If people really knew the truth the war would be stopped tomorrow.
This quotation from David Lloyd George, talking about the First World War, opens John Pilger‘s new documentary, “The War You Don’t See”, and it immediately sets the historical context for Pilger’s main argument. War has, of course, always been terrible and governments have always sought to conceal the truth of that from the general population. But it’s only really with recent invention of the embedded journalist that the media has become a knowing partner in this deception.
Pilger has plenty of evidence to back up his claim. At one end of the spectrum he questions important people from the BBC and ITV news teams about their coverage of the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the reporting of this year’s attack on the Gaza Flotilla by the Israelis. In both cases he rather runs up against a brick wall as the news organisations claim that they couldn’t have known that Iraq had no WMDs or that it was impossible to find a decent Palestinian spokesperson to put their side of the story on the main bulletins. At the other end of the scale he has Rageh Omaar and David Rose (formerly of the Observer) apologising for their part in perpetuating the myth of the practically bloodless liberation of Iraq.
Then there are the statistics. In the First World War, 10% of the casualties were civilians. Through all subsequent wars, that number increased until in the Invasion of Iraq it reached 90%. These are terrifying numbers and numbers that our governments would rather not have us dwelling on.
Pilger has plenty of explanations for this collapse of journalistic standards. Firstly there is the threat to the embedded journalist that anyone going off-message will suddenly lose all access to the people in power. Secondly, there is the constant need to fill 24-hour rolling news schedules. And then there are all the reasons covered in depth by Nick Davies in “Flat Earth News” – cutbacks in budgets, pressure to be first with a story (no matter how under-researched) and the rise of churnalism.
Towards the end of the documentary, Pilger looks at what might take the place of journalists if they can no longer do their job and interviews Julian Assange. This shows how recently the film was completed as it mentions the Wikileaks cables and the attacks on Assange.
The documentary gets its TV première on IYV1 at 10:35 tomorrow night, but tonight it was shown at a number of cinemas around the country and was followed by a Q&A with Pilger who was at the Curzon Cinema in central London. The questions covered much of the same ground as the film and Pilger was happy to go into more detail about his motivations for making the documentary – apparently it wasn’t his idea, the original idea came from within ITV. Someone asked what we can do to help Julian Assange and Pilger suggested joining the protest outside Westminster Magistrates Court when Assange appears there again tomorrow. The protest starts at 1pm.
It’s been a while since John Pilger made a documentary, but it has been worth the wait. This film is as good as anything he has made.