Something that contributed massively to my own political awakening in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States was the work of the brilliant dissident journalist John Pilger.
I watched many of his documentaries. These were often broadcast on ITV fairly late at night as if some kind of underground rebel transmission, sneaked past the powers that be.
I bought his 2002 book The New Rulers of the World and devoured it. It is a tour de force, in which Pilger traveled the world, documenting the far too often hidden histories of modern capitalism, backed up by US imperial power. These powers prop up human-rights abusing dictatorships and torture regimes around the world, stretching from Indonesia, and its bloody-thirsty occupation of East Timor, to torture regimes all over Latin America.
Pilger brought the same humanistic inclination to his journalism no matter which country he covered. This included the issue of Palestine. His 2002 film Palestine is Still the Issue, released at the height of the second intifada, is still one of the best ever made on Palestine. The moral clarity of his reporting shines through at all times.
Part of the appeal of Pilger is how he takes sometimes complex and detailed historical and political issues and presents the essential facts of the situation in a clear and easy to understand way. When his reporting is so often overturning and debunking the propaganda of mainstream journalism, this can come as a shock to the system, leading the reader to question long-held assumptions, and hence to want to look into the facts more.
This is certainly how The New Rulers of the World struck me, reading it in my early 20s. Is it really true that the US government backed up a dictatorship that slaughtered hundreds of thousands in the coup that brought it to power, as well as in its occupation of East Timor? Can it really be true that Israel was only established in 1948 on the back of of a mass act of ethnic cleansing that deliberately drove out the majority of the indigenous population?
Historically speaking, these facts are not controversial in any meaningful sense. But they are only two examples of inconveniences far too often ignored in mainstream reporting. Which is why the reporting of dissident journalists can be so refreshing.
I’ve just finished reading another such work, The Racket, a new book just released by radical publishers Zed Books. With this, his second book, Matt Kennard has announced his presence on the scene as the next generation’s John Pilger.
A former Financial Times investigative reporter, Kennard has spent years interviewing those intimately involved in running what he terms the racket, the corporations and their political servants that really run our world in their own interests, and that of their global hegemony. But he also talks to its victims. As he mentioned at his book launch earlier this month, The Racket has essentially been ten years in the making.
There is a lot of material here that he simply could not use while reporting for the Financial Times, since it would just not have been done .Kennard is a conscientious and humanistic reporter, who takes the radical and outrageous approach that journalists should not be the stenographers of corporate or imperial power. As he put it at the launch event, if you spend years reporting on banks and then move onto working for them, you’ve clearly been doing something wrong for years, because the banks should hate you by then. Far too many former Financial Times journalists spend a few years working there and later move on to the more lucrative field of public relations for banks, he said.
The book is a fantastic achievement which, reminds me slightly of George Harrison when he left The Beatles and released the massive triple-album All Things Must Pass: he’d clearly been saving up top material for years too.
More aptly, it also reminds me of Pilger’s work. Kennard deftly manages the balancing act between making judgments (in favour of people over profit and the progress of society) and of getting out of the way while he lets his interview subjects tell their own stories.
The book spans the globe, and is strongest in its sections on Latin America – especially on Bolivia and the US-backed terror war against the leftist government there. But Kennard does a brilliant job of tying the strands together and joining the dots between disparate struggles against corporate greed and imperial power around the world.
His reporting suggests links between the Arab uprisings of 2011 and the Occupy protests against economic injustice that erupted in New York that same year, suggesting young protesters in the west were inspired by Arab peoples’ fights for freedom against US-backed dictatorships.
And again, like Pilger, Kennard covers Palestine too. The section on Israeli occupation of Palestine and how it fits into the wider global system of corporate and imperial control is strong. He interviews Palestinian activists who are resisting Israel’s occupation, which suggests ways forward.
Increasingly, Palestine is the moral litmus test for today’s journalists. The pressure within the mainstream to conform on the issues of the day is immense, and none more so than Palestine, with the Israel lobby’s power to affect media narratives. But as Kennard shows us, the mainstream media almost always aligns with the interests of imperial and corporate power anyway – which partly explains why they are so amenable to Israel lobby power in the first place.
The book is a breath of fresh air, which will hopefully inspire the younger generation of readers to start questioning and reassessing what they have been told by dominant media and societal narratives.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.