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
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'