Journalists should focus less on violence and more on the issues behind the growing protest against the multi-national companies, John Pilger said at a screening of his film on the global economy.
News coverage "followed a pattern" of reporting on outbreaks of violence but failed to examine the issues which had sparked the most significant movement of our times, said Pilger during a discussion about his film, The New Rulers of the World, which was broadcast on Wednesday.
"It’s only news when it is violent, even though the majority of the protestors are peaceful," argued Pilger following the screening at the National Film Theatre. "But then there is a danger that the media becomes part of the propaganda campaign to discredit the movement and portray those who take part as mindless hooligans."
His argument was supported by former MP Tony Benn, who said a protest led by pensioners could not expect any coverage unless they used violence. "Then you could expect two bishops on Newsnight speaking out against them," said Benn. "But the media has the responsibility to help keep the peace by reporting what people are thinking without the bricks having to be thrown."
But Pilger also said he believed that attitudes towards the anti-capitalist movement among journalists had begun to change since the May Day protests: "I’m beginning to see a change of tone in their questions," said Pilger. "They are a bit more inquisitive, a bit more probing, rather than just downright hostile."
Pilger and his team posed as fashion buyers to gain access to sweatshops in Indonesia, where staff were forced to work 36-hour shifts with just a two-hour break.
The Carlton film, produced, written and presented by Pilger, made a case study of Indonesia to expose the inequalities within the global economy and the role played by its institutions, the IMF and the World Bank.
The film, co-produced and directed by Alan Lowery, also examines the movements that have grown up in protest against the harsh conditions imposed on them.
"As a journalist, one of the shocking things for me is that the debate in the mainstream is at such a shallow level when there has been a deep movement for some years all over the world," said Pilger. "It is a shame that broadcasters and journalists only think of globalisation and opposition to it from our own perspective of Seattle and May Day."
He argued that programmes like his may not attract ratings on the scale of Big Brother, but they did deliver audiences and a "qualitative response" which could be measured by the number of people who phoned in afterwards and took part in online debates.
"I have been trying to convince my colleagues in broadcasting that this is a true measure and that we should begin to respect it," said Pilger.
lPilger will be available online to answer questions on the subject of globalisation at 6pm on Monday at www.carlton.com/pilger/globalisation
By Julie Tomlin