APSN Banner

Vale John Pilger

Red Ant - January 4, 2024

Max Lane – It was a very interesting experience to work with John Pilger when he made his documentary NEW RULERS OF THE WORLD, which was filmed in Indonesia in 2000.

I worked with veteran Indonesian activist of the People's Democratic Party (PRD), Danial Indrakusuma, in carrying out research for John on social and economic conditions in Indonesia and introducing him to workers in their workplaces and homes. Danial did most of the research. I did the interpreting when it came to John interviewing workers and activists for the documentary. I was able to organise for him to interview the revolutionary writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer among others.

Pilger wanted to expose the role of multinational corporations, international capital and its financial institutions in imposing gross neoliberal exploitation on the Third World and he chose Indonesia as his example. For him, the military takeover which took place in 1965, with a million progressives murdered, and which opened up the economy to international capital was one of the first, if not the first, example of a coup to bring a country under control of these "new rulers of the world".

The massive power of international capital and the poverty and misery that it inflicted upon millions of ordinary people outraged Pilger. As we moved around Jakarta, meeting and interviewing workers in the industrial estate and slum areas of Jakarta, John's engagement with the individuals he met was intense. For him, it was their plight that this was all about – the struggle to end the misery. And thus also he spoke to and worked with key activists who had fought against the dictatorship of Suharto, who had ruled in the interests of foreign money – as well as, of course, Suharto himself. Those who were suffering exploitation and misery and those fighting against it – these were the two elements of society with whom he engaged and with whom he was in solidarity.

His first documentary was seen in 1970 and his last in 2019 – 65 films over 49 years. He wrote constantly through to 2023. He never stopped. His journalism and filmmaking took him to all the corners of the earth where oppression was severe, especially that which was the result of imperialist power. He covered the Palestinian struggle for freedom, the war against Vietnam, the US facilitated horrors of Cambodia, the repression in Burma, and Nicaragua's struggle, among others.

Neither did he forget his own country, Australia. His films and writing exposing the oppression of First Nations people helped stir many people's awareness. His famous interrogation of Prime Minister Bob Hawke on Hawke's broken promise of "no children left in poverty" will never be forgotten. It contributed to a long black ban on him by the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Even a quick glance to social media responses to his passing show how a great many people testify to the influence his works had on their political awakening. In this sense, he was a real factor in the emergence of a serious protest consciousness in in the 80s and 90s. Beyond this general influence, I think it can be said fairly surely that the documentary that had the most immediate impact and helped change the balance of consciousnesses was Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy released in 1994, three years after the infamous Santa Cruz Massacre in Dili, East Timor.

Somehow, he had been able to enter Timor despite Suharto's military occupation to gather information and footage and also to interview the people and those in the struggle. The Timorese liberation movement had been escalating in the urban areas since the late 1980s and burst into public vision with demonstrations during a visit to Dili by the Pope and then in 1991 with the demonstration which led to the massacre. Death of a Nation brought both the reality of a heroic struggle as well as the criminal immorality of Australia and the West's betrayal of this struggle to a very wide audience. Pilger's films spoke the truth in a vivid and blunt away and pulled no punches as to the immorality of those in power. So it was in the case of this film also.

It is reported that the then Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, infamous for negotiating the carve up of East Timor's oil and gas with Suharto while insisting that Timor would never be free, reacted to Death of a Nation with the comment that Pilger was known for being "sensationalist" and "sanctimonious". The facts were, however, that the crimes of imperialism, and of Suharto's dictatorship, were indeed sensational. During the period of the occupation of East Timor one third of the population died from either starvation or murder. The only sanctimony was that of Evans and his ilk who insisted that despite their complicity in supporting the occupation, it was they who represented the morally superior part of society. Pilger's full-blooded condemnation of occupation and mass murder no doubt grated in an atmosphere where so-called "nuance" was valued over the exposure of criminality by power.

Nuance! Nuance! Nuance! Some would shout, although limply. The call for nuance was often a cover for a lack of moral courage which was something that Pilger valued greatly. He always supported Julian Assange, visiting him in prison more than once. He held in great esteem people like Bernard Collaery, the lawyer who defended the whistleblower who exposed Canberra's spying on Dili during oil and gas negotiations, refusing to be cowed by the Australian state which tried to jail him.

Pilger was foremost a journalist – a journalist for the people. He was not an organisation man and not involved in building an organisation or movement. As a journalist, however, he never shied away from working with political organisations and lending his presence and support to political movements. During the 1990s, he would speak at demonstrations supporting East Timor. He would speak at events organised by organisations such as the Democratic Socialist Party and its then newspaper Green Left Weekly.

And when he spoke, he motivated people to act, be involved and organise. One of the most electric meetings I have ever spoke at was at a meeting in support of East Timor, organised by Green Left Weekly in the Sydney Trades Hall, where Pilger also spoke alongside then Indonesian activist, Dita Sari, and Sydney Timorese activist, Gina Soares. Pilger never saw any contradiction between reporting truthfully and objectively and taking sides and participating in a movement's struggles. He did this many times and on many issues, including always for a free Palestine.

He wrote and made films against injustice to the last. So many films and so much writing. He never ceased taking a stand. I have no doubt many people will have much to say about what he has written and spoken. And perhaps, there will "i"s and "t"s that some would have liked to be dotted or crossed differently. I think, however, that the fact that he never stopped underlining the criminality of the oppressors and demanding action against them with a clear exclamation mark was indeed the essential ingredient to why he contributed so effectively to awakening people to action.

Salute to John Pilger!

Source: https://red-ant.org/2024/01/04/vale-john-pilger