Former Prime Minister Mr John Howard recently delivered a public lecture at the University of Melbourne on the role of the media in covering politics. The lecture was hosted by the University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism.

John Howard Public Lecture: Politics and the Media: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, delivered at the University of Melbourne.

Mr JOHN HOWARD

Well thank you very much, Vice-Chancellor, the Chancellor, Michael Gawenda, ladies and gentlemen. 

You might well ask, and I suppose I ask myself this on a number of occasions, given that in the time that I’ve been out of office, out of politics, I have given very few lectures and very few set piece speeches.  You might ask why I elected to come here tonight and to respond to Michael’s invitation.

Well there are three reasons.  The first relates to Michael personally.  He’s a journalist with whom over the years, like all of them, I’ve both agreed and disagreed and interacted positively and negatively, but he won my undiminished admiration, affection and respect when defying the left liberal tradition of newspaper the Melbourne Age, of which he was then editor, he editorialised in favour of the Australian government’s decision to join the coalition of the willing in Iraq.  I thought it was an act of not only high order judgement, but also an act of very considerable courage.

The admiration I had for him was then augmented by the excellent work he did as the Washington correspondent for the Melbourne Age and for Fairfax papers generally, where his coverage of the events entirely, of course, of the Bush administration, and the coverage was critical, and I think on most occasions, very objective.  He augmented a very high regard I developed for his skill and balance as a journalist.

The second reason why I wanted to give this lecture tonight, and this may sound a little convoluted, is that I am a very passionate opponent of what I may fear may be the latest fad to be imposed on the Australian community, and that is some kind of bill or charter of rights.  And the reason why I am against a bill of rights, there are many reasons, but one of them is that I regard the true guardians of liberty in Australia as comprising three pillars of our nation.  The first of those is, for all its faults, a vigorous and highly competitive parliamentary system.  The second is an admirably impartial and incorruptible judiciary.  And the third is a free and sceptical media.  And I have the simple view that if those three pillars are strong and are working well, then they are greater guarantors of the human rights and the individual liberties of the citizen than any stated charter of rights.
I don’t intend to deal at length with that issue tonight, it belongs to another place and another lecture, but I do want to stress how important I regard, in defence of the democratic rights of the people of Australia, the existence of a free and sceptical media.

Now let me say that I stress the word sceptical, and I’ll come in a moment to the importance of scepticism as distinct from cynicism amongst people in the Australian media.
The third reason why I wanted to give this lecture tonight is that I have to disclose to you that my default career was almost certainly journalism. If I had not been either a lawyer or a politician, I might have been a journalist. And as was the wont then, and I guess it is still the wont, but in my final year at Canterbury Boys High School in Sydney, I was invited to write down the careers I might be interested in.  And after writing down law, because at that stage I didn’t see politics as a career - in those days, the wont was that people actually practised a profession, ran a business, did something else before they went into politics, that I wrote down journalism as one of the three things that I might well be interested in doing. 

And when my dear friend Frank Devine, the former editor of The Australian and erudite contributor to Quadrant magazine died several weeks ago, I spoke very warmly to a number of people who wrote obituaries of Frank of the great opportunity he gave when I was summarily dismissed as leader of the Opposition in May 1989 - the opportunity he gave to be a columnist in The Australian. 

And I enjoyed immensely writing each week a column for the Friday issue of The Australian.  And Frank gave me my first job as a journalist, and we had one deal, and that was that if I ever returned to the Opposition front bench, which I did six or seven months later, I would be as summarily dismissed from my job as a journalist as I had been from my job as leader of the Opposition, and that is exactly what happened.  When Andrew Peacock invited me to rejoin the Opposition front bench, and I accepted that invitation, Frank rang me and said; you are fired.

And I did enjoy writing that column, and the one that I enjoyed most of all was writing a column in praise of Alan Border for the leadership he gave to the Australian cricket when it recaptured the Ashes in 1989.  That has a particular resonance at the present time.

But ladies and gentlemen, let me move very directly to some of the things I want to say to you.  And I want to speak from the vantage point as the vice-chancellor pointed out
 of 33 years in Parliament, and of an extensive interaction with the media of Australia.

I deliberately use the word scepticism as distinct from cynicism, because I think we live in an age where we sometimes confuse concepts, and we suffer as a society as a result of confusing those concepts.  We sometimes as a society confuse the notion of tolerance with the notion of endorsement, and I think we run the risk of confusing scepticism and cynicism, and I think this is very important for the profession of journalism.

It’s important, indeed it’s critical, that journalists be sceptical.  It’s fundamental to the profession of journalism that there should be a willingness to question what might be regarded as the accepted and the status quo.  But I think there’s an equal burden not to cross the threshold or cross the border between scepticism and cynicism, and to believe that there is no good in institutions in society, and there is no inherent good and positive motivation in the attitude and the behaviour of people whether they be in public life or in some other form of human activity.

There is, as the title suggests and as the foreshadowing of the panel next week, there is a very close and intimate relationship between journalists and politicians.  We need each other.  Whatever may be the attitude of journalists towards politicians, they need to cultivate them, whatever may be the attitude of politicians towards journalists, we need their engagement, hopefully their goodwill, and desirably their objectivity and their faithful reporting in order to transmit our message.

In my time in politics, parliamentary politics, and I entered Parliament halfway through Gough Whitlam’s term of office as prime minister.  I entered in 1974, the election held some 18 months after Whitlam’s election in 1972.  And the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery, and indeed the way in which politics in Australia was reported in 1974, was a world away from the way in which politics is reported at the present time. 

It was still a media that was dominated by print journalists.  The colossus still of Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1974 was Alan Reid, although he was in failing health, and some might say his greatest days were behind him, he was still regarded as the doyen - the author of three remarkable books about Australian politics, the reading of which I commend to the younger members of this audience who are interested in Australian political history.
One very quickly produced book called The Power Struggle that was written about the struggle for the leadership of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party after the sudden death through drowning of Harold Holt in 1967.  The next book was called The Gorton Experiment, which was a wonderful and vivid picture of the very turbulent and interesting years of the Gorton administration.

Can I say by way of digression, John Gorton was a man who, when he was chosen as leader of the Liberal Party, I wondered whether the Party might have done better to have chosen Paul Hasluck as its leader - I was not then of course a member of Parliament.  John Gorton was a person who, as the years went by, I began to appreciate a great deal more.  I admired his passionate Australian nationalism, and I understood many of his motivations much better later in life, and I was very happy that one of the things I was able to do as prime minister was to spend some time with him, and to be involved in the launch Ian Hancock’s wonderful biography.

And the third of Alan Reid’s books was The Whitlam Bencher, which was a book about the tumultuous years of the Whitlam Government.  So I would commend to people interested in politics who haven’t read those books, I would commend them to you.

But Alan Reid, the fact that he symbolised, I guess, the strength and the history and the culture of the Gallery, was an indication of how different an era it was.  And one of the most famous photographs, for which I’m sure he was responsible, at that time probably one of the most famous photographs in Australian political history, was taken of Arthur Calwell and Gough Whitlam standing outside the Kingston Hotel, when a meeting of the National Executive, the Australian Labor Party was taking place, and they were not members of that National Executive, and they were literally waiting to be instructed by the National Executive as to what the policy of the Labor Party should be on the establishment of a communications centre in Western Australia to be part of the worldwide satellite network of the United States.  And it was out of that photograph that the expression, the faceless men, which was continued to echo through Australian politics, arose.

Now I mention these to put into context just how very different it was then, and how much it has changed.  And of course, that pre-dated the rise of the electronic media as the major purveyor of regular daily news. When Gough Whitlam became prime minister, he instituted a practice of regular, sit-down press conferences, and that was regarded as quite an innovation, and a very good innovation in terms of the openness of communications.  And of course, Whitlam was a very good communicator.  He was a remarkably good parliamentarian, and he was a very erudite communicator.

I think one of the changes that really did occur in the Australian media, particularly when it came to federal politics from the late 1970s onwards was the rise in the importance of relating economic and financial developments to political activity.  Until 1972, Australian elections weren’t determined expect - with the probable exception of 1961 - they weren’t determined by economic issues, they often were determined by national security and foreign policy issues.  It was really not until the middle 1970s that economics began to become, I suppose, the daily cattle prod of political activity and political consequence. 

And I often think of the contribution that Max Walsh made as somebody who had, as a journalist, a profound understanding of economics and related that to political issues.
It’s popular of course to say that when it comes not only to politics, but when it comes to everything that is reported, it’s popular to say that newspapers are dying, that the rise of the internet, the dominance of electronic media, all the other forms of modern communication and social interaction are producing the slow strangulation of newspapers as the principal source of information.  And whilst it is very tough times for newspapers, and that’s recognised by people such as Rupert Murdoch, it’s also worth remembering that every so often, we are reminded that there’s a lot of life in the old newspaper dog yet.

And one very good example of that was the extraordinary expenses allowances scandal in Britain in relation to members of Parliament.  That story was broken by the London Daily Telegraph, and it was a tailor made story for a newspaper.  The Daily Telegraph got hold of all of the information, and they dribbled it out day after day after day, it was a form of Chinese water torture, complete with moats.  It was dribbled out day by day by day, and it was a very interesting reminder that there is still a real niche for that kind of story in newspaper and it was a reminder that the idea that the role of the newspaper has been totally supplanted by that of the electronic media is, of course, wrong.

So I think it’s also worth observing that during the currency of that issue, scandal, whatever you call it, there was a very significant rise in the sales of the London Daily Telegraph. So it’s an interesting study for those who want to delve into these things of how there is life in the old newspaper dog yet.

Now, generalisations are always very bad.  And they’re certainly bad when it comes to the relationship between politicians and the media, but having said, I have every intention of making some generalisations.  I think it’s fair to say, and I use my softest, least belligerent voice in saying this very, very quietly, I think it is fair to say that the majority, a fairly clear majority of working journalists do tend to be of a centre-left disposition.

I say that very, very, very gently.  Of a centre-left disposition, and of a socially liberal - and I use the liberal in I suppose the universal, or American context - socially liberal progressive bent.  Now that, I think, is a fact of life, there are many, many explanations for it, and that is also something which is worthy of study.  It has something to do with the cultural and political shifts of our society going back to the 1970s, it has something to do with the natural disposition of people who feel that major change in our society is needed, that the replacement of the status quo with something better, something - what they see as better, something different, is a desirable thing.  But I think it is a fact, and it’s something of which I’ve been conscious, but it is not something that should ever make somebody who’s not of the centre-left disposition in any way despair.

I think it is also important when you’re reflecting on the mindset of the media in this country, particularly the media that reports federal politics, that there are the older section of the journalist profession, particularly those in Canberra, their attitudes were also quite heavily influenced by two seminal events.  And one of those was of course the residue of the great debate in Australia about our country’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and the second were the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of the Whitlam Government.  And I think both of those events predisposed some, at least, journalists of the Federal Gallery to have a somewhat hyper-critical attitude towards the conservative side of politics. 

I’ve spoken earlier of the sort of influences that existed in 1974, and of the way in which there has been a very significant rise in the role of the electronic media.  And that of course brings me to what I might call the beginning of the fragmentation of sources of news and sources of reporting or politics, federally in Australia in the 1980s.  And here I come to something that the Vice-Chancellor referred to, and that is the great importance of talkback radio, and radio generally as a medium of communication and a medium of political reporting and political analysis.

Now what is interesting is that Australia is very different in this respect, from either the United States or the United Kingdom, the two countries with which we most readily compare ourselves when it comes to politics.  The United States may have Rush Limbaugh, they may have people of that character, but their influence, relatively speaking, is far less than the influence of talkback radio as a medium here in Australia.

I frequently used to call talkback radio, and radio generally, when I was in Opposition, I used to call it the iron lung of Opposition.  And the great value of radio is that you can never fill, you never satisfy the appetite that radio has for information and for interviews.  And I was perfectly astonished some years ago when I was in Britain as Prime Minister, and I had a meeting with the then leader of the British Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith.  And he was talking about the challenges of Opposition.  And I said, well of course, you do have talkback radio which I found very helpful, and I was looked at almost with blank disbelief as to what this medium really was.  And when I delved into it, I was amazed at how insignificant it was.

I did use talkback radio a lot, and it’s been the subject of analysis, the subject of criticism, the subject of anguish and the subject of wonderment from other sections of the media, and some journalists who were critical.  What I did not seek to do in relation to the use of talkback radio was to replace the regular holding of news conferences with appearances on talkback radio. In fact, I would argue, and no doubt somebody will do the analysis, I would argue that measured by regular news conferences, I have probably been the most accountable Prime Minister that Australia has had.

Now as to what happens over the years with my successor, well time will tell.  I mean, he is a regular user of the media, and I haven’t come here to talk about his media methods, but I do want to make the point rather strongly that my decision to use radio a lot was not designed to avoid the scrutiny of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery.

The reason I chose to use radio a lot was that it is the one medium where you are guaranteed that if you’ve got something to say, somebody will hear it in its entirety if they want to sit and listen.  You do a news conference, you answer a question, you make an announcement, and you are beholden to the gatekeeper as to what is then reported to the public.  The journalist decides what to write, embellished with his or her interpretation.  The television news editor, the radio news editor, takes that grab he or she might like.  When it comes to radio, it’s a different kettle of fish.  And no matter how small the audience may be, and often they were small, on many other occasions they were very large, you did have the opportunity of actually getting a message across.

From about two years after I became Prime Minister, I began a regular half-hour slot on 3AW with Neil Mitchell, a broadcaster of great skill and great quality.  The value of that program, and I hope to the listeners, and I hope to the presenter, was absolutely priceless. Why it worked so well, was that although we never negotiated the understanding, there was almost an implied understanding that if I had something as Prime Minister that I wanted to say and it was of some value to the Australian people, I would be allowed by Neil to say it with a minimum of interruption - appropriate questions and prompts, but with a minimum of interruption.  Now that was the part of the deal that worked for me, and hopefully for the audience.

By the same token, if I didn’t have anything particular to say, or if I was in great difficulty politically on a certain issue, then there was no more lively interrogation one could possibly get than I got from Neil.  And I can think of some memorable examples of his cross-examining me on petrol prices and the responsibility of the Federal Government to provide more money for hospitals, particularly hospitals in Melbourne, and he paid no regard at all to the fact that there were federal, state and local government responsibilities - his typical cut-through response was, when I raised that as a defence, he would say, well you’re the Prime Minister, you’ve got to fix it.  And there was a certain amount of compelling logic in that, I could certainly understand it.

But the point I make is that this was a wonderful opportunity for both him as a skilful broadcaster, and me as Prime Minister to have a dialogue which was balanced, I had something to say, I said it and he allowed me to say it, and he had enough news sense to know what the public was interested in hearing, and what they weren’t.  But equally, I wouldn’t imagine, I couldn’t imagine that I could get away with skating through an interview if there was something that was really hot.

The other talkback radio person that I was associated with a great deal, of course, was Alan Jones, who is a very significant media figure not only in Sydney, but throughout the country.  Can I say that one of the great mistakes Alan Jones critics make is to dismiss him as a shock jock.  Alan Jones is one of the most well-researched, highly intelligent people on individual subjects that catch his fancy that I’ve met in my life, and there’s been many occasion that I’ve gone on one of his programs, and despite the fact that he from time to time identified with my political thinking, that I’ve gone on one of his programs and I’ve received the most severe grilling in relation to the wisdom of free market economics, or other matters; and the depth of research and understanding that he’s brought belies the attempt by some people, particularly in the Federal Gallery, to dismiss him, they make a great mistake and they misunderstand.  This is one of the mistakes the Federal Gallery makes from time to time; they misunderstand the extent to which people such as Alan articulate in a very effective way the concerns and the aspirations of a lot of Australian people.
The other two very interesting developments in the manner in which news is presented politically in my time, especially over the last 15 to 20 years, is there’s been a shift from what I might call the afternoon to the morning.  And it’s best, I suppose, epitomised by two things: the rise of the impact of early morning television programs, it’s no secret that my successor as prime minister achieved a great deal of prominence through his appearance on the Sunrise program.  It’s equally interesting that when I was in Opposition in the early to middle 80s, an absolutely essential program to appear on was the evening PM program on ABC Radio.  And I have to disclose that when PM had celebrated its 25 years of existence as a program, I was informed that I had been the most frequently appearing political figure on the PM program as of the late 1980s or early 1990s.

That has changed.  And I hope if anybody’s present from ABC Radio current affairs, they won’t be offended by my saying it, when I’ll very quickly say that the contribution of the AM continues to be very important, and it is still. I regard it as a very, very important program for the transmission of a message.  But I think it has something to do - and the editors here tonight will know whether I’m right in saying it - I think it has something to do with the shifting of newspaper deadlines.  Whereas often, I found in Opposition I could use something I said on PM as a way of getting it into particularly the broadsheets; that no longer appears to be the case.  There has been something of a shift in the centre of gravity of not only the way in which news is reported, but the time in the day in which judgements are made about what is going to be an important news story.

Now of course, all of this has accelerated over the last five years with the coming large amounts of news from cable TV, not only Sky, but also of course the overseas news bulletins. And I think it’s fair to say that the contribution that is now made to the formulation of opinions by not only the public, but also opinion formers in Australia have ready access not only to our own free-to-air news bulletins, our own radio, Sky news, but also Fox news, CNN, BBC world news and the like, all of them represent a further fragmentation of the sources.  And when you compare that with the sort of sit-down, newspaper dominated news conference in Canberra in the early 1970s, comparing the two, you have a vastly different picture.

Now, I want to look at some case studies.  I was asked to talk about the good and the bad and the ugly.  So I’m going to take some case studies.  Some of them reflect very favourably, and I say this as a former practising politician, reflect very favourably on the media for its contribution to the enhancement of debate. And then I’ll come to some that reflect very poorly, where I think the media has badly mishandled an issue to the detriment of the public.

But before I do that, I want to make a point which I think is very important to an understanding of this relationship, and that is that the Australian media, indeed any media, should never make the mistake of imagining that the Australian people don’t have a capacity themselves to be extremely sceptical of what they are being told. 

I have the view that one of the reasons why the Australian people voted no in 1999 to the proposition to make Australia a republic, that one of the reasons why they voted no was that virtually all of the media were telling them to vote yes.  It was an unusual issue when it came to the media, because you had the ABC in full republican mode, you had the Fairfax press in full republican mode, and you had the Murdoch press in full republican mode.  And sure there were talkback people who had a different view, and there were others taking a more sceptical view, and I thought it was an interesting reaction that despite all of that, and the stronger - the greater the crescendo came, it was almost as if the resistance began to build.  So it’s one of those interesting case studies that in a sense remind us of a general proposition, and that is that the Australian people themselves have a great capacity for scepticism.

And I think that one of the defining differences between Americans and Australians when it comes to things such as these public affairs, is that Australians are a more deeply sceptical people than sometimes our American friends and cousins are.

But I can take three good case studies where I think the media has played a very positive role.  I think from the 1980s onwards, the media in Australia, by and large, has adopted a very sensible attitude towards the need for ongoing economic reform in this country.  Now you might say to yourself, he would say that, wouldn’t he, because he’s been associated with a lot of that economic reform himself.  But I’m talking here not only about economic reforms that I’ve been associated with, but also economic reforms that the other side of politics has been associated with. 

Take something like the decision in the 1980s to significantly reduce tariff protection in this country.  Now, that’s something that obviously was in the long-term interests of the country, but it was also something that was susceptible to a fairly vigorous fear campaign.  Now that fear campaign I might say immediately was not embraced by the then Coalition Opposition, but nor was it embraced by the media in this country, and overwhelmingly I think the media of Australia adopted a very, very responsible - not just the Financial Review, you expect it from the Financial Review because it’s been, you know, a standard bearer of economic rationalism - but more broadly, I think the media, not just in relation to obviously tariff reductions, but taxation reform - I thought that when we were working hard on taxation reform before the 1998 election and generally its implementation, I felt the Australian media, by and large, decided that it was in the long term interests of this country to at least have a go at this.  And I thought they did play quite a constructive role.

And I thought, if I may single out the ABC for praise - I will single them out for some criticism in a moment as well - but if I can single out the ABC for some praise in relation to the industrial relations debates of the early 1990s, and I’ve often said that one of the most satisfying intellectual periods I had in politics was when I was in Oppositions in the early 1990s, and I was the Opposition spokesman on industrial relations when John Hewson was leader, and I was arguing for greater deregulation of the labour market, and it was a great debate, and it was a debate that the ABC took a great deal of interest in.  And I never had any difficulty at all in getting a run on some ABC program, and there were always plenty of ABC current affairs programs.  I thought they made a very, very interesting contribution.

And then more recently on one particular issue, I thought that the role of the ABC’s Lateline program in providing a platform for those very disturbing revelations about the abuse of children in the Northern Territory, and the Little Children are Sacred report that was the cause of the then government’s intervention in the Northern Territory in 2007, I thought the role that was played by ABC Lateline was then very, very laudable.  I just mention them, there are many other examples, but they are three that come to mind.
On the negative side, I have to say that I thought by and large the Australian media treated Peter Hollingworth disgracefully.  You could criticise his judgement, you could criticise the Prime Minister who was responsible for the recommendation, but I thought the relentless pursuit and character assassination of a very, very decent man, I thought that was appalling.  And it went largely right across the media.

I felt that the media misunderstood what was happening with Pauline Hanson.  I think the media trivialised and therefore did a disservice to our longer term national interest in suggesting that Pauline Hanson was all about racism and nothing else.  Sure, there were some remarks she made that were quite objectionable, particularly the suggestion that our country was being flooded with Asians, I think she displayed a misunderstanding of the extent of, as a group, Aboriginal disadvantage in this country, but I think there was a lot more to what was occurring then, and I think many in the media failed to understand that she was articulating a sense of dispossession and a sense of being left behind felt by a section of the Australian community, and also a sense that some of the attitudes and values of this country were being changed without the country being consulted.

Thirdly, I do think, and this does apply particularly to the ABC, I do think that there is a complete unwillingness to accept that there is really any room for any suggestion that there could be some doubt or some scepticism about climate change.  I still remember that extraordinary moment on the Lateline program in the middle of 2007 when that British program, I forget the exact title of it - the [Great Climate Change Swindle (sic)] was shown.  And the presenter of the program actually said that the views expressed in the program were not the views of the ABC, which I thought was quite an extraordinary thing to do, because, I mean, of course, they’re not, nobody suggests that, but there are plenty of other programs of equal prejudice on other issues that do not carry with them the dignity of that kind of disclaimer.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I mention those case studies, some good ones and some bad ones, to make a point.  And that is that the media is a very serious fundamental part of our society.  It’s crucial to our freedoms.  The quality of the media is very, very important to Australia.  It’s very, very important to our future.

I have, in the time that I’ve been in politics, I’ve enjoyed my interaction with the media, I regard a number of people in the media as friends, I respect the durability of many people in the media, and I have a particular regard for those that have started off as newspaper journalists and been able to make the transition.  People like, I mean, Laurie Oakes is a good example of that, I think his first association was with the Sydney Daily Mirror, and he - when I first came to Canberra, I think he was a correspondent for The Sun pictorial, and then of course Channel Ten, where he got hold of an entire budget of mine - one of the more spectacular leaks in my existence.  I mean, I keep reading about things coming out of the public service at the present, can I say, you know, that’s chickenfeed to a whole budget, compared with a whole budget, absolutely chickenfeed, compared with an entire budget.  And you know, I think we have to keep a sense of proportion about these things.

But it is a very, very important part of our society, and we have an obligation to hold the media to account, just as the media has an obligation to hold us to account.  I guess I was seen over the years as somebody who was often in fairly regular conflict with large sections of the media, and probably, for the sake of Australian democracy, that was a good thing, because I was Prime Minister for a long time, and I was a significant decision maker in other positions for a long time as well.  And I think it’s important that that kind of creative tension always be maintained, no matter who is in office.

I think the penultimate thing I’d say is that I find it interesting that there is less talk now about the concentration of media in this country than there was five or 10 years ago, and I ask myself, why is that so?  And I think the reason has obviously got to do with the fact that, for some of the reasons that I’ve tried to describe in my lecture tonight, the fragmentation of the sources of information and therefore the formulation of opinions has been quite marked, and whereas when I came to office as Prime Minister, there was an almost total obsession with the idea that Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch completely dominated the media in Australia. 

That is no longer the case, and I think it’s not only got to do with the fluxion of time, and of course, Kerry Packer’s death and whatever, and the change in the Nine network, and the movement of the Packer family out of the media, but it’s also got to do with the fragmentation in other ways of sources of news, and that obviously has to be a good thing, because we are all in favour of diversity.

My final word, I guess, is to the journalists, and to those in the audience, and I hope there are some who are interested in making journalism a career.  Can I say that I’ve just been in Britain for three weeks, and I spent five days at the Lord’s Test - and didn’t assist our team - and a couple of days at the Cardiff Test, and I enjoyed immensely responding to an invitation from the Australian issue of Spectator to write a diary on those experiences, and it reminded me of what a significant default career journalism really was to me. But I think it is important to understand the importance and the responsibility of the profession of journalism, and something caught my eye - an obituary in The Economist for Walter Cronkite, that great, that giant of American journalism, and it had this to say: "His career was founded firmly on reverence for facts.  The natural bent of an old wire reporter, who had done his footwork at the Battle of the Bulge and the Normandy landings.  The rise and rise of infotainment on television distressed him.  Features were fine in their place, but a news bulletin should contain at least a dozen bits of hard news that made sense of his complicated country, and if possible the world."

Thank you very much.

This is the transcript of a public lecture delivered by former Prime Minister Mr John Howard at the University of Melbourne. The talk was hosted by the University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism.