John Pilger: Campaigning Australian journalist dies

Australian journalist John Pilger

Campaigning Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger has died aged 84, his family has announced.

A statement by his relatives on X said he died in London on Saturday.

They described Pilger as “simply the most amazing and loved dad, grandad and partner”.

He was a vocal and sometimes controversial critic of Western foreign policy. He was also outspoken over the treatment of Indigenous Australians.

Pilger was born in Bondi, New South Wales in 1939, but was based in the United Kingdom since the 1960s. He worked for outlets including Reuters and the Daily Mirror.

He was best known for his work as a foreign correspondent, including reporting on the Vietnam War, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and from the United States during the turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s.

He was in the same room when Robert Kennedy was assassinated while running to be the Democratic nominee for the 1968 presidential election, according to his website.

He made numerous documentaries, including the 1979 film Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia, about the country under Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, as well as many about Australia and its treatment of Indigenous Australians.

In a 1990 interview on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, he said he had always been “interested in the victims of war, the people running the other way”.

“Journalism is nothing if it’s not about humanity – it has to be about people’s lives,” he said.

He won numerous awards throughout his career, including Britain’s Journalist of the Year Award in 1967 and 1979, and Bafta’s Richard Dimbleby Award for factual reporting in 1991.

In recent years, he was a high-profile supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – who is currently in Belmarsh Prison, fighting extradition to the US on charges related to the publication of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011.

He has described Assange as a “truth teller who has committed no crime but revealed government crimes and lies on a vast scale”.

The official Wikileaks X account described Pilger as a “ferocious speaker of truth to power”.

Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan described Pilger as “a brilliant firebrand journalist and ferocious holder of the powerful to proper account”.

John Simpson, the BBC’s world affairs editor, said that although he disagreed with Pilger over the years, “I admired the force of his writing, even when I often didn’t support what he wrote, and he was always warm when we met”.

Former Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow called Pilger “a great and steadfast journalist”.

Kevin Lygo, from ITV – on which many of Pilger’s documentaries were broadcast – called him a “giant of campaign journalism”.

Pilger also courted controversy with his comments on Russia. In a 2014 article for The Guardian, he wrote that President Vladimir Putin was “the only leader to condemn the rise of fascism in 21st-century Europe”.

He also told Russia’s state-run international broadcaster, RT, that the Russian nerve agent attack in Salisbury in 2018 was “a carefully constructed drama in which the media plays a role”.

Pilger’s death was confirmed to the BBC by his friends.

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