Australian ex-pat journalist John Pilger discussed “The media and propaganda” with a large audience in Perth yesterday as part of the University of Western Australia extension summer school program.

A late start, a technological glitch, a stumbling introduction by the session chair and a rambling preamble by Pilger punctuated by ers and ahs didn’t establish a great platform for an energised and incisive two-hour session that took the form of a Q and A. A mainly older audience were obviously appreciative of Pilger’s body of work over many years and a “thank God for John Pilger” comment from an audience member drew strong applause.

However, those expecting a fierce attack on media moguls from the 2009 Sydney Peace Prize winner would have been disappointed. And there wasn’t much that Pilger could offer about the future direction of media, other than the likelihood that quality journalism will continue to be eroded and that media moguls will dominate the internet just as they have with other forms of media.

The session chair had intimated that there were journalists in the audience and that he was expecting some lively exchanges between them and Pilger. If there were journalists present, they didn’t reveal themselves, and there were certainly no lively exchanges.

Pilger at one stage disparaged The West Australian over its coverage — or lack thereof — of indigenous issues. No one from The West or the audience stood up to defend the paper. And on this issue Pilger was misinformed. That’s the risk of lobbing in a town you’re unfamiliar with and criticising a newspaper on the basis of a superficial read or possibly because of what you’ve been told.

While Pilger’s criticisms may have had some justification in an earlier era — similar to the criticism he made of the Sydney Daily Telegraph’s policy when he first started on the paper as a cadet that black faces were banned — it would be unjustified to pillory The West over its coverage of indigenous issues.

The West and its journalists have done a commendable job in alerting readers to the plight of indigenous people across a range of issues, including abject poverty, appalling housing, deaths in custody, s-xual abuse of children, and the ravages of alcohol.

It would have been good to hear Pilger elaborate on some other charges he made — that the pro-Israel influence on the media in Australia is extremely powerful and that the ABC is constantly intimidated by political pressure — but the session format didn’t lend itself to that.

Peter Fray

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