2000 word essay – 2110 Word Count

This essay will compare and contrast the work of two journalists: Martin Bell and John Pilger. It will point out the differences between their reporting styles: how Martin Bell has a sense of hope in his reports as compared to Pilger who shows a lot more gruesome imagery particularly in his films. It aims to demonstrate how they both portray their emotions through their reporting and defy the stereotypical reporting style that all journalists should be neutral.

Martin Bell is a former war broadcast journalist born on 31 August 1938. He is the son of Adrian Bell: the creator of the first ever crossword to appear in The Times (Kamm, 2009). After getting a First Class Honours Degree studying English at King’s College Cambridge, he went on to join the BBC in Norwich in 1992 (Padman, 2017) .

Bell then reported 11 wars from 80 countries such as Vietnam, Angola, Nigeria, Middle East and Northern Ireland.

John Pilger is an Australian journalist born in Sydney on 9 October 1939.

The main difference between these two promient journalists is their reporting styles.

In this video, Martin Bell speaks on the tragedies in Sarajevo in 1992. His reporting style is unique as his images are not too graphic yet still invoke emotion in the viewer.

For example, he shows an image of a charred hand for a few seconds rather than showing the entire body. This is because he does not want to traumatise viewers at home by making them see extremely graphic images, as he says: “What happened here can frankly not be shown in any detail.” Despite this, however, he still wants them to be emotional in order to comprehend the war as best they can.

He shows a lot of debris and collapsed buildings. The denotation is that the buildings have collapsed and a war has taken place , while the connotation of all the rubble is a torn and broken city. Bell’s reporting style differs significantly from Pilger’s.

In the movie “The War You Don’t See”(Communications, 2011), unlike Bell who shows only a slight amount of graphic images, Pilger does the exact opposite. Straight from the beginning, Pilger shows very graphic images of men, women and children. He pays careful attention to their facial expressions and body language to convey pain and defeat.

For example, a man in the film can be seen holding his head and crying with a blood stain on his arm. The denotation is that he is crying, while the connotation is that he was unintentionally involved in a war. This can be assumed from the blood stain on his arm, as well as the fact that he is not in any military attire so it can be assumed that he is an innocent civilian.

In his report of Sarajevo, Bell uses various camera angles and shots. A lot of his shots are zoomed out and focus primarily on the surrounding areas. By focusing on the surroundings and getting wider shots, Bell is able to show the destruction on the surrounding areas better.

This contrasts Pilger, who’s shots focus on people more than the surroundings. He focuses on their facial expressions and body language to get as much emotion out of the viewer and to shock them as much as possible.

When he reports, Bell speaks in a low, slow voice. In doing so, he is able to pronounce every word properly. His slow speech and low voice also help comfort and reassure the viewers who are witnessing the disturbing images. If he were speaking fast the connotation would be that he is nervous. Instead he speaks calmly and slowly, and the connotation of that is that he is confident.

Pilger is also similar in this sense as he speaks slowly yet confidently. One similarity between them both in their reporting is their use of language and their speech. When reporting, they both speak without a monotone. Pilger does not pay as much attention to the pronunciation of each individual letter and word.

In addition, Bell’s language is very formal, as in the video, he uses words such as “casualties” and “atrocities”. The connotations are that he is speaking to an older, authentic audience, as younger generations would not necessarily use the word atrocities.

Bell, in his report, makes it about his surroundings and not of himself. He only speaks to the camera until the end of the video. Before that he shows the viewers the surroundings and the aftermath of the war so that they can see it for themselves instead of seeing him speak in front of the camera the entire time.

Bell also shows the viewers a scene of two soldiers searching through the carnage for any survivors or casualties. The connotation is that amidst all the despair from the war, there is hope to still find anyone alive.

This contrasts Pilger’s style as he barely shows any sign of hope in his film “The War You Don’t See”. At the start of the film, a man is seen being dragged by two soldiers . Where Bell showed hope with the soldiers, Pilger shows the two military men being aggressive with the man.

Pilger portrays a sense of despair and negativity in this image in various ways. Firstly, the soldier behind the man is viciously pulling his shirt, this is obvious because his vest is sticking out, as well as the fact that the connotation of the soldiers facial expression is he wants to hurt the man. The connotations of this violence is marxism theory, where the man is being oppressed by the capitalists, who are the soldiers in this case.

Secondly, the pictures are in black and white. This brings a sense of emptiness and grief, as these colours are usually associated with a feeling of emptiness and sadness.

A striking difference between Bell and Pilger is the embedded journalism. Embedded journalism is the process whereby journalists are deployed in military units and go with troops to war zones to conduct news coverage of what they see (Löffelholz, 2016).

Bell was under the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars and covered the first Gulf war against Iraq for the BBC in 1991 (Deans, 2003). He also reported the war where he was on the front line in Bosnia in 1992, where, as he was compiling a report, got hit in the groin by a shrapnel and sustained serious injuries (Wittstock, M. 1992).

Pilger on the other hand was a foreign correspondent, covering many wars such as the war in Vietnam.

Although they are both not embedded journalists, they both share the same ideals when it comes to being slightly unbiased while reporting.

Martin Bell coined the term journalism of attachment during the war in Bosnia. He said that journalists should not be neutral when it comes to choosing between good and evil, as he said: “It is a real problem we should address: my answer is what I call the journalism of attachment, journalism which cares as well as knows”, and then further stating “I will happily call myself a founder member of the something-must-be-done campaign (ANDREW CULF, M.C. 1996).”

His theory opposes the National Union of Journalists code of conduct rule three, which states that a journalist “Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair”.

Pilger, in the sense of being sympathetic, is quite similar to Bell. An article published online examined Pilger’s reporting style in-depth (Mendes, P 2008). It found that when reporting, Pilger sides and sympathises with the Palestines:

“Pilger has consistently sought to humanise the Palestinian struggle by reporting the views of ordinary people including particularly the residents of refugee camps. Pilger evocatively described the poverty, humiliation, and poor health experienced by the camp residents”

It also noted how he portrays Israel as being being evil:

“Pilger rarely acknowledges that Israel has real enemies, and that any nation state has a right to defend its borders and civilian population against attacks by neighbouring armies or terror groups. Rather, he seems intent on portraying Israel as a brutal, aggressive state engaged in endless unprovoked attacks against the Palestinians and neighbouring states.”

There is evidence to suggest that he sympathises with Palestines in his movie “Palestine is still the issue” (Communications, 2002). The beginning of the film shows a damaged Palestine with debris and broken buildings.

Pilger says: “This was reported as an incursion to stop terrorism. In fact, it was also an attack on civilian life, on schools, offices, clinics, theatres radio stations.

This systematic vandalism is typical of one of the longest military occupations in modern times.”

In the video above, Martin Bell reported from Zvornick about 2000 Muslims that were “stranded and struggling to get out”. Bell shows subtle emotion and empathy in this report in a few ways. Firstly, he interviews crying refugees expressing their fears and concerns.

He points out their weaknesses whilst symbolising the dominance the Serbs have on the refugees. He interviews one woman that says: “What is happening is that we are unarmed and they are firing at us.”

He portrays deep sympathy while he films the Muslims attempting to leave, as he says: “It’s possible that around 20,000 people are on the move, most of them by foot. These have been walking for two days, they had gone 18 miles, had at least another 20 to go along this trail of tears.”

He then emphasises the fact that they are not being helped by anyone: “They were heading for the safety of a Muslim area without any help no food no medicine no transport but all that they were talking about was the actions of the Serbs in their town in Zvornick.”

He then explains how it is a “great and tragic displacement of people”, and how there is no sign of any help for them.

Outside of being correspondents and journalists, these two have also made their own individual impacts both politically and socially.

In 1997 Martin Bell retired from the BBC and made an entrance into politics. Standing as an independent candidate, he ran against Neil Hamilton who was Member of Parliament at that time in the general elections for the seat at Tatton. Bell defeated Hamilton with more than 11,000 votes (Martin Bell – From war zones to Westminister, 2017).

Although he was not an MP as well, Pilger made an impact politically. In his film breaking the silence, which details the what is true and false about the war on terror, Pilger exposes George W Bush (Communications, 2003).

“The oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies. As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan. The United States of America is a friend to the Afghan people.”

Pilger points out that “Of all the great humanitarian disasters, few countries have been helped less than Afghanistan. Only 3% of all international aid has been for reconstruction.”

In the film Utopia by Pilger, he explores the discrimination in past and modern day Australia between the white and aboriginal people (Communications, 2013).

He aims to shed light on how the aboriginals are suffering due to a lack of medical care. For example, in an interview with Warren Snowdon, Minister for indigenous Health, Pilger says:” On the night i was (at his community), a man called Mr Davey, aged just 47, died of  a heart attack in his Humpy about 20 metres from the clinic. They couldn’t save him, with all the equipment they had and all the expertise they had.”

He interviews modern day Australians about their views on aboriginal people and if they have the right to fight for the country that was once theirs: many Australians respond very negatively towards Pilger’s questions and some deny the aboriginals ever owned Australia to begin with.

He also interviews a few Aboriginals. “This is what Aboriginal people are subjected to in Australia. We’re refugees in our own country.”

In 2001, Bell was made a Unicef UK  ambassador. As ambassador, he travels around the world covering dangerous stories and sheds light on children suffering from conflict and natural disasters. In 2009, he travelled to Somalia to report on the children and women affected by conflict as well as to highlight the efforts of Unicef providing the people with important services such as nutrition and health (Morooka, 2009).

In conclusion, this essay proves that although both of these journalists have different approaches to their reporting, they hold the same beliefs in that they believe in challenging authority and standing up for what is right at all times.


Kamm, Oliver. “The Times Crossword: The Man Who Began It All”. Thetimes.co.uk. N.p., 2009. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

Padman, Tony. “Where Are They Now? War Correspondent Martin Bell”. Express.co.uk. N.p., 2017. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

Deans, J. (2003, January 23). Bell to lead Channel 5 into war. Retrieved April 29, 2017, from the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2003/jan/23/tvnews.channelfive

ANDREW CULF, M.C. 1996, BBC man attacks neutral war reports, Manchester (UK).

Wittstock, M. 1992, BBC war veteran Martin Bell wounded by mortar fire in Sarajevo; Yugoslavia, London (UK).

Löffelholz, M., 2016. Encyclopædia Britannica. [Online]
Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/embedded-journalism
[Accessed 29 April 2017].

Löffelholz, M., June 06, 2016. embedded journalism, s.l.: Encyclopædia Britannica, inc..

Mendes, P 2008, ‘John Pilger on Israel/Palestine: A Critical Analysis of his Views and Sources’, Australian Journal Of Jewish Studies, pp. 97-112, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 29 April 2017.

Communications, BrandFour. “Palestine Is Still The Issue”. Johnpilger.com. N.p., 2002. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Communications, BrandFour. “Breaking The Silence: Truth And Lies In The War On Terror”. Johnpilger.com. N.p., 2003. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Communications, BrandFour. “The War You Don’t See”. Johnpilger.com. N.p., 2003. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

Communications, BrandFour. “Utopia”. Johnpilger.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.

Morooka, I. (2009, May 22). ReliefWeb. Retrieved from ReliefWeb: http://reliefweb.int/report/somalia/unicef-uk-ambassador-martin-bell-reports-situation-somalia

Martin Bell – From war zones to Westminister . (2017, April 05). Retrieved from The Yorkshire Post: Martin Bell – from war zones to Westminster Read more at: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/analysis/martin-bell-from-war-zones-to-westminster-1-8477837



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