Melbourne Writers Festival ends…
PILGER’S FRIENDLY FIRE
by Sasha Uzunov
I spent thirty minutes waiting for the scheduled start of controversial journalist John Pilger’s talk on the “silence of the media” at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Saturday 23 August after organisers had botched the seating plan. But the wait was worth it.
Friendly fire is a military term meaning shooting or bombing your own side, so it came as a great surprise when Pilger turned his guns on fellow travellers Michael Gawenda, former The Age editor, and Professor Robert Manne.
What is remarkable is that the Age is also the sponsor of the Writer’s Festival and made no mention of this very public spat. A clear case of “silence of the media.”
It was like a Pearl Harbour job, completely unexpected and out of the blue. We are all accustomed to Pilger venting his spleen about American foreign policy. On the night he did not disappoint, calling every western political leader, including our own Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a liar on the war on terror and even taking a pot shot at US Presidential candidate Barak Obama over his support for the “good war” in Afghanistan.
To say Pilger was furious would be an understatement. He was livid that Gawenda had taken a swipe at English journalist Nick Davies, also a speaker at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and angered by Professor Manne, self proclaimed public intellectual.
Watching Pilger in action was like watching boxing great Muhammed Ali in action. The verbal punches, jabs, uppercuts, hooks, incredible stuff! I don’t think Gawenda or Manne would’ve have been able to get up from the verbal knock-down.
If you pardon the salty barracks language but I think Pilger tried to tear Gawenda and Manne a second behind. The genteel crowd would’ve been choking on their soya lattes.
So what had angered the great man to open up such a barrage, where terms such as character assassination, hatchet job, smear campaign, gatekeepers controlling flow of information were rolling off his tongue?
As the Andrew Landeryou blog, www.vexnews.com, revealed in more detail, Gawenda had fired a salvo at Nick Davies in a book review of Davies’ Flat Earth News, in the Age (Saturday 23 August 2008) Gawenda’s gripe related to an incident in 1995 when the British journalist was on exchange with The Age:
“Davies had a big scoop. He had managed to get hold of a letter signed by seven doctors who said they favoured voluntary euthanasia…The letter was cleverly constructed so that none of the doctors individually admitted to having helped patients die…
“Oh, by the way, that scoop that Davies came up with shortly after he arrived at The Age…Well, Davies actually drafted that letter and took it to the doctors who signed it. Is there something wrong with that, the journalist as participant in a story? You decide.”
What is Gawenda implying by this? Moreover, if he had his suspicions about the story then why didn’t he do something about it in 1995? It’s a bit unfair to hit someone over the head with an allegation after they have become a famous book author? Perhaps there might be a case of professional envy showing?
Pilger also attacked in equal ferocity Professor Manne, who is notorious for changing ideological sides. The good professor launched a critique of leftist reporter Wilfred Burchett, an Australian who was accused of working for the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
“These gatekeepers haven’t recovered from the cold war,” he said.
In an extraordinary move Pilger then directed the audience to check Professor Manne’s article on the web. (http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=7594&page=0)
They do not seem to be a group of happy campers down at The Age and the Writer’s Festival. But because of the “silence of the media” you did not hear about it in the Fairfax press!