John Howard delivers lecture on politics and media

4 August 2009

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Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has delivered a lecture examining the relationship between politics and the media.

In a public lecture hosted by the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advanced Journalism, Mr Howard offered his insights into the media and politics, looking particularly at the changes that have occurred throughout his 33 years in public life.

Mr Howard highlighted the importance of a “free and sceptical media” in a democratic liberal society, saying his default career – had he not worked as a lawyer or served as a politican – was in journalism.

The former prime minister commented on the changing media landscape, and said that he wasn’t pessimistic about the future of newspapers.

Mr Howard said the recent example in the United Kingdom, where the London Daily Telegraph broke the story of the scandal surrounding the expenses of members of parliament, was a good example of quality print journalism at work.

“It served as a reminder that there is still a real niche for that kind of a story in newspapers,” Mr Howard said.

“There is life in the old newspaper.”

Mr Howard said Australian journalists maintained their scepticisms about government and society, which in turn contributed to the overall wellbeing of the country’s healthy democracy.

Mr Howard said during his time in office, his preferred medium for communication had always been radio, in particular talkback radio.

“You can never fill the appetite that radio has for information and knowledge,” he said.  “[It’s] the only medium where if you’ve got something to say, someone will hear it in its entirety if they choose to listen.”

Otherwise, a politician runs the risk of the journalist writing the story and choosing which angle they want to focus on, he said.

Mr Howard praised the ABC’s Lateline program‘s coverage of abused children in the Northern Territory, but suggested that the national broadcaster had “misunderstood” former MP Pauline Hanson and what she had to offer Australian society.

He also said the media’s treatment of former governor general Peter Hollingworth was “disgraceful”, and labeled it a clear “character assassination”.  Dr Hollingworth had resigned as governor general amid intense criticisms over his handling of child abuse allegations during his time as Archbishop of Brisbane.

Mr Howard also criticised the ABC for its “complete unwillingness to accept there is room for suggestions that there could be criticism or scepticism of climate change”.

On the question of how politicians use new media – in particular Twitter – Mr Howard said he highly recommended it.

Mr Howard also reiterated the significance of Australia’s  media.

“The media is a fundamental  part of our society, which is crucial to our freedoms,” he said.

And on the questions of politics and the media…

“We (politicians) have the obligation to hold the media accountable, just as the media has the obligation to hold us accountable”.

The lecture will be made available as a video at: