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The loss of a true Australian legend: John Pilger dies

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

Independent Australia is mourning the loss of John Pilger — a true legend, and a rare and fearless truth-teller until the very end.

The death of John Pilger – journalist, filmmaker, author and tireless human rights advocate – was announced by his family on social media on 31 December 2023:

‘It is with great sadness the family of John Pilger announce he died yesterday 30 December 2023 in London aged 84. His journalism and documentaries were celebrated around the world, but to his family he was simply the most amazing and loved Dad, Grandad and partner. Rest In Peace.’

A long-time IA contributor, subscriber and supportive confidant, Pilger did not just tell the truth, he was a truth warrior. He investigated forensically, reported on whatever and wherever the truth led him and refused to be silenced. He exposed propaganda and spoke truth to power with fierce determination and courage.

Pilger, a brilliant, bold and prolific storyteller, wrote countless articles, authored 15 books, and made 63 films. He wrote and filmed the unadulterated and often uncomfortable truth as he saw it — a rare trait by today’s journalism standards and one for which he was not thanked by Australia's mainstream media.

It was likely one of the reasons he spent most of his time in London. It was there he was twice awarded the much-coveted Journalist of the Year award, among many others.

Pilger’s writing was masterful and his subject matter shone through the skilful economy of words — something he attributed to his early cadetship under Brian Penton at Australian Consolidated Press.

His career spanned seven decades, first coming to prominence as a war correspondent in Vietnam in the 1960s and later, for his work championing causes such as the horrors of the thalidomide drug, which eventually led to a special settlement for overlooked victims. Pilger exposed racism, human rights atrocities and injustices the world over, including in East Timor and Cambodia, where his documentary film, Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia, raised over $50 million for the survivors of the Pol Pot regime.

In Australia, his documentaries, such as The Secret Country and Utopia exposed the extent of the suffering of our First Nations population in what amounts to our very own apartheid, where Indigenous Australians are imprisoned at a rate ten times that experienced by the Indigenous population in the former apartheid South Africa. Utopia, named after one of the most impoverished places in Australia, juxtaposes the Northern Territory region's Indigenous health centre with no running water and a snake-infested toilet alongside a spacious residence, complete with 18 air-conditioning units, housing the white district commissioner. 

Pilger has been awarded many accolades including an American Academy Award and Emmy, a British Academy Award and BAFTA, the Sophie Prize for Human Rights, the Sydney Peace Prize and the UN Peace Prize.

In recent years, his tireless advocacy for the deplorable persecution of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, in particular, led to Pilger being sidelined by much of the mainstream media.

In 2018, after his Guardian column was axed, Pilger told U.S. radio show Flashpoints:

“…My written journalism is no longer welcome – probably its last home was The Guardian, which three years ago got rid of people like me and others in pretty much a purge of those who were saying what The Guardian no longer says anymore.”

Yet upon his death, much of Australia's mainstream media who shunned him, are suddenly lamenting Pilger's passing. 

Investigative journalist and producer Peter Cronau pointed out one such anomaly, from the national broadcaster in this instance:

'Black-banned from the ABC for so many years, now they shed crocodile tears over John Pilger. Shame on you ABC.'

As Dave Donovan wrote on Twitter/X:

Tragedy. John Pilger has died. A great friend and ally, and a true giant in journalism. Did not know how to not be brilliant, honest and true. Finding it hard to process right now...

 

Being brilliant is no guarantee of success. In fact, in this country, it's a decided handicap ... John Pilger ... was forced to emigrate to London 40 years ago, because telling the truth in this country, unmodified by corporate or partisan parsing, is career death...

 

The horrible truth is that big business control over the media – not just ownership, also via advertising revenues – means discordant voices, such as John Pilger's and Helen Caldicott's, are muted. Not platformed. Put into Orwell's "memory hole".

John Pilger was indeed a gentleman and a true friend to Independent Australia, its founder Dave Donovan, and this writer.

When we decided to establish the IA Writing Competition earlier this year, we could think of no one more qualified to be judge and despite being ill, John enthusiastically agreed. Unfortunately, it was not to be and a little while before the judging was to take place, he reluctantly stepped aside, apologising profusely.

Still, he made time to write to us and pass on his approval for his replacement (Ranald Macdonald):

Dear Michelle

It's a slow recovery but it seems I'm ahead of the game. Thanks for your understanding. Great choice in Ranald Mac. He's a good man. Please give him my warm regards.

best

John

John sent us articles whenever he could, with this piece,‘ We are Spartacus’, his last article to be published in Independent Australia on 12 November 2023. 

Here, he writes:

The grotesque injustice meted out to David McBride is minted from the injustice consuming his compatriot, Julian Assange. Both are friends of mine. Whenever I see them, I am optimistic. "You cheer me," I tell Julian as he raises a defiant fist at the end of our visiting period. "You make me feel proud," I tell David at our favourite coffee shop in Sydney….

 

Spartacus was the rebellious leader of Rome’s slaves in 71-73 BC. There is a thrilling moment in the Kirk Douglas movie when the Romans call on Spartacus’ men to identify their leader and so be pardoned. Instead hundreds of his comrades stand and raise their fists in solidarity and shout, "I am Spartacus!" 

The rebellion is under way.

 

 Julian and David are Spartacus. The Palestinians are Spartacus. People who fill the streets with flags and principle and solidarity are Spartacus.

 

We are all Spartacus if we want to be.

Brilliant to the last.

Our democracy is poorer for his passing. Vale John Pilger.

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and Facebook HERE.

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