“This is the slaughter known as the first world war” says John Pilger in tones of barely contained rage as we see black and white photographs of victims. This opening sequence sets the tone for an uncompromising documentary about the true horror of war and the lies that are propagated in its name.
The film was first shown on ITV in December 2010 but was banned from being shown in the US by the Lannan Foundation.
The question at the heart of this film is that in times of conflict: What is the role of the media?
Are journalists there to help government public relations officials communicate their ‘facts’ without question or are they there to provide balanced reporting based on known facts.
In modern warfare, the so-called imbedded journalists are employed to give a front line perspective on warfare. In the safety of our living rooms, this has the look of witnessing the action as it is happening; the ultimate reality TV.
However, what these journalists are allowed to report is carefully monitored and controlled by military forces. This, they will argue, is in the name of national security but it also means that there are confrontations and situations that will never be seen. Only scenes that show the ‘good guys’ in a good light and the ‘enemy’ as the personification of evil will be broadcast. Strenuous efforts are made to ensure a block of the kind of unfiltered films that Wikileaks have released.
Often ‘real’ events turn out to be carefully orchestrated media stunts; such as the pulling down of the statue of Saddam Hussein which far from being a spontaneous action by ‘liberated’ Iraqis was ordered by US forces on the ground.
In other words, to be ‘imbedded’ with the troops essentially equates to being ‘in bed with’ those supervising operations. They are as much part of the propaganda machine as those who Pilger refers to as the “professional liars” in government who justify their actions by carefully falsified claims against the enemy.
The most telling modern day example of state authorised deception is in the claimed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that Saddam was supposed to have amassed and which gave a bogus legitimacy to the illegal war on Iraq.
Nowadays, Iran is spoken of by Tony Blair and others as a major threat because of their nuclear capability. There is strong possibility that another war will be waged on these grounds even though, as Pilger states, there is as much hard evidence against Iran as there was against Iraq.
The film shows graphically that victims of these wars in the name of democracy (sic) are not the politicians or the armed forces of the ‘enemy’ but ordinary citizens. As one interviewee states, the press plays down this carnage because enemy citizens are not seen as “worthy victims”.
The message it gives is simple – you must always question authority.
Those employed by news corporations or TV channels cannot be relied upon to uncover the real story – most of the time all they end up doing is merely passing on the spin and deliberate misinformation they are fed through the official PR channels.
Several journalists appear in this film to shamefully admit that now realise they misled the public by their reports. Sometimes this may have been done unwittingly but often such reporters are all too aware that they are giving a heavily biased point of view.
The pressure to conform is great. You may be seen as unpatriotic or risk losing your job if you refuse to toe the official line. As a result the truth often depends on whistleblowers and brave individuals who have the courage to hold power to account, to ask the difficult questions and above all to put the interests of the people over
John Pilger’s has vast experience of the way government’s information machines operate and has doggedly pursued the truth in a way that only the best investigative journalists can. On the evidence of this film, his bullshit detector is as finely tuned as ever.