Posts Tagged ‘British Library’

RT Interview with John Pilger ahead of British Library Exhibition

December 6, 2017

In this edition of RT’s Going Underground, main man Afshin Rattansi talks to the veteran, prize-winning investigative journalist, John Pilger, about his work. The topics covered include NATO wars, Nelson Mandela and mainstream journalism. Pilger is best known for his work uncovering and documenting the horrors of the Vietnam War and the horrific genocide in Cambodia by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. There’s going to be an exhibition of his work at the British Library on the 8th and 9th (of December, 2017), and this interview clearly looks forward to that. Pilger states that he’s delighted that the British Library are hosting the exhibition. He’s a fan of the building, and also notes with satisfaction that this was the place where Marx sat down to write his works, that would eventually bring down the Russian Empire a few short decades later.

The interview consists of a series of clips from documentaries Pilger has made over the years, and his comments about them. And they’re very revealing, not least in the reaction of the establishment to some of his work after it was aired, and the abuse he also got for not treating Nelson Mandela as the saint he became after he was released from prison. And after hearing Pilger’s explanation why he asked Mandela difficult questions, you’ll realise that Pilger was right to do so.

The first clip is of an American squaddie in the Vietnam War describing how he doesn’t understand what he and the other American soldiers are doing in the country. The soldier also doesn’t seem to know why the Vietnamese are firing at them. He only knows that they do, and they have to fight them back. Pilger states that he filmed this at the time there was a massive rebellion throughout the American armed forces, because very many other troopers also couldn’t see why they were in the country being shot and killed either.

And the reaction to that piece by the independent television regulator is revealing. The man was furious, and denounced it as treason or subversion, or some such similar betrayal of the western side. However, the head of Granada, who screened the documentary – it was made for ITV’s World In Action – Lord Bernstein, stood up to the regulator, and told him that this was the kind of journalism he wanted more of. Well done! I wish we had more of that attitude now. Unfortunately, the attitude amongst our broadcasters today seems to be to cave in whenever the government or someone in authority takes offence. So we now have a cowed, craven media that just seems to go along with whatever the elite – and very often that means the clique surrounding Rupert Murdoch and other multinational capitalists and media moguls – decide is news and the approved, neoliberal, capitalist viewpoint.

He then goes on to another clip showing the horrors of Year Zero in Cambodia. Pilger here describes some of the most striking incidents and images that came to him when he was filming there. Like the scores of bank notes floating about, because the Khmer Rouge had blown up the banks. There was all this money, and it was absolutely worthless. He describes a scene in which an old lady was using bundles of notes to light a fire.

Pilger points out that by the CIA’s own admission, it was American carpet-bombing that brought the Khmer Rouge to power. The CIA came to that conclusion in a report that it published. If Nixon and Killary’s best buddy, Kissinger, hadn’t tried to bomb the country back into the Stone Age, the Khmer Rouge would have remained a marginal political sect with no power. In doing so, Tricky Dicky and Kissinger created the conditions which saw Pol Pot and his butchers come to power, and then proceed to murder something like a fifth or more of the country’s people. Pilger also notes that the western condemnation of the Khmer Rouge was blunted by the fact that after they treated into the forest, the West still had an alliance with them and supported them against the Chinese.

However, his coverage of the Cambodia atrocities also brought out British people’s generosity. He describes how the documentary resulted in £50 million being raised for Cambodia and its people. And this was unsolicited. He describes how Blue Peter organised children’s bring and buy sales. He tells how the money raised was used to build factories to make the goods people needed, including clothes. One of the weird orders of the regime was that Cambodians could only wear black, and so there was a demand for normal coloured clothes.

Then on to Nelson Mandela. Pilger points out that Mandela wasn’t a saint, as he himself admitted. ‘It wasn’t the job I applied for’, said the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Pilger got in trouble because he asked Mandela an awkward question about nationalisation. The ANC’s ‘Charter for Freedom’ stated that they were going to nationalise industry, or at least the major sectors, such as mining. Pilger, however, got Mandela to admit that they were going to keep everything in private hands, which directly contradicted the Charter.

Pilger goes on to link this with the continuation of apartheid, albeit in a different form. While race-based apartheid had fallen and been dismantled, a class-based apartheid continued, in which the masses still lived in grinding poverty. Pilger states that, while the ANC had previously been respected, it has now become the subject of hatred and contempt. He also makes the point that Mandela’s accession to power allowed many White liberals to cling on to their power and position.

The next clip is from a piece of domestic reporting Pilger did here in the UK. It’s from a programme he made, following the life and work of Jack, a worker in a dye factory, in which the documentary makers met his family, and recorded his opinions. Pilger states that, while there are more diverse voices heard in the media now, the lives of ordinary, working people are generally ignored and the media is very much dominated by the middle classes. He describes how interesting and revealing it was just to follow the man around, listening to him talk about his life and work.

The last clip is of him taking a female spokesperson from the Beeb to task for its apparent bias against the Palestinians. He asks her why the BBC is content to interview the Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev, armed with the whole battery of Israeli functionaries ready to give the official Israeli view, but haven’t found someone of a similar level, who is able to articulate the Palestinian position with the same clarity and authority. The Beeb spokeswoman replies that the Corporation has tried to find someone to speak for the Palestinians, but they can’t be responsible for choosing their spokespeople for them. Pilger uses this clip to point out how the mainstream media acts as propaganda outlet for the establishment, in a way which RT doesn’t. He also makes the point that Regev is now the Israeli ambassador.