Review: The war you don’t see

J. Sadie Clifford on John Pilger's latest documentary.

December 21, 2010
2 min read

The war you don’t see is whatever our governments don’t want you to see, argues John Pilger’s ITV documentary. Military propaganda is directed, not just abroad, but at the British and American public. It works to manipulate public opinion with the complicity of a supine and short-sighted media – covering up the bloody limb-tearing, body-shattering killings of civilians by its armed forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.

The most effective censorship is the co-option of mainstream media into the propaganda effort. In today’s news culture, this is easier than ever. The job of journalism is to report the elites, according to news managers like the BBC’s Fran Unsworth and ITV’s David Mannion. In the ‘echo-chamber’ of the 24-hour news cycle, the words of those in power are amplified a thousand times over.

A line-up of respected journalists offered mea culpas on their reporting failures in the run up to the Iraq War, ‘Had journalists questioned the deceptions…the invasion would not have happened’ declared Dan Rather when Pilger needled the CBS news anchor on his wartime encomium to George W. Bush . Pilger’s argument is more self-effacing, and simpler: the news media’s job is to test government claims, and it isn’t doing its job.

There are few journalists reporting the victims’ side in the battle and these accounts are ignored by the mainstream media or silenced by governments. One of the most powerful claims comes from Pilger’s interview with BBC journalist Rageh Omaar. He describes the bombing of Al-Jazeera’s offices in Kabul claiming they were deliberately targeted by the US. The reason for the bombing, the program suggests, was Al-Jazeera’s willingness to show the brutality of the American and British invasions. Wiki-leak’s founder, Julien Assange’s impish enjoyment of the freedom of the internet now draws a wry smile. At the time of the broadcast he was still languishing in ‘Orwellian conditions’, according to his lawyer, in a British jail.

So the voices of the victims do not get heard by the majority of the public. A simple message, put simply by John Pilger. The film lacked nuance and an explanation of motive. Yet simplicity was right for the channel, and underlined a plain truth.

Dr J. Sadie Clifford is a visiting lecturer at Birmingham City University