The lost power of paper
It was some minutes before I picked up my pint of cider and went to sit at a table. One wall of the Glastonbury pub was covered with a montage of posters from the festivals held at Pilton since the first one in 1970. The poster for the single festival that I attended in 1979 looked drab among the more recent versions.
The 1979 festival seems more memorable as an experience than for its music.
For me, it was a frst encounter with the International Times, a publication that the seller claimed was at the forefront of a revolution. Of course, it wasn’t. It was a collection of circular arguments, dissenting from which would have brought accusations of having ‘false consciousness’. None of the writers would change the world.
Journalists who would really change things needed to command a wider readership than a small group of Left wing youths at a pop festival.
One journalist to whom people listened that year was John Pilger. Pilger was my hero.
His documentary Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia prompted me as a nineteen year old student to send a cheque for £5 in response to an advertisement from one of the aid agencies. (It was the beginning of decades of interest in development issues).
The agency’s advertisement showed a pile of earth, a spade, and a hole in the ground; the caption underneath stated starkly,
‘One million people have already gone underground’.
John Pilger had the integrity and fearlessness that, in later life, I would come to associate with an Old Testament prophet. He told things as he saw them, uncomfortable as that might be to his readers or listeners.
In Internet days, it is hard now to imagine the difficulties of an underground press, or the work demanded of people like John Pilger to carry their stories on the mainstream media.
Given the potential of the internet, there should now be a plethora of radical analysis filling public discourse, except there is not. The multiplicity of views online has meant authentic voices are now as difficult to find,
Forty-odd years after Cambodia, what opportunity would there be for a new John Pilger? In Pilger’s day, reaching the mainstream of the media meant reaching the mainstream of the population.
In the days of fragmentary broadcasting (which is really narrowcasting) to more and more narrowly defined interest groups, what chance is there of reaching more than a small number of committed people?
In gaining countless voices, we have lost the chance of a single voice. A newspaper at Glastonbury would hardly be noticed.
A great journalist, used to make it worth buying the Daily Mirror. The problem is that his pieces can be tough to watch and read, people don’t seem to want that anymore. They just want stories to back up their own view of the world.
I was disappointed in Pilger over his take on Hugo Chavez. He turned a blind eye to the obvious of what the kleptocracy was accomplishing from the start.
Venezuela had the largest middle class in Latin America. There were problems and corruption in the Cuarta Republica, but nothing like Hugo and his successor have rendered.