Socialist Worker

It is time to battle the corporate media

The journalist John Pilger has just released the collection Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and its Triumphs, which he has edited. He spoke to Socialist Worker about the media and the movement.

Issue No. 1928

What is good journalism?

Good journalism is truth telling. It is not bowing to manipulation and deception. It is looking behind facades, pushing back screens, lifting rocks.

It is remaining sceptical of all the pronouncements and manoeuvres of governments and other vested interests, in the spirit of calling them to account—that is a journalist’s job.

It means looking at the world from the bottom up—that means always trusting people, not power.

Do the public “get the media they ask for”?

No. They get the media that power gives them. If people have only McDonald’s to eat, they must eat McDonald’s. There is a similar analogy with the monopoly media.

Working people have long regarded tabloids as “their” papers. It is not their fault that the tabloids betray them. It is not their fault that “their paper”, the Daily Mirror, declined, rose again briefly and declined again.

That was the consequence of the manipulation of capital in thrall to profit. People understand that and are hungry for journalism that speaks plainly and honestly to them.

There were many stories that the vast majority of the media never took up (or actively buried ) in the run-up to the Iraq war. Was this a test which the new “global” media failed?

In 1983 there were 50 multinational companies effectively controlling the world’s leading media. Today there are six.

The “new global media” is less diverse than ever before.

I do believe the internet succeeded as a network for millions of people seeking a way through the thicket of mainstream propaganda. My own website receives more than half its “hits” from the United States.

You suggest that there is a new great battle required against the power of the corporate controlled media. How have things got worse and what can we do about it?

Things have got worse as the media has got bigger and more crude in its devotion to extreme market ideology. The places for the “honourable exceptions” have disappeared.

Media power has never been more concentrated, providing not so much news and real information as an echo chamber of consensual disinformation, complete with its own language—such as the “news” of the Fallujah attack and the US election campaign.

The electronic media now penetrates more deeply into receiving societies than ever before.

It is like a colonial power in its own right.

Charles Lewis, who runs the Centre for Public Integrity in Washington, told me that had the American media challenged and exposed Bush’s lies instead of amplifying and legitimising them, the invasion of Iraq may not have happened.

What can we do about it?

We can inform ourselves as never before—using “samizdat” sources—and we can stop merely complaining about the mainstream media and strive to make its complicity an issue by expertly monitoring and deconstructing it.

Look at the success has had.

The BBC and several newspapers have heeded its often devastating analysis.

These institutions may seem unassailable fortresses, but they are not.

They are made up of people who are themselves not especially powerful, and an increasing number of them realise something is very wrong, and are worried. Direct action means making contact with them.

We have recently made a big effort to redesign and relaunch Socialist Worker with a wider group of contributors. Can publications like ours make a difference?

Yes, of course. The important thing is never to be sectarian and never to be afraid to offer substantial serious analysis to readers, even if that means going against a “line”.

The anti-war movement was “the most spectacular display of public morality ever seen”, as Arundhati Roy said. What hope does this offer?

Well, limitless hope. Saturday 15 February last year was just a glimpse of what is possible. To borrow from Mae West, I don’t believe we’ve seen anything yet.

What those inside the anti-war movement need urgently to do is shore up their unity and reach out to “non-activists”.

We need to persuade them that a war cannot be stopped with one demonstration, however spectacular, and that we need their participation, patience and tenacity.

A French study estimates that 35 million people protested on 15 February last year.

That’s the potential power of public opinion, whose awareness has never been higher.

Those millions haven’t gone away, but they do need encouragement that their principled stand is needed more than ever.

Tell Me No Lies edited by John Pilger, is available for £20 from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone

020 7637 1848 or go to

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Sat 20 Nov 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1928
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