IN DEFENCE OF PILGER
by Mark Steel

From the UK Socialist Worker


LIBERAL JOURNALISTS have suddenly rediscovered their ability to question the finer details of war related stories. They've had plenty of opportunities. There was the story reported in every newspaper that 100,000 Albanians had been herded into Pristina sports stadium, though no such herding or stadium existed. There was Robin Cook's heartfelt account of how Serb militia had murdered 20 teachers from a village school-though it turned out that the village in question had a population of 200, and the school only had one teacher.

And as well as the outright howlers, there is the constant stream of somewhat unconvincing statements from the Ministry of Defence. The nation's journalists have missed all these inaccuracies and chosen instead to attack John Pilger for his pieces against the war. In his most recent articles Pilger makes three main points-that the Rambouillet agreement, which the war is being fought to implement, contains the line, "The economy shall function in accordance with free market principles", that it also demands NATO has a free rein to travel throughout the whole of Yugoslavia, and that NATO is now targeting civilians.

So John Sweeney wrote in the London Evening Standard that Pilger's articles have made him Milosevic's mouthpiece. Melanie Macdonagh in the New Statesman accused Pilger of not caring about refugees. David Aaronovitch in the Independent referred to the "ever-madder" Pilger.

Then there was the Guardian itself. Diplomatic editor Ian Black wrote a reply to Pilger's column in which he claimed the "free market principle" line wasn't in the Rambouillet agreement, that it never envisaged NATO troops being stationed anywhere in Yugoslavia but Kosovo, and that it was untrue that NATO was targeting civilians. "If Jamie Shea started peddling whoppers like the ones Pilger set out, we would all be demanding, quite rightly, that he be sacked," he concluded. So the very next day, as if someone in the Pentagon is a fan of Pilger and wants to prove him right, NATO landed a cruise missile in the middle of a hospital. It then turned out that both the clauses mentioned by Pilger are in the Rambouillet plan.

Pilger's crime, it seems, is to ask questions which lead behind the facade of benevolent Western humanitarianism-whereas you feel that most journalists covering this war are like schoolkids who've been told to "copy down what Mr Shea tells you". The crime of the media in this war is not the misreporting of facts, but the twisted impression it conveys.

When front pages of newspapers beam pictures of Cherie Blair blubbering in Macedonian camps, they tell an appalling lie. Not because the blubbering didn't happen, but because they only show one corner of the story. If her emotions are genuine, I wonder if she would feel equally moved by this account: "This doctor pointed out to me children they call sugar babies. Their mothers can't obtain infant formula and can't breast feed their babies because they've got no milk. They feed them on sugar dissolved in water, and the babies get distended bodies. The under fives are now dying at a rate of 4,000 a month from preventable disease like diarrhoea and gastroenteritis."

That is the view from a hospital in Iraq, trying to cope with economic sanctions which could not exist without the approval of Cherie's beloved. It was reported in the New Statesman by John Pilger, a journalist who will be revered and remembered long after his critics are thankfully forgotten.