Campaigning journalist John Pilger dies aged 84

Campaigning journalist John Pilger dies aged 84
Campaigning journalist John Pilger dies aged 84

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Australian-born investigative journalist and documentary maker John Pilger, known for his support for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his coverage of the aftermath of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia and the Thalidomide scandal, has died in London. — Picture courtesy of X / John Pilger

LONDON, Jan 1 — Australian-born investigative journalist and documentary maker John Pilger, known for his support for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his coverage of the aftermath of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia and the Thalidomide scandal, has died in London, his family said Sunday.

Pilger, who had mostly lived in Britain since the early 1960s, had worked for Reuters, Britain’s left-wing Daily Mirror and commercial channel ITV’s former investigative programme World In Action.

In 1979, the ITV film Year Zero: The Silent Death Of Cambodia revealed the extent of the Khmer Rouge’s crimes, and Pilger won an International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences award for his 1990s follow-up ITV documentary Cambodia: The Betrayal.

Pilger also made the 1974 documentary for ITV called Thalidomide: The Ninety-Eight We Forgot, about the campaign for compensation for children after concerns were raised about birth defects when expectant mothers took the drug.

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He received Bafta’s Richard Dimbleby Award for factual reporting in 1991.

“It is with great sadness the family of John Pilger announce he died yesterday 30 December 2023 in London aged 84,” it posted on X.

“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.”

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Kevin Lygo, managing director of media and entertainment at ITV, called Pilger a “giant of campaigning journalism”.

He had always “eschewed comfortable consensus” in favour of a “platform for dissenting voices over 50 years”, he said.

Pilger also campaigned for the release of WikiLeaks founder Assange, who has been embroiled in a lengthy battle against extradition to the United States, and put up the cost of his bail.

Former Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters paid tribute, calling him a “friend” and a “great man”.

‘Truth to power’

On X, WikiLeaks called Pilger a “ferocious speaker of truth to power, whom in later years tirelessly advocated for the release and vindication of Julian Assange”.

During his career, Pilger made a series of remarks criticising American and British foreign policy, and the treatment of Indigenous Australians.

Former leader of Britain’s Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn wrote on X that he had given “a voice to the unheard and the occupied: in Australia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Chile, Iraq, East Timor, Palestine and beyond. Thank you for your bravery in pursuit of the truth — it will never be forgotten”.

Pilger had also expressed controversial views on Russia and its President Vladimir Putin.

In 2018, Pilger called the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and an ex-police officer in the UK were a “carefully constructed drama” in an interview with Russia Today (RT).

The UK Government and Scotland Yard believe members of a Russian military intelligence squad carried out the attack in southwestern England.

Pilger told RT: “This is a carefully constructed drama as part of the propaganda campaign that has been building now for several years in order to justify the actions of Nato (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), Britain and the United States towards Russia. That’s a fact.”

In 2014, in The Guardian, he also said that “Putin is the only leader to condemn the rise of fascism in 21st-century Europe”, and last year called in The South China Morning Post for scepticism on the reporting about the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

His most recent documentaries included The Coming War On China, broadcast in 2016 on ITV. — AFP

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