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Journalist and documentarian John Pilger dies at 84

Investigative journalist John Pilger has died aged 84, his family has announced (PA)
Investigative journalist John Pilger has died aged 84, his family has announced (PA)

Investigative journalist John Pilger has died aged 84, his family has announced.

The Australia-born documentary maker was known for his work covering the aftermath of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia and also looked into the Thalidomide scandal along with his war correspondent work.

A statement to his X, formerly Twitter, page on Sunday said: “It is with great sadness the family of John Pilger announce he died yesterday 30 December 2023 in London aged 84.

“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. Rest In Peace.”

Pilger worked for the Daily Mirror, ITV’s former investigative programme World In Action and Reuters.

In 1979, the ITV film Year Zero: The Silent Death Of Cambodia revealed the extent of the Khmer Rouge’s crimes and Pilger won an International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences award for his 1990s follow-up ITV documentary Cambodia: The Betrayal.

Pilger also made the 1974 documentary Thalidomide: The Ninety-Eight We Forgot, about the campaign for compensation for children after concerns were raised about birth defects when expectant mothers took the drug, for ITV.

He received Bafta’s Richard Dimbleby Award for factual reporting in 1991.

Former Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow wrote on X: “John Pilger was a great and steadfast journalist – I am sad to learn of his death at 84.”

Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan also recalled bringing Pilger back to the paper to write an editorial that was illustrated on the front page with a mock up showing then-prime minister Tony Blair’s hands with blood on them in 2003 before Iraq war.

Morgan wrote on X that the front page story “aged well” and called Pilger “a brilliant firebrand journalist and ferocious holder of the powerful to proper account”.

Kevin Lygo, managing director of media and entertainment at ITV, said: “John was a giant of campaigning journalism.

“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.

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

“John’s films gave viewers analysis and opinion often not seen elsewhere in the television mainstream. It was a contribution that greatly added to the rich plurality of British television.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with John’s family, friends and colleagues at this sad time.”

Pilger also campaigned for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been embroiled in a lengthy battle against extradition to the US, and put up the cost of his bail.

Former Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters, who has also supported Assange, paid tribute to Pilger.

Waters wrote on X: “John Pilger. I miss you my friend, what a great man you were. We will carry you in our hearts forever, you will always be there to give us strength. Love R.”

On X, WikiLeaks called Pilger a “ferocious speaker of truth to power, whom in later years tirelessly advocated for the release and vindication of Julian Assange”.

It added: “Our world is poorer for his passing.”

During his career, Pilger made a series of remarks criticising American and British foreign policy, and the treatment of Indigenous Australians.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote on X: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of John Pilger.

“John gave a voice to the unheard and the occupied: in Australia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Chile, Iraq, East Timor, Palestine and beyond. Thank you for your bravery in pursuit of the truth — it will never be forgotten.”

Pilger has also expressed controversial views on Russia and its president Vladimir Putin.

John Pilger death
John Pilger after receiving the Richard Dimbleby Award at the Baftas. (Adam Butler/PA)

In 2018, Pilger also expressed that the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and ex-police officer Nick Bailey were a “carefully constructed drama” in an interview with Russia Today (RT).

The UK Government and Scotland Yard believe members of a Russian military intelligence squad carried out the attack nearby Salisbury.

Pilger told RT: “This is a carefully constructed drama as part of the propaganda campaign that has been building now for several years in order to justify the actions of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), Britain the United States, towards Russia. That’s a fact.”

In 2014, in the Guardian he also said “Putin is the only leader to condemn the rise of fascism in 21st-century Europe” and last year spoke to the South China Morning Post where he called for scepticism on the reporting about the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

His most recent documentaries include The Dirty War On The NHS, broadcast on ITV in 2019, and The Coming War On China, broadcast in 2016 on the same channel.