Britain is recolonising Sierra Leone in an attempt to get its hands on the country's diamonds

The ITN reporter in Sierra Leone described the killing by British troops of 25 Africans in their own country as a fine operation, an unqualified success. The rejoicing consumed the British media, which featured a coy appearance by paratroopers who had taken part in the massacre. There were exciting reconstructions of the "daring jungle raid". Much of it was stage-managed by British military public relations, which has learnt many lessons since Bloody Sunday. When you can turn a massacre in someone else's country into a heroic tale of British derring-do, you have indeed achieved an unqualified success in wiping out any vestiges of sceptical and independent journalism.

Had 25 people been gunned down by British troops in a country populated by white people, the stage-managers might have had their work cut out - unless the killing was done by RAF aircraft flying at a safe distance of 30,000 feet dropping cluster bombs that tore apart children playing in the street. That happened in Yugoslavia last year to the accompaniment of tales about heroic pilots.

There is a craven element here. The Kosovo "moral crusade" has been discredited by most bar the journalists who promoted it. As the forensic findings show, there was no genocide in Kosovo, simply a low-level civil war, grossly inflamed by Nato, which has since facilitated the ethnic cleansing of almost a quarter of a million Serbs and Roma from their homeland. Unlike the Kosovar Albanians, these are media unpeople. Yet the apologists for this, the "cruise-missile liberals", maintain their less than heroic silence.

In a rare piece in the Guardian, Seamus Milne noted that Britain's bloodstained adventure in Sierra Leone was the third time in 18 months that new Labour had used armed force outside UN control, and that the people massacred by the parachute regiment had been erstwhile allies of the Freetown government whose commitment to democracy Britain was allegedly there to defend. He lamented "barely a murmur of public debate at home".

There is barely a murmur of debate because journalists, whose job is to keep the record straight, are yet again performing their shameful tasks as state propagandists - yet again reporting the exploitation of impoverished humanity, and especially Africa, as acts of altruism: nonsense that serves to cover the rehabilitation of western imperialism. In Sierra Leone, the British are recolonising a country from where most of the world's diamonds originate. That is the unreportable news. The paratroopers are there because, as the Wall Street Journal disclosed, the British and Americans secretly met the RUF rebels in March, demanded access to the diamond mines and were rebuffed. The "democratically elected" government they purport to support is the result of rigged balloting and corruption.

Britain is also in Sierra Leone as the American proxy in a continent where, since George Bush's invasion of Somalia in 1992 (causing some 10,000 Somali dead, according to the CIA), Congress has decreed that no American blood is to be spilt. The current exercise is almost certainly a rehearsal for the coming recolonisation of the Congo, which slipped from direct control following the death of the tyrant Mobutu.

The west put Mobutu in power, then backed him as he stole the treasury of his country. Ninety per cent of the cobalt used in the American aerospace industry came from Zaire, as it then was, along with diamonds, uranium, manganese and tin. In Mobutu's final days, French paratroops secured the mines while the International Monetary Fund took over the running of the economy.

That is broadly the plan for both the Congo and Sierra Leone, with or without the fig leaf of the United Nations. In Britain, there is no real debate about this, nor about the lies of Kosovo, the illegal bombing of Iraq, the betrayal of the people of Diego Garcia, the rearming of the Indonesian military and the Pakistani military and the Turkish military, because the 400-year-old notion of a free press, Lord Macauley's famous "fourth estate", is dying behind the facades of the "information age".

The more media there are, the more repetition, the more subversive the truth. As global power advances, the western media are being integrated into an imperialism of ideas. Journalism is becoming George Orwell's Ministry of Truth, in which war is peace, and censorship is by omission.

You get a sense of this from what is happening to British television. The Third World and Environment Broadcasting Project, a respected body run by voluntary agencies, has found that only 3 per cent of peak-time television featured anything about the majority of humanity, and almost all of this was confined to minority channels. Africa and Latin America have ceased to exist, except as disasters. As the myth of a "global village" is promoted, the world is disappearing from television. In the past decade, programmes attempting to make sense of other people's lives, struggles and culture have halved. BBC2's output is down by 28 per cent; Channel 4's is down by 56 per cent - a loss of nearly 100 programming hours.

Channel 4, home of Big Brother, has a remit to cater for interests not covered by the other channels and, specifically, international issues. Theirs is now the Murdochised world of "the market". In the 1920s, Alfred Hugenberg was the Rupert Murdoch of Germany. By backing what they deemed acceptable and censoring out what they deemed unacceptable, Hugenberg's newspapers helped block the spread of democratic alternatives, thereby paving the way for the triumph of fascist imperialism. The point is, extremism and imperialism have other faces these days. That is the news.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 18 September 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Let the poor seek a place in the sun