This year’s Canberra Writers Festival included former Canberran and Doug Anthony All Stars member, Richard Fidler (the ABC’s, Conversations), and Julia Baird, host of The Drum.
A keynote event (Ministry of Truth) hosted by ABC broadcaster, Dan Bourchier, provided lively discussion from Dutch journalist, Rutger Bregman and local journalists, George Megalogenis, Tony Jones and Katharine Murphy, covering many aspects of journalism and news, ranging from “fake news” to a brief outline of Tony Jones’s recent book (set in the 1970s Australia). Katharine Murphy’s message was loud and clear – gather information from as many different sources as possible (even if you don’t agree with them) – and don’t get locked into only knowing one side of an argument or point of view. Rutger Bregman says he “works on the basis that all news is fake news” with Tony Jones opining that Richard Nixon was “the prime example of fake news”. George Megalogenis noted disturbing contemporary trends where journalists are being identified with particular sides of politics. And critical matters which “shape our world” are being ignored says Tony Jones with The New York Times’ and Washington Post’s golden age of investigative stories not getting out to the whole country. Some concern was noted about the lack of analysis of many issues, with a mention of “1970s-style quality journalism”. The concept of introducing a Universal Basic Income (provided it’s fairly distributed) also featured. Katharine Murphy’s article “The Political Life is No Life At All”, Meanjin [Winter 2017] detailed the toxic culture of politics, her assessment based on exit interviews with former Labor parliamentarian, Greg Combet, former Liberal parliamentarian, Dr Mal Washer and former Labor staff member, Mat Jose.
Psychological and social researcher, Hugh Mackay, and Jane Caro, commentator, writer and lecturer, combined their strengths in an entertaining segment, raising a lot of laughter to boot. Their presentation was informative, their background in advertising standing them in good stead to take a forensic approach to messages being delivered by political players from all spheres of politics, in Australia and internationally. Discussion centred on many aspects of marketing including some not-so-attractive characters in advertising. Hugh spoke about his latest book, Selling The Dream, which includes executives Bob “who keeps his drinking problem well hidden”, Marcus “a serial weeper who uses this to his advantage”, and others who seem to be “devoid of any moral fibre about the absurdities of human ambition, especially among men – which of course women tend to see through”. With a Canberra audience, hardly surprisingly parallels were drawn between selling products and marketing our politicians.
Richard Fidler spoke about his latest book, Ghost Empire (on the history of Constantinople up to its conquest by the Ottoman Empire) and the experiences of himself and his teenage son, Joe, in Istanbul in 2014. It was the many long hours on the road with the Doug Anthony All Stars that whetted Richard’s appetite to learn more of history. Ghost Empire describes the evolution of Istanbul and its leaders and splendours, and power plays and struggles over many years among various groups. “Christians felt they must make a city that was as close to heaven as possible” but it seems that “Christians crippled Constantinople”, Richard noted, painting a picture of the city’s history and treasures. He has interwoven these stories his and Joe’s tales of walking around agog at the magnificent structures and art, chatting to locals and enjoying various Turkish delicacies.
Aspects of international issues were covered in Japan: Real or Imagined? (Mark Henshaw and Meredith McKinney) and China Matters (Bates Gill, Linda Jakobson and Joan Beaumont).
Other presenters included: former political and writer, Troy Bramston; the ABC’s Chris Ulhmann, Michael Brissenden, Sabra Lane and science broadcaster, Robyn Williams AM; bestselling author (and Canberran), Jack Heath; Graeme Simsion of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect fame; brain expert, Dr Nicola Gates; writer, Anna Broinowski; food writer, Valli Little; action writer, James Phelan; young adult fiction author, Gabrielle Williams, as well as: Allan Gyngell, Cameron and Samantha Bloom, John Safran, Tim Watson-Munro, Gareth Evans, Rory Medcalf, Jeff Maynard, Gary Ramage, and Anne Buist.