John Pilger, editor,
Tell Me No Lies:
Investigative Journalism
& Its Triumphs

(Vintage, 2005)

John Pilger is one of the greatest journalists writing today, although you are more likely to find him on television with a special report than in print. I think that part of the reason for this is alluded to on a number of occasions in this fantastic book. In general the sad situation today is that the majority of newspapers are owned by a few individuals or corporations and the investigative journalist finds it harder to get a story published if it might offend governments, big businesses or vested interests.

The sub-title of this book is "Investigative Journalism & its Triumphs," but it might just as easily be called "Let's look behind those headlines we thought were true."

It is a sad fact that in the modern world of 24-hour news and the Internet, the race to be first with the story can leave something to be desired in the area of background, substantiation and proof. Because of this we need books like this where we find a collection of articles and stories that have immense public interest but are written after days, weeks, even years of research and reflection.

The book of more than 600 pages ranges from wars and conflict to crime and human interest with insightful introductions and background to the stories from Pilger. In the interest of brevity I will look at just two stories that I thought I understood before reading this book -- how wrong I was.

"The Secret War Against the Miners" by Suemas Milne is a brilliant expose of the very real war that was waged during the British coalminers' strike in the 1980s. He looks at the despicable aftermath of the strike and into the 1990s when Robert Maxwell and his Mirror newspaper reported on frauds allegedly perpetrated by Arthur Scargill.

Milne investigates the numerous charges and finds that none were true. He digs deep to find the motivation and reveals the Tory anger at miner's victories in the 1970s, sparking a very serious campaign to destroy unions for all time.

Not only does he find Margaret Thatcher involved but also the Labour Party -- eager to distance itself from a militant union -- and security forces. In a brilliantly detailed expose he reminds us that all is never as we imagine or as it is reported. There are powerful vested interests manipulating the new. He points out that while we constantly mock those who see conspiracy in every event, they are not always wrong.

"The Thalidomide Scandal" was one of the big stories that I recall from the 1970s. It involved the horrific deformities suffered by children whose mothers took a drug to counter "morning sickness." The general perception was that the Sunday Times provided a major public service when it publicized the facts and fought for compensation.

One of the investigators, Phillip Knightly -- although proud of the work done and the campaign won -- now wonders if the investigative team did enough and acted early enough. He recounts the battles, the research and the all-too-human tragedy, but he is not blind to the delays, fears and prevarications of the newspaper. In fact, the current book was not allowed use the original expose as the newspaper refused permission.

These are but two of the dozens of stories recounted here including "Lockerbie," "My Lai" and "East Timor." If you like to be truly and intelligently aware of current affairs or recent history, this is your instant fix.

by Nicky Rossiter
20 May 2006

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