Recently, I was able to secure an interview with the world-renowned human rights activist, filmmaker and journalist John Pilger. (Choice Pilger quote: “I know when [George W.] Bush is lying. His lips move.”)
Originally, the interview was to appear in the magazine that I spent 2005 editing, La Trobe University's Rabelais, but for a variety of reasons, the final issue never eventuated.
The interview was timed to coincide with the release of Stealing A Nation, his latest film, but that's now passed us by. Nonetheless, it's probably available from your latest video store, and is well worth checking out.
Instead of letting what is a fairly interesting interview go to waste though, I thought I'd put this, the unedited interview, up here. So enjoy.
Panda Obscura: How did you originally get involved in this project (Stealing a Nation)?
John Pilger: The extraordinary story of the expulsion of the Chagos Islanders has been at the back of my mind for some years. In 2002, I had an opportunity to see the declassified official documents, and making Stealing a Nation became a priority. The film is about a single epic injustice, but it's also a metaphor for the way great power imposes itself on small countries: indeed, on the world today. Not only were the people of the Chagos expelled by the British, but their main island, Diego Garcia, was handed over to the Americans, who have turned it into a vast base -- from which they have attacked Afghanistan and Iraq.
PO: What do you think an 'independent' journalist actually is, do you consider yourself one, and if so how do you remain independent?
JP: Yes, I consider myself an independent journalist. 'Independence' is a noble term; it says you can have your own views, but the journalism you pursue is not beholden to any vested interest: that you are not a member of anyone's entourage.
PO: Is the recent Federal Court ruling against Freedom of Information for journalists - and in favour of the rather murky concept of 'National Interest' - a blow to the democratic integrity of Australia (and the world), especially considering the role that uncovering official documentation (albeit from London's Public Record Office Washington's National Archives) played in your expose of the crimes against Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands?
JP: Yes, it is a blow. But you know, the most worrying threat to press freedom -- or media freedom – in Australia is not so much the government's draconian restrictions, it is the will of journalists to circumvent them. And the strength or weakness of this will is directly related to the restrictions that already apply in Australia and about which journalists rarely protest. I refer to the corporatism that dominates the Australian media, infamously the ownership of 70 per cent of the capital city press by Rupert Murdoch, an ideologue with extreme views. Only
when journalists stand up to this corporatism – and this is true of Fairfax and the ABC -- will there be an end to the widespread censorship by omission in
PO: How worrying are England and Australia's 'little America' roles in the world today, particularly when one considers the parallels between the American and English Governments' apparent belief that any lie can be solved by denial and/or spin-doctoring (Diego Garcia, WMDs etc.) and our own Government's proclivities (the denial of oil to East Timor; recent refugee crises; SIEV-X) toward such trends?
JP: Well, we ought not be surprised. The same ideology that dominates and distorts political life in the United States is in Britain and Australia. In Australia, the erosion of real democracy is especially worrying -- there is no effective opposition and real dissent is kept out of the media. It's more worrying because our democratic traditions are more fragile than elsewhere. Freedom of speech, for example, only really puts down roots when the autocratic Governor
Darling was recalled from New South Wales in the 19th century after he had failed to silence criticism of him in the press. We no longer have a critical press like, say, the fearless Sydney Monitor of that period. We have a supine, trivial and deeply politicised press, and, with honourable exceptions, academics who remain silent. If this is to be changed, voices must be
raised; and I would suggest the voices of students are urgently needed.
PO: How can today's public play a role in preventing the subjugation of minorities such as the people of Diego Garcia, Australians in captivity like David Hicks, and refugees held in custody?
JP: They can play a part by taking direct action on behalf of the minorities, on behalf of David Hicks. Direct action resulted in the closure of Woomera detention camps, with all its horrors. It's very simple. Make yourself aware: don't be "surprised" by what rapacious governments do, then act, as true democrats and true radicals have acted for a very long time.