Posted: January 7th, 2024
Former Daily Mirror investigative journalist and reporter JOHN PILGER, who broke stories on the Thalidomide scandal and the aftermath of Pol Pot’s regime, died at the age of 84 on December 30, 2023. He had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.
His family said: “His journalism and documentaries were celebrated around the world, but to his family he was simply the most amazing and loved Dad, Grandad and partner. Rest In Peace.” Pilger also worked for ITV’s investigative programme World In Action, and Reuters.
“Year Zero: The Silent Death Of Cambodia” revealed the extent of the Khmer Rouge’s crimes and Pilger won an International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences award for his 1990s follow-up ITV documentary “Cambodia: The Betrayal”. Pilger also made the 1974 ITV documentary “Thalidomide: The Ninety-Eight We Forgot”, about the campaign for compensation for children after concerns were raised about birth defects when expectant mothers took the drug.
Tributes have flooded in from former colleagues and fellow journalists. The Daily Mirror’s associate editor Kevin Maguire wrote on X: “John Pilger was a great Daily Mirror journalist back in the day, one of the very best. Brave, insightful, challenging authority and instinctively on the side of the underdog. RIP.”
Daily Mirror Editor-in-Chief Alison Phillips said: “John Pilger was most likely the greatest of all Mirror Men. He believed in journalism with purpose and its power to change the world. As a Mirror sub-editor then reporter for almost quarter of a century spanning the early 60s to late 80s – and with more recent guest appearances in our pages over the past decade – he instinctively understood great storytelling.” (Daily Mirror; image – Mirrorpix)
From Press Gazette: Prolific documentary filmmaker and journalist John Pilger has been both praised and pilloried following his death. The Guardian obituary offers an extensive review of his life’s work, which included fearless foreign reporting and championing of the rights of oppressed people. His most famous achievement was his 1979 front-page report for the Daily Mirror headlined “Death of a Nation”, which revealed that possibly two million people out of a population of seven million in Cambodia had been victims of genocide and starvation under dictator Pol Pot. The Guardian notes that Pilger’s reporting helped prompt more than $45m in relief to be raised for the country.
Pilger joined the Daily Mirror during its golden age as a campaigning popular tabloid under chairman Hugh Cudlipp in 1963 (before it was eclipsed by Murdoch’s Sun in the 1970s). He was twice named journalist of the year in the British Press Awards, in 1967 and 1979.
He has been widely praised as an influential and brave investigative journalist who sought out facts to back up pre-determined narratives. Famously, in 1982 he wrote about how he had bought an eight-year-old girl in Bangkok, exposing a modern slave trade. Although the wider issue was correct, as The Times obit explains, it turned out Pilger had been duped by his fixer, and the girl and her mother were paid to play a part. Pilger’s anti-American views led him to adopt a pro-Russian stance when it came to the war in Ukraine.