Journalist John Pilger’s film, The War You Don’t See, is a fearless exploration of the media’s role in war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Dating back from the First World War, Pilger examines the relationship between the government and the media and the origins of propaganda and government spin.
Much like the First and Second World Wars, on some level we’ve still been conditioned to associate war with heroism and a fight for a ‘greater good’ and the war in Iraq was no exception to this. Behind the tired rhetoric of threats of weapons of mass destruction was very little actual evidence and a growing and disproportionate level of the number of Iraqi war casualties. Pilger questions why the media, particularly in the UK and America, allowed itself to be manipulated by the government and become the mouth piece for its dishonest agenda.
It’s sickening food for thought when you think about the extent to which the news we read is filtered and how the ‘selected’ few set the agenda while the rest of us either create or fall victim to the spin. Also without a public framework of accountability, it’s shocking to consider the level of political immunity that exists which sends the message that as long as you’re in a suit and have an Etonian background, you can pretty much get away with anything (Tony Blair, anyone?)
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are striking examples of how embedded journalists can unwittingly (or wittingly) collude with the government, ironically keeping the public away from the truth that they deserve to have access to. If the media did play a part in the war with Iraq, and Pilger presents a pretty rock solid case for us to believe this, then we need to acknowledge that they could have also helped stop the war by asking the necessary questions at the time. Journalists willing to ask the right questions have such an influential power and can bring the truth to attention. During the film Pilger reveals that just before the Iraqi war, an American journalist checked every ‘dangerous’ site in Iraq mentioned by the government and found none of the claimed sites had weapons of mass destruction. However his story was not picked up by the mainstream media – what would our history look like had this not been the case?
What’s clear is that the reputable voices and news sources we’ve been brought up to rely on are often subjective and flawed. Pilger questions the bigger media players such BBC2’s head of news gathering, Fran Unsworth, and David Mannion, ITN’s chief of news who , despite being slightly defensive, are mostly contrite about their indirect collusion with the government in the war in Iraq. This admission is an overdue but promising step but is also unnerving especially given the impartial pedestal they both strive to place themselves on.
This also paves the way for a bigger question; how does our reliance on the mainstream media shape the way we think? If we readily believe all the articles we read, ingest them as the truth and in turn spread these messages around, then we’re all forming our opinions from the same limited and biased sources and bouncing them off each other. Are we too just unwitting puppets that spread government agenda? Where does the truth begin and the spin end?
In a society that is dominated by PR spin, The War You Don’t See is an important film for the 21st century and is definitely imperative viewing for present and future generations. It also comes as a warning for journalists and writers to bear the powerful responsibility that comes with the job and to not just accept the information that is handed to them. It’s also a sobering warning for the reader as it is clear that we too should be investigative in the news that is given to us and see beyond the copy and paste.
For further commentary on this, check out Sarah Cheverton’s excellent piece on Women’s Views on News .