Literature: Hidden Agendas exposed

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past": it's no surprise that that old crusader John Pilger should choose to quote from Orwell's 1984 at the start of his new collection of essays, Hidden Agendas. He could equally well have taken his epigraph from The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

"Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?" Watson asks Holmes.

"To the curious incident of the dog in the night time."

"The dog did nothing in the night time."

"That was the curious incident."

Hidden Agendas is full of dogs that don't bark in the night, stories that wouldn't normally be told by the print and broadcast media. "There is something in journalism called a slow news day. They usually fall on a Sunday or during the holiday period when the authorised sources of information are at rest. Nothing happens then, apart from acts of God and disorder in faraway places. It is generally agreed that the media show cannot go on while the cast is away. The book is devoted to slow news."

Much of it, in fact, is an attack on the media's news values. In particular, Pilger is critical of what he sees as many journalists' unquestioning acceptance of the Western consensus: that "the market" is king, and that the globalisation of economies is both inevitable and desirable. Of course, Pilger's talent has always been to construct the big picture from the stories of little people, and so it is here, whether he is visiting Trisha and Amy, who are living on the breadline in Lancashire, or listening to the stories of those who lost relatives at Hillsborough only to find their families falsely vilified by the Sun, or confronting businessmen who make money from the Burmese regime. The amount of legwork he puts in is extraordinary: where does the man find the time to eat/sleep/go to the loo amid all the interviews?

Hidden Agendas is Pilger's first book for five years, and it finds him in fighting form: indignant, bolshy, at times downright infuriating. He loves to deconstruct the rhetoric of lesser hacks, and he writes such deceptively simple, crisp prose that sometimes you have to step back, halfway through a sentence and remind yourself that he is an able rhetorician, too. But then, if it didn't sting a little, it wouldn't be Pilger. And it's a rare talent to leave the reader feeling simultaneously chastened and uplifted.

'Hidden Agendas': Vintage pounds 8.99

John Pilger is reading on Mon at Dillons, 82 Gower St, WC1, 7pm, pounds 5

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