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Year Zero(1979)



The ACTT union called a national television strike half way through filming John Pilger and David Munro’s Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia. The strike was still in full swing when John and David returned.  A measure of the importance attached to this documentary investigation, by both the unions and management, could be gauged by the ease with which I got dispensation for the editing. 


I can relay countless stories about my time as John Pilger’s ‘boss’.  In so many ways his provocative, unbalanced, subjective, invariably hostile but nevertheless ‘must see’ reports focused my determination to publish documentaries under a personal view banner.  It was, to be fair, the only way I could get John’s films broadcast under the IBA Guidelines.  That and balancing a Pilger series, with a similar length series by a ‘conservative’ presenter like Max Hastings. 


John and I argued endlessly over this as he was convinced that his films were invariably objective and balanced. 


To give you an idea of John’s thinking have a look at this article that John wrote for in 2006:


It was during this time that I made a series of documentaries about Cambodia. The first, in 1979, Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia, described the American bombing that had provided a catalyst for the rise of Pol Pot, and showed the shocking human effects of the embargo. Year Zero was broadcast in some 60 countries, but never in the United States. When I flew to Washington and offered it to the national public broadcaster, PBS, I received a curious reaction. PBS executives were shocked by the film, and spoke admiringly of it, even as they collectively shook their heads. One of them said: "John, we are disturbed that your film says the United States played such a destructive role, so we have decided to call in a journalistic adjudicator."


The term "journalistic adjudicator" was out of Orwell. PBS appointed one Richard Dudman, a reporter on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and one of the few Westerners to have been invited by Pol Pot to visit Cambodia. His dispatches reflected none of the savagery then enveloping that country; he even praised his hosts. Not surprisingly, he gave my film the thumbs-down. One of the PBS executives confided to me: "These are difficult days under Ronald Reagan. Your film would have given us problems."


Agree or disagree John's sentiment the impact of much of his work was extraordinary.


Two days after the broadcast of Year Zero I cancelled a studio programme (replacing it with a local documentary) because the large studio was needed to count the thousands of cheques, notes and coins that had been sent in by viewers.


All in all £4m was sent in by viewers and forwarded to the charities that worked in Cambodia because of John Pilger and David Munro’s startingly and award winning Year Zero - The Silent Death of Cambodia documentary.












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