It was back in 2003 when first I read that John Pilger had won the Sophie Prize. He was surprised, to judge from the tone of his acceptance speech. His journalism has always been quite outspoken about the imperialist and colonialist agendas of many ‘western’ countries like his native Australia, the UK and of course, the US.
In that 2003 speech he said:
‘In totalitarian states, people know they are being lied to, and they learn to read between the lines of their newspapers. It’s very different in democracies. I like the story of a group of important Soviet journalists who toured America during the Brezhnev era. They avidly read American newspapers and watched TV. And as they departed, they said to their hosts: ‘This is an incredible system you have here. All the news is the same, and all the opinions in the media are the same. And you achieve this without throwing people in prison. It’s voluntary! What’s the secret?’ ‘
I enjoy Pilger’s TV polemics and I liked his outspoken views in the 2016 report The Coming War on China. Back in 2003, I’m sorry to say that I hadn’t yet made the connection between imperialist thinking and environmental concerns. At that time, I still thought of Pilger mostly for his strident views on the true causes of poverty and particularly on wars.
He made a trip to Palestine in 1977 which yielded the great documentary Palestine is Still the Issue. It was so well received that he went back in 2002 and made another. He called this Palestine is Still the Issue. Based on his recent tweets, he’s still interested and though he’ll be 88, I’m guessing that there’d be a plan to return in 2027. We can guess that it’ll be called Palestine is Still the Issue. Which is reasonable because we can be sure that nothing much will have changed.
And it’s not just Palestine that is still the issue.
‘The United States is imposing the same medieval blockade on Syria as I witnessed in Iraq in the 1990s — denying the basics of life to an entire population.’ John Pilger tweet 23DEC2020.
Sticking with Palestine, and I think we should do that exactly, Palestine has been a topic of several of my journal posts because of Apeirogon by Colum McCann. A brilliant book. Read it and you’ll see that Palestine is Still the Issue.
The Sophie Prize existed from 1997 to 2013. Jostein Gaarder made the funding for it available through the Sophie Foundation which was born of the incredible sales of Sophie’s World which was first published in 1991. The Sophie Prize was awarded for outstanding efforts with the environment. Which is why the award to Pilger was a surprise to me – I hadn’t realised he was so vocal on that topic too.
I was at a bookshop event when Gaarder was in Dublin to promote a later book. He’d just received an Honorary degree from Trinity College, Dublin and I queued with many to have him sign a book after he read to us. I was supposed to ask him sign Sophie’s World and he looked at me when I gave him the novel he was there to promote, The Orange Girl. I realised at that moment that everyone else in the queue was carrying Sophie’s World, some new, some long loved.
We have a signed copy of The Orange Girl on a bookshelf near me and despite the huge sales, the forty plus languages, the movie, it was supposed to have been Sophie’s World.