his incisive and courageous reporting, and knowing that the only response they are capable of is ridicule."[36]
  • CAMERA, a Boston-based nonprofit, pro-Israel media watchgroup has accused Pilger of misquoting sources to serve his political agenda. [37]




  • 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)
  • Freedom Next Time (2006)


  • The Last Day (1983)

Selected documentaries

  • Vietnam-The Quiet Mutiny 1971
  • An Unfashionable Tragedy 1975
  • Zap-The Weapon is Food 1976
  • Do You Remember Vietnam 1978
  • Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia 1979
  • The Mexicans 1980
  • Heroes 1980
  • Burp! Pepsi V Coke in the Ice Cold War 1982
  • In Search Of Truth In Wartime 1982
  • Nicaragua. A Nations Right to Survive 1983
  • The Truth Game 1983
  • The Secret Country-The First Australians Fight Back 1985
  • Japan Behind the Mask 1987
  • Cambodia: The Betrayal 1990
  • War By Other Means 1992
  • Cambodia: Return to Year Zero 1993
  • Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy 1994
  • Flying the Flag, Arming the World 1994
  • Vietnam: the Last Battle 1995
  • Inside Burma: Land of Fear 1996
  • Breaking the Mirror - The Murdoch Effect 1997
  • Welcome To Australia 1999
  • Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq 2000
  • The New Rulers of the World 2001-2002
  • Palestine Is Still the Issue 2002
  • Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror 2003
  • Stealing a Nation 2004
  • The War on Democracy 2007


Awards include:

  • 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)
  • One World Media Awards - TV Documentary Award for his ITV1 film The War on Democracy, on the role of Washington in Latin American politics. (2008)[38]
  • Sydney Peace Prize, Australia (2009)[39]

Degrees and honorary degrees:


  1. ^ "John Pilger". New Statesman. Retrieved 2010-01-14.  
  2. ^ a b [1]
  3. ^ Noam Chomsky, introduction to The New Rulers of the World by John Pilger, April 2002
  4. ^ "Democracy Now! Special: Robert F. Kennedy's Life and Legacy 40 Years After His Assassination". Retrieved 2008-07-25.  
  5. ^ 5 juni 2008 (2008-06-06). "John Pilger Confirms Multiple RFK Shooters". YouTube. Retrieved 2010-01-14.  
  6. ^ John Pilger, The revolution will not be televised, New Statesman, 11 September 2006
  7. ^ John Pilger, 'Heroes', p 410
  8. ^ Diego Garcia: Paradise Cleansed - by John Pilger
  9. ^ The One World Media Awards 2008
  10. ^ John Pilger, The War on Democracy
  11. ^ Sydney Peace Foundation, John Pilger wins 2009 Sydney Peace Prize
  12. ^ John Pilger, Australia is the only developed country whose government has been condemned as racist by the United Nations
  13. ^ John Pilger, Speech at Columbia University, 14 April, 2006
  14. ^ "John Pilger explains “why journalism matters” | The Linc". Retrieved 2010-01-14.  
  15. ^ John Pilger, Blair's bombs, 25 July, 2005
  16. ^ John Pilger, The real threat we face in Britain is Blair, 17 August, 2006
  17. ^ John Pilger, The danse macabre of US-style democracy, 23 January, 2008
  18. ^ John Pilger, Obama's 100 days - the mad men did well, 30 April 2009
  19. ^ Television's role in the coup against Chávez
  20. ^ Chávez Looks at His Critics in the Media and Sees the Enemy - Simon Romero, New York Times, 1 June, 2007.
  21. ^ John Pilger, 'Hidden Agendas', 1998
  22. ^ a b c John Pilger, This much i know, The Observer, 13 November 2005
  23. ^ John Pilger, Sydney Peace Prize address, Sydney Opera House, 5 November 2009
  24. ^ John Pilger, Sydney Peace Prize acceptance speech, University of Sydney, 4 November 2009
  25. ^ John Pilger, 'War on Terror' a smokescreen created by the ultimate terrorist, America itself
  26. ^ John Pilger, The great charade
  27. ^ a b John Pilger "Blair has made Britain a target" 21 September 2001
  28. ^ "The Madmen Did Well", New Statesman, 30 April 2009
  29. ^ author (2007-02-13). "Must Watch - - Spread the Word". Retrieved 2010-01-14.  
  30. ^ The Progressive, Interview with John Pilger, November 2002
  31. ^ Martha Gellhorn, Preface to 'Distant Voices' by John Pilger, 12 July 1991
  32. ^ Simpson at London's Frontline Club, 19 October 2007.
  33. ^ Gerard Henderson's Media Watch The Sydney Institute
  34. ^ Pilger loath to hear roar of dissent, The Sydney Morning Herald November 10, 2009.
  35. ^ Nevin, C. "Captain Moonlight - in a word", The Independent, 28 November 1993
  36. ^ Noam Chomsky Chomsky Answers Guardian
  37. ^ Honest Reporting [2]
  38. ^ Press Gazette
  39. ^ "Sydney Peace Foundation - 2009 Sydney Peace Prize Winner". Sydney Peace Foundation. 3 August 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-03.  

External links

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