‘News that holds authority to account is still left out’

John Pilger is an award-winning journalist, film-maker and columnist who has covered world events for at least three decades now. He covered American politics in the '60s and '70s, Vietnam, Cambodia and East Timor — and has been a fiery advocate for the rights of the dispossessed. He is in India for the first screening of his documentary, The War You Don't See, on Thursday. Excerpts from an email interview with Seema Chishti:

Comparisons have been drawn between the present situation and the economic lows of the period leading up to World War II. A traditionally-understood "World War III" may not be on the cards yet, but are we readying for other kinds of battles as the system tries to wriggle out of the economic crisis ?

World War III was the Cold War, and that continues by other means, waged by the US and its close collaborators like the UK. The current invasions and occupations are part of World War III. The former US vice-president, Dick Cheney, predicted they would endure for "50 years or more". If you scan the literature of Pentagon-linked "think-tanks" you'll see that "perpetual war" is now a given, along with "wars of perception" by the media. From Libya to a possible attack on Iran, World War III goes on. The most dynamic part of the US economy is the war and weapons industry. The enemy remains elusive, but that's not the point; the goals are resources, and strategic gain against new rivals like China. Also, the war and arms industry in the US (and the UK) are immensely powerful — look at the way the Europeans are competing to sell their fighter-bombers to the Gulf, using their effectiveness in destroying Libyan cities and lives as advertising. Forget the G20; watch the machinations at the Dubai arms fair. In the US, the Pentagon now effectively runs foreign policy.

Your landmark book, Hidden Agendas, has a very evocative account of the "slow news day", the day when government handouts don't reach newsrooms to fill up space, and push journalists to go look for stories. Has that changed over the years ? If yes, has it been for the better or for the worse ?

"Slow news" is the way the corporate media works. Slow news means censorship by omission. Much of the news that is printed and broadcast is that which is handed down by authority, in its numerous forms. Slow news challenges authority, calls it to account. That's why it's left out. Nothing has changed.

You have written, worked for radio and made documentaries too. Which form works best for you, which is most persuasive?

Radio is the most honest medium — people can say what they want and generally not be censored. All you need is the will and courage. TV is the most persuasive form. There's is nothing as powerful as the combination of moving pictures and words. It is the principal source of most people's information.

Satellite TV has been a game-changer in various countries, as far as news media is concerned. And even print and radio have been forced to respond to the challenge of TV news. Has that improved the overall news environment ?

The so-called 24-hour news can be an endless moving belt of unexplained clichés and stereotypes and disjointed pictures. It's more visual chewing gum than news.

Where does text or the written word stand today as a means of communication ?

The written word can play a critical role in newspapers and documentaries and on the Internet — and in those wonderful gadgets called books. Brilliant reporting and writing can still move a great many people to understand and make sense of complex situations. Making sense of the news is what we journalists should do; nothing is more "professional" and noble.

Much has been happening in West Asia, but how do you assess how Western media saw those events, especially once the "big event" was over? How satisfactory or nuanced has the coverage of Egypt been after the military takeover?

Like Western governments, the Western media was taken by surprise by the uprising in Tunisia and Egypt. It quickly "adopted" the Egyptian revolution as a spectacle, largely ignoring the fact that the army consolidated its power and today is in charge. It also supported the invasion of Libya as a fairly standard Western colonial enterprise barely concealed behind the facade of a revolution. So the coverage hasn't been nuanced at all; it has been business as usual.

The Occupy Wall Street protests or the Tea Party protests in the West are essentially movements that are not part of the political party system, as it were. Were journalists able to capture and report on them as skilfully as they do party protests, do you think ? Or are they having a hard time making sense of things ?

Journalists are having a hard time making sense of the uprisings all over the world because they don't fit an acceptable pattern. The Occupy movements actually began in Latin America — in Bolivia and Argentina, where they were successful: ending rule by the IMF in Argentina and the World Bank in Bolivia. The occupations in the West have yet to embrace the strategic politics of their Latin American forerunners.

The last time capitalism came under fire in the 1930s, it had a great Keynesian idea to help bail it out. This time, can you see any bright ideas bubbling somewhere which will help this new kind of finance-driven capitalism rescue itself — or reform ?

There are many "bright ideas". As mentioned, the bright ideas in Latin America ended water privatisation in Bolivia and kicked the IMF out of Argentina — actually out of the continent altogether. The reason many readers and viewers don't know this in the US and Europe and elsewhere is that it is "slow news".

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