Sarah and Alice Springs Greens, what I dispute most about …

Comment on Pilger review: Greens strike back by Kieran Finnane.

Sarah and Alice Springs Greens, what I dispute most about Utopia is John Pilger’s approach to his subject, which completely compromises the film’s claim to be a credible work of journalism or documentary. I think this is clearly stated in my review.
Outrage might be fine for a preacher, but it’s not a good start, middle and end for journalistic enquiry.

Pilger does not treat us to many facts; all too often he proceeds by way of leading questions, inferences, insinuations, sweeping generalisations and unsubstantiated assertions. Here are an additional couple of offending examples not mentioned in the review:

1. In his broadbrush treatment of the early Intervention, Pilger describes the introduction of income quarantining thus: “Benefits and pensions were restricted. People could only buy essentials with a special Basics card. Only black citizens were treated this way. As people’s incomes were being quarantined, starvation was reported.”

For people who don’t know better, the first two sentences may well leave the impression that social security benefits were reduced by the Intervention. They certainly fail to mention the principle reason for quarantining, which was to restrict the amounts being spent on alcohol and tobacco, and redirect money towards food and household expenses. Further, they fail to mention the 50% of benefits still available to the recipient to spend as she or he pleased. The third sentence is also misleading: “black citizens” is way too broad a term when income quarantining applied only to welfare recipients residing in the “prescribed communities”, where non-Aboriginal welfare recipients were also caught in its net. The shocking suggestion of the fourth sentence is left unsubstantiated – what was the nature of these reports and were they substantiated? This is all the more mischievous when ‘starvation’ or at least malnutrition was the very matter the government was attempting to address with the measure and there is some evidence of its success.

2. Further along in his treatment of the Intervention, Pilger runs a grab from Trisha Morton Thomas in which she recalls, “watching huge heliopters fly over our homeland with these massive … antenna-like things. Then a few years later the government comes crashing into the Mutitjulu community … and amazingly they find these huge amounts of uranium and prescious soils in central Australia … People might think I’m being a bit paranoid …”

Not Pilger. He segues into a dramatically toned but ridiculously inconsequential tidbit about mining in the Northern Territory: “In 2007 a campaign called Top End Secret 2 was launched by the Northern Territory Government to explore for new mineral deposits. According to an industry survey the Northern Territory is the new frontier of Australian mining.” This is left hanging, there’s a bit of didgeridu music and then he changes the subject.

This would be laughable if it wasn’t so embarrassingly bad.

Pilger never tests his material with appropriate scepticism, only uses material to support his agenda and, at the risk of repeating what I’ve said in the review, never seeks dissenting points of view while also turning a blind eye to confounding aspects of the social picture he is supposed to be examining.

When I say the situation is complex, I don’t suggest that it is beyond understanding; I just don’t think Pilger’s simplistic approach contributes to that understanding.

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