DEMOLISHING GLOBAL MYTHS
David Cromwell talks to John Pilger about his forthcoming television documentary, The New Rulers of the World, which examines the real meaning of the 'global economy', including the virtually unknown and bloody history of how globalisation took root in Indonesia
Anything less than a rigorous accounting of power is - in the eyes of John Pilger, the renowned Australian journalist and ZNet commentator - a serious failure of journalism. Interviewed last year by Professor Anthony Clare for BBC Radio 4's 'In the Psychiatrist's Chair', Pilger said: 'A journalist covering political affairs, international affairs, really should be outside - so outside - the establishment ring, that he or she makes enemies'. Pilger fits the bill. As he told Anthony Hayward - whose recent book, 'In the Name of Justice', reviews the journalist's 30 years of television broadcasting - '[I am] anti-authoritarian and forever sceptical of anything the agents of power want to tell us'. But more importantly, in his own words, Pilger is driven by his 'respect for humanity, and for telling the stories of humanity from the ground up, not from the point of view of the powerful and those who, in one way or another, want to control or exploit us'.
In his latest documentary, 'The New Rulers of the World', Pilger presents the compelling argument that economic globalisation is but the latest phase of colonial domination of the weak by the powerful. Globalisation - deceptively described by Blair and Clinton as 'irreversible', 'irresistable' and 'not a policy choice, [but] a fact' - is being deliberately moulded by powerful international forces such as the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The film reveals 'free' trade as nothing other than forced trade, with victims aplenty falling by the wayside. Some of these victims are the half-million Indonesians who were slaughtered in Suharto's Western-supported coup in 1965, leading to the Western control of that country's economy, as Pilger documents.
It's that kind of link between economic globalisation and mass abuses of human rights that sets Pilger's work apart from relative newcomers to the field, such as Naomi Klein and Noreena Hertz. How else does Pilger's take on globalisation differ from the relatively safe analysis served up by such voices? 'A lot of the people who are in the broad anti-globalisation coalition', he responds, 'subscribe to the view that the new rulers of the world are the multinational corporations. I don't agree. I think it's a combination of state power - with state power still dominant - and the multinational corporations. The two are really wedded together. It's risky to start describing the world as simply run by corporations.' Pilger points out that 'the United States government has never been more powerful' and that major US corporations have been 'the beneficiaries of massive government subsidy - a kind of socialism for the rich.' The rise of the transnational corporation has been enabled and maintained by 'centralised state power'. This power, Pilger maintains, is the 'engine room of globalisation'.
In the hour-long documentary, to be screened in Britain by ITV on July 18, the 'global economy' is stripped bare, revealing a world 'where the divisions between rich and poor have never been greater.' 1.2 billion live in severe poverty - including two-thirds of the world's children - and more than one billion do not have enough to eat. More than one billion people still have no access to clean water. Over 1.2 million Iraqis have been killed by the West's 'genocidal' regime of economic sanctions, in one of the greatest crimes against humanity in the modern era. All of these shocking facts raise barely a murmur in the free press. But then, as Noam Chomsky once observed, 'What is being reported blandly on the front pages would elicit ridicule and horror in a society with a genuinely free and democratic intellectual culture.'
The documentary highlights the impacts of globalisation on Indonesia. I asked Pilger why he decided to focus on this country. 'Indonesia's a very good example because it brings in the roles of the World Bank, the IMF, foreign investors, [as well as] the exploitation of natural resources and of labour. So all the ingredients of the globalised economy can be found in Indonesia.' Also, as Pilger reports, the country is a 'a major client of the British arms industry' and was described by the World Bank - ironically, just before the Asian crash in 1998 - as a 'model pupil'.
The film presents a virtually unknown account of how globalisation took hold in Indonesia. In the wake of Suharto's seizure of power in the mid-1960s, which was backed by the United States and Britain, some of the most powerful capitalists in the world, such as David Rockefeller, met with Suharto's ministers at a secret meeting convened by Time magazine in Geneva in 1967. 'Most of the Indonesian economy', reports Pilger, 'was redesigned in a week. This was the direct result of the bloodbath in Indonesia the year before, in which the United States and Britain had played important, supportive roles.' He goes on, 'Indonesia then fell under the control of a group called the Joint Inter-Governmental Working Group, which was all the main Western governments, Japan, the World Bank and the IMF. They effectively guided the Suharto economy for many years, determining investment, debt, central bank policy and so on.'
It's an astonishing revelation, and typical of Pilger's drive to get to the heart of significant matters for Western democracy - to expose the dirty reality of a US-led vision of 'global markets', 'freedom' and 'human rights'. His previous documentary, 'Paying the Price - Killing the Children of Iraq', broadcast here in March 2000, sent shock waves through Washington and London. Pilger gave space to former high-level UN diplomats to denounce US/British sanctions as 'genocidal', with the deaths of over 4000 children under the age of 5 every month. Since the broadcast, the US and UK have intensified their efforts to frame the debate about Iraqi sanctions as though they are wholly the responsibility of Saddam. The latest talk of 'smart sanctions' is but the latest step in the same propaganda offensive. Hans von Sponeck, one of two UN humanitarian coordinators featured by Pilger who resigned in disgust at the West's policy, said recently that the US/UK proposals are mere 'tinkering at the edges of the sanctions regime'.
'Journalism', says Pilger, 'is about lifting rocks, and not accepting the official line. As a journalist, it is my duty, surely, to tell people when they're being conned or told lies'. And the whole edifice of a global economy, understands Pilger, would not be possible without official untruths and media complicity. Politicians tell us that the poor have 'lost out' on the 'benefits of free trade'. The solution to poverty, we are told by representatives of the rich West, is for these benefits to be 'spread more evenly throughout society' by continuing the process of economic globalisation which has already caused so much harm.
Pilger notes that while the clichés of corporate propaganda may have changed - 'the American way of life' has become 'globalisation' and 'the new world order'- the objective remains the same: 'to expand the power of capital, mostly Western and American capital, into most aspects of our lives so that almost everything is a commodity and the only value is measured by cost and consumption.' Pilger concurs with Indian activist Vandana Shiva's observation that the forces of globalisation, and especially the corporate media, are generating a form of brainwashing, a 'monoculture of the mind'. 'Media language', says Pilger, 'has systematically appropriated positive concepts, emptying them of their dictionary meaning and refilling them.' 'Reform' now means regression or destruction. Selling off public enterprises - such as the railway system - is 'breaking up monopolies'. 'Deregulation' means a shift from public protection to private power. This insidious corruption of language encourages people to accept that global capitalism is as healthy and inevitable as the need to consume oxygen.
One of the myths that John Pilger wishes to demolish with this film is 'the received wisdom ... that people these days are apathetic'. Pilger expands, 'The opposite is true... the fact that several million people in the last six months have demonstrated all over the world against the imposition of various forms of the global economy has been ignored by the free press. Most people have had no idea of the extent of the opposition to globalisation'. Compassion and outrage - not apathy - typifies public reaction when the truth is told about the machinations of Western power. Pilger's documentaries have invariably generated massive response. When 'Year Zero' was broadcast in 1979, it raised $45 million, unsolicited, for the people of Cambodia. In 1994, immediately following 'Death Of A Nation' about East Timor, 4000 calls a minute were made to ITV.' Last year, in the wake of Pilger's documentary on Iraq, the Foreign Office were reportedly shocked by the extent of public questioning of the West's sanctions regime in that country. Given John Pilger's record, 'The New Rulers of the World' looks set to be a major contribution to the rapidly growing resistance to state-corporate totalitarianism.
'The New Rulers of the World - A Special Report by John Pilger', a Carlton TV production, will be broadcast in Britain by ITV on Wednesday, 18 July at 10.30pm. A special preview will take place at the National Film Theatre in London on Monday, 16 July, when John Pilger will be taking questions after the screening. The director and producer is Alan Lowery. The producer, writer and presenter is John Pilger. The website address is www.JohnPilger.com
David Cromwell's book, 'Private Planet', is published by Jon Carpenter (£12.99). Website: www.private-planet.com