Fearless voice for the oppressed: John Pilger, giant of investigative journalism, dies at 84

From Cambodia’s killing fields to exposing corporate greed, Pilger’s voice challenged power and championed the silenced.

Published : Jan 01, 2024 17:57 IST - 2 MINS READ

Pilger was born in New South Wales, Australia in 1939, but was based in the UK for the majority of his life.

Pilger was born in New South Wales, Australia in 1939, but was based in the UK for the majority of his life. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Australian-born journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger died at his home in London, England on December 30, his family announced via a statement on X. He was 84. The statement read, “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”.

John Pilger’s legacy is not just of films and awards, but of a life lived in pursuit of justice. | Video Credit: Presented by Saatvika Radhakrishna, Edited by Sambavi Parthasarathy, Camera by Thamodharan B

Pilger, who has been based in Britain since 1962, worked for Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper, broadcaster ITV’s investigative programme World In Action and for Reuters news agency. He was widely known for his coverage of the aftermath of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia and the Thalidomide scandal of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Pilger, who enjoyed a cult following among his admirers for his revolutionary journalism and steadfast stances against corporate power, imperialism and all forms of authoritarianism, won an International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences award for his 1979 film Year Zero: The Silent Death Of Cambodia, which revealed the extent of the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities. He followed that with a 1990 documentary titled Cambodia: The Betrayal, which examined international complicity in the Khmer Rouge remaining a threat.

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Pilger also won acclaim for a 1974 documentary looking into the campaign for compensation for children after concerns were raised about birth defects when expectant mothers took the drug thalidomide.

Pilger was known for his opposition to American and British foreign policy, and he was also highly critical of Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population. In more recent years, he campaigned for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has fought a lengthy battle against extradition to the United States.

Kevin Lygo, managing director of media and entertainment at ITV, the British broadcasting television network, described Pilger as “a giant of campaigning journalism” who offered viewers a level of analysis and opinion that was rare in mainstream television. “He had a clear, distinctive editorial voice which he used to great effect throughout his distinguished filmmaking career. His documentaries were engaging, challenging, and always very watchable,” Lygo said.

“He eschewed comfortable consensus and instead offered a radical, alternative approach on current affairs and a platform for dissenting voices over 50 years,” he added.

With inputs from AP and AFP

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