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Alexander McKay

Jan 25, 2024

The recent death of John Pilger marked the passing away of a truly rare man, a journalist who wrote about and for the masses.  His writing and presentational style mark him out as a man who was interested in bringing stories of oppression and criminality committed by the ruling class to the attention of the working class.  Almost a quarter of a century ago I first encountered the work of John Pilger in the form of his book entitled ‘Hidden Agendas’.

As an 18 year old who was trying to understand how the world worked and who wasn’t finding adequate explanations from what I’d now refer to as bourgeois sources reading it was a revelation to me.  In this work and in very plain language, Pilger wrote of a series of fascinating stories concerning his working life as a reporter.  It was through this book that I first learned of the true role of the media. Pilger outlined the history of the printed press in Britain, how its business model meant that it was always going to be dominated by a handful of rich men such as Lord Northcliffe, Lord Rothermere and (later) Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch.  He also demonstrated how the only working class daily newspaper (The Daily Herald) had been run out of business as no capitalists would ever take out advertising within its pages.

The book also acted as an autobiography as Pilger told the story of his long career at the Daily Mirror, how this intersected with its deeply reactionary owner Cecil Harmsworth King and his various plots in the late 1960s.  King was involved in a plot with other members of the British ruling class that would see the Labour government of Harold Wilson overthrown in a military coup with a dictatorship led by Lord Mountbatten being imposed by the conspirators. Ultimately the ruling class decided that it was better to keep a bourgeois democratic veneer on things but Pilger’s account of the affair was very revealing to me about how seriously we should take the capitalist class’s professions of love for “democracy”.  

Only after I had read this book did I discover that John Pilger had become famous across the English speaking world as a result of his reporting on the war against Vietnam.  It is now very widely acknowledged that the US imperialists committed many heinous crimes against the Vietnamese people but in the early 1970s there were precious few journalists who were actually prepared to take the risk in reporting on such things.

Pilger remained a tireless advocate for those affected by US criminality in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  Unlike most journalists who are little more than self serving propagandists he remained committed to the people in the stories he covered over many years.  He spent decades covering the crimes committed against the people of East Timor by the (US sponsored) Suharto regime and in covering the long fight of the Chagos Islanders to be allowed to return to their homeland from which they had been evicted by the British government to make way for a US airbase.  In his later years he took up the case of his fellow Australian Julian Assange, still unjustly imprisoned by the British government to this day, and used every opportunity he had to highlight the strangling of press freedom by the British and US imperialists.  

As a result of reading his work, I will always owe a huge debt to the great man, it was he who opened my eyes to the true nature of the British state and those who run it and for that I will be eternally thankful.  He was a journalist who wrote about and for the masses and his work will be long remembered by them when the writings of the propagandists and professional liars have long since become dust blown away by the winds of history.

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