LONDON (Reuters) - Revelations on the WikiLeaks website which have enraged governments around the world should force the traditional media to rely less on official sources, award-winning journalist John Pilger said.
In an interview to discuss his film “The War You Don’t See,” the veteran Australian reporter told Reuters the internet, and more specifically WikiLeaks, would bring about a “revolution” in journalism which too often failed to do its job properly.
One reason the media did not challenge the U.S. and British governments’ justification for going to war in Iraq in 2003, later shown to be misplaced, was their eagerness to believe the official version of events, Pilger argued.
He said the same was true of television coverage of the Israeli attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, when British broadcasters appeared willing only to use Israeli video rather than trawling the internet for alternative footage.
“That mindset that only authority can really determine the ‘truth’ on the news, that’s a form of embedding that really now has to change,” said Pilger, who has covered conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia, written books and made several acclaimed documentaries.
“There’s no question about the pressure on it to change coming from the internet and coming from WikiLeaks — it will change,” he added in the interview ahead of Tuesday evening’s broadcast of his new film.
“That is the canker in all of this, it’s the compulsion to quote, not necessarily believing the authority source. But then once you quote it and you put it out on the wires or you broadcast it, it takes on a sort of mantle of fact and that’s where the whole teaching of journalism is wrong.
“Authority has its place, but the skepticism about authority must be ingrained in people.”
In The War You Don’t See, Pilger interviews leading broadcast journalists including Dan Rather and Rageh Omaar, who agree that journalists failed in their basic duties during the build-up to the Iraq conflict.
It seeks to highlight how British television reporters based in London were quick to accept what they were being told by officials in Westminster, which did not necessarily reflect what was happening on the ground in Iraq.
The film shows how independent journalists occasionally provided evidence that countered the official version, while WikiLeaks was a relatively new source of sometimes disturbing information with the potential to embarrass the authorities.
The documentary opens with extended clips from classified U.S. military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff. WikiLeaks released the footage in April.
Pilger also interviews WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, remanded in custody in Britain last week after Sweden issued a European arrest warrant.
Assange jokes that since it is officially wrong to retain information and to destroy it, his only choice was to publish.
Pilger, one of several prominent figures who offered a surety to secure bail for Assange, praised the recent publication of secret U.S. embassy documents which have attracted global media coverage.
“I think the WikiLeaks disclosures have been like watching a great parade of wonderful scoops,” Pilger said in the interview.
“(It is) basic rich journalism that is telling people how the world works. It’s not just telling them what a prime minister said. It’s not framing it in how governments or other vested interests want us to think about something.
“It’s giving us the story in their words. I think it’s a revolution in journalism.”
The War You Don’t see is aired on ITV on Tuesday evening and is being screened at select theatres across Britain.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato