Taking place on 9th December, John Pilger in conversation with Robin Denselow was programmed as part of a series of events celebrating Disobedient Objects, the V&A’s recent exhibition on protest, political art, communication and revolutionary artefacts.
John Pilger is a global broadcaster, journalist, writer and correspondent, and has written a series of books and articles, as well as directing and producing films on war, protest, and indigenous people. Harold Pinter declared that Pilger "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."
The evening comprised a conversation between Pilger and fellow broadcaster and journalist Robin Denselow, who described Pilger as one of the most “distinguished, most controversial of his generation.” Their discussion spanned topics which Pilger had covered during his career, from the Vietnam war, through to Aboriginal victims, Wikileaks and other key political moments. He discussed with passion, the role and moral obligations of the journalist.
Building on the V&A’s theme of Disobedient Objects, Pilger asserted that “if you're not disobedient as a journalist, you're not a journalist.” And to reduce his eloquent discourse to a simple quote, he argued that one of the most important moral qualities that a journalist should possess is to question “above all power that imposes itself on us” ensuring that power is accountable to the people. Pilger firmly believes that not enough journalists today do this.
John Pilger in his first film
Prior to reflecting on his career, Pilger talked of his initial fascination with newspaper as a child, he had “an attraction to the romance of journalism, making sense of the world and other people”, This embedded in him an understanding of the way the world works, and the power of the media which gave him an insight into how privileged the Western World can be.
Pilger talked of his extensive travels as a journalist, which included South East Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. He described the chaos of the“killing fields” and the “free fire zones” of the Vietnam War, talking of his interviews with soldiers and combatants and the mechanics of war reporting. He discussed the self-imposed censorship exemplified by journalists and how the questions this war raised for journalists are still pertinent today. He spoke also about the role of television reporting and how this visually impacted on America, in that it changed attitudes to the war by showing the worthlessness of all suffering, and contributed to the rise of the anti-war movement around the country.
Referencing the Iraq War, he continued his comments on the duty of the journalists by suggesting that [the war] “was a fraud” and questioned why “people in studios, in these countries, didn't... ask the questions?” as he felt that could have brought more answers to light as to why the regime of Bush and Blair enabled the invasion to happen. With tremendous devotion he considered the importance of freedom of speech and claimed that the institutional media buckled and ultimately failed to serve the public’s best interests. He continued with this line of enquiry, questioning whether the role of the journalist in effect ultimately promotes war.
The saturation of the 24-hour information age and the constant immediacy of social media to Pilger is “a distraction, social media is not journalism”, and he advocated for those within the system who were whistle blowers, considering them essential to the craft of the journalist. He decried the repetitive media and technology that gives the impression that we have a world of information, a world of news, whereas in reality all we have is a world of repetition.
Pilger concluded his inspiring talk, remarking that “society that has the privileges, needs to come up with the answers” and in order for us to move forward as a society, we need to develop an “awareness of what is wrong with the world” so that we can develop and improve.
Grace attended the John Pilger: In Conversation event as a member of CreateVoice. To find out more about the opportunities with the V&A youth collective email firstname.lastname@example.org
Words: Grace Radford
Image: © John Pilger