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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Pilger's new film: media’s pro-war spin exposed by Kate Ausburn


John Pilger’s latest film, The War You Don’t See, looks at the power wielded by journalists reporting conflict. It examines the responsibility of the media in justifying and supporting the wars our governments wage. 

Pilger asks: “What is the role of the media in rapacious wars like Iraq and Afghanistan and how are the crimes of war reported and justified?

“Those whose job it is to keep the record straight ought to be the voice of people, not power.”

The film examines, using a series of examples, how governments are able to maintain control of public perception through manipulation of the “free” press: embedded journalism, “official” statements, and the omission of certain spokespeople and voices in our news bulletins.

Pilger draws out the consequences graphically. Children die because of political decisions made on the other side of the world. Displaced families have lost their homes in supposedly targeted bombing attacks to overcome the “the enemy”.

Women who have lost their husbands, mothers who have lost their sons, children who have lost their fathers, because they were tortured to death in interrogations to find that same ever-elusive “enemy”. 

These are the stories we don’t often hear, and they are the stories Pilger challenges us to seek out as viewers and report as journalists.

This film, like his other works, provides a perspective on war that is often unheard in a media landscape dominated by corporate interests.

Pilger interviews a variety of newsmakers and others involved in the way the media report wars. Particular attention is focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories.

Pilger speaks with news chiefs at Britain’s BBC and ITV to probe them about what they perceive their roles to be (reporting what government spokespeople say). He also challenges the use of reports from journalists who have been “embedded” with US or British military (“news” controlled by the military).

Lawyer Phil Shiner points out the issues with accepting reports from embedded journalists as properly representative of the reality of war: “The problem with embedded journalism is all we are seeing is the point of view of the troops, we are not seeing or hearing from the civilians who are on the wrong end of their tactics.

“So let’s take detention. It seems clear that British forces in Iraq killed many people, maybe hundreds, of civilians when they had custody of them, and did the most extraordinary, brutal things involving sexual acts etc.

“Embedded journalism is never going to get close to hearing the stories of those Iraqis.”

Comments made by Carne Ross, who worked for the British Foreign Office until 2004, revealed techniques used to achieve “supportive” reporting from journalists.

“If journalists were not particularly supportive to our account, we would freeze them out, we would make life harder for them … certain journalists are rewarded with access for being supportive of the story,” says Ross.
Pilger interviews independent, non-embedded journalists who set a very different example.

He speaks to journalist Dahr Jamal. Jamal travelled independently across Iraq as the US-led war raged.

This included multiple visits to Fallujah, where Jamal reported on a city destroyed by occupation force attacks, including with white phosphorous. Up to 70% of all buildings were totally destroyed and thousands killed, facts the mainstream media largely ignored.

Guy Smallman is another independent media worker Pilger speaks to.

Smallman is a photojournalist and speaks of his experiences in Afghanistan, where the foreign military occupation is now coming up to its 10th year.

“At one far end of the cemetery,” Smallman says of one place he visited, “there was one enormous mass grave that was around 30 metres across. And in that grave were the remains of 55 people, and they had to be buried there together because they were quite literally blown into pieces.

“And it was impossible to tell who was who, so they had to bury them together, in one long trench.”
Smallman also notes the discrepancy between “official” and local reports of civilian deaths: “The local people insisted that over 140 civilians had died, and NATO said there was 25.”

Also included in the film is an excerpt of the now notorious WikiLeaks-released “Collateral Murder” video — a graphic, visual demonstration of the war we don’t see.

Pilger’s interview with Julian Assange makes for especially captivating viewing.

Both Pilger and Assange have a proven commitment to a type of reporting that challenges the journalistic status quo and refuses to be constrained by the voices that shout the loudest.

Pilger has a long career of investigative journalism, prolific in its commitment to empowering unheard voices in the spirit of truthful conflict reporting. 

Assange is a representative of those pushing a new frontier in reporting and publishing that, while different in its method, is also giving a platform to truths often buried or ignored.

The War You Don’t See is a confronting film that leaves the viewer pondering whether war would continue if our eyes into conflict were not those of embedded journalists and government officials, but those of aid workers, independent media workers, and most importantly, civilians.

It is a must-see film calling journalists to account and holding up the importance of investigative, independent journalism, and a critical standpoint by viewers.

Sunday, April 3, 2011 Green Left Weekly


See the activist calendar for details of screenings in your city.

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