BANTAM £17.99 (352pp) £16.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Freedom Next Time, by John Pilger

A hero's blinded eye

John Pilger is the most polarising journalist in Britain. To his fans, he is a lank-haired Australian Messiah, the only man who cuts through the lies of the corporate media to bring The Truth. But his detractors despise him so much they even coined a verb - "to pilgerise" - in his honour: "to present information in a sensationalist manner to reach a foregone conclusion". Few people stand between these two positions, admiring his great skills and exposés but weeping over his occassional follies. I try to.

Freedom Next Time mostly showcases Pilger at his best. There are none of the wild statements that sometimes scar his New Statesman columns. In a long discussion of 9/11 here, he does not repeat his recent claim - based on a single source he has not met - that, unless there was an "extraordinary coincidence", the US government deliberately stood down their defences to let the massacre proceed. Nor does he repeat his statement that he has "seldom felt as safe in any country" as in Saddam's Iraq, a claim he usually follows up by presenting Blair's Britain in contrast as "a police state".

Instead, he writes up the superb investigative films he has made over the past five years. Two chapters in particular are world-class journalism, reaching the heights of Pilger's old friend and mentor Martha Gellhorn. "Stealing a Nation" tells the shamefully under-reported story of how the British government ethnically cleansed thousands of its own citizens - a "crime against humanity", according to the International Criminal Court. In secrecy, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, British governments "tricked, coerced and finally expelled the entire population" of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, "to give the principal island, Diego Garcia, a paradise, to the Americans for a military base".

Pilger brilliantly cuts from melancholic close-ups of islanders, dumped in distant countries, homeless and suicidal, to the high politics of Whitehall. After telling of dead babies and wrist-slashing mothers, he unearths memos in which civil servants declare they must present the islands as empty, "because to recognise that there are permanent inhabitants will imply there is a population whose democratic rights will have to be safeguarded". Pilger draws a subtle comparison with the response to a threat to the Falkland Islands a few years later, when the invasion by the Argentines was (rightly) depicted as a fascist monstrosity.

The chapter "Apartheid Did Not Die" is just as contrarian and just as true. Pilger returns to South Africa after 30 years, the ban imposed by the apartheid tyranny having dissolved into dust. He finds that the ultra-neoliberal policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank - with the complicity of the ANC elite - have pickled the racial divisions of the old regime and suffocated dreams of black freedom. More black farmers have been evicted under ANC democracy than under apartheid, and the World Bank is even lobbying the ANC to stop paying wages to whole sections of public sector workers, suggesting instead they offer "food for work".

He offers a blizzard of bleak human stories that lie behind the figures: while white average income has risen by 15 per cent under the ANC, average black household income has fallen by 19 per cent. Yet again, the promise of Thatcher-style trickle-down economics is a hallucination, and yet again racial divisions become stronger. This is an end to apartheid?

And yet... despite these hand-grenade passages, Pilger's flaws can be spotted elsewhere. His concluding chapter on Afghanistan declares "the liberation of women is a mirage", but Afghan women do not agree. A coalition of aid agencies including Oxfam and Save the Children - hardly stooges of the US government - conducted detailed polls that found a vast majority believe they are better off since the fall of the Taliban. Yet Pilger says "the plight of rural women is often more desperate now, because whereas the Taliban... punished crimes against women", the warlords do not. Talibanism was itself a crime against women, reducing them to chattels. The Taliban were the perpetrators of crimes against women; in what bizarre circumstances could they be presented as their protectors?

Worse still, Pilger praises the Taliban's eradication of heroin crops, approvingly quoting an aid worker who calls it a "modern miracle". How is this something for a left-winger to praise? This eradication was achieved by mass terror, with the Taliban slaying bitterly poor farmers dependent on the opium crop - a tactic the most hardline in the Bush administration now want to repeat by trashing the crops and leaving the farmers to die. The humane solution is legalisation of the heroin trade, not praise for the most vicious and insane drug eradication programme of all. This passage is a reminder that when Pilger is good, he is great, but when Pilger is bad, he reeks.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor