“Windbag” journalists come in for criticism from Pilger

Harding receives his award from Pilger


One of this country’s most feted journalists, John Pilger, hit out at the value of the plethora of awards now handed to journalists when he presented a prize in memory of one of the world’s best reporters – the late Martha Gellhorn.

"We believe the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is different from awards that are being showered on journalists these days," he said, handing the coveted trophy to Jeremy Harding, a senior editor at the London Review of Books. "Some of these awards go to top-of-the-head windbags.

"Few of them are won by truly independent reporters who bother to go and find out, and reserve their scepticism for power not people; who are subversive as journalists ought to be."

Harding won the prize, in its second year, because he "went after the truth in really big and bold way," said Pilger.

His article in the London Review of Books in February last year headlined "The Uninvited: Refugees at the rich man’s gate" was an investigation into the lives and times of "those vilified as a threat by sections of the media -refugees, asylum seekers, survivors, ordinary people now denied rights claimed by tourists to cross borders," said Pilger. Harding, he added, "blows apart just about every stereotype you can think of."

The prize was founded by friends of Gellhorn, who herself wrote movingly on the plight of refugees and the dispossesed. One of those judges, Victoria  Glendinning, said they had looked for "uncomfortable truths drawn from incontrovertible facts".

The best entries, she told an audience which included Gellhorn’s brother and other relatives, were often quite painful to read because of their subject matter.

Pilger found among finalists one who stood out in a special way – Don Hale, editor of Matlock Mercury, "the man who almost single-handedly got Stephen Downing out of prison where he spent 27 years."

He described Hale’s investigation as the "brilliant, tenacious work of a small-town editor just when we thought the likes of him were an endangered species."

Hale got a special commendation.

The runner-up was Linda Melvern.

Pilger said her articles in The Observer on the Rwanda holocaust "shone a light on those implicated in the massacres who never got blood on their hands, such as members of the so-called internat-ional community."

By Jean Morgan

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