Does Truth Really Matter in Australian Politics? Political Accountability in an Era of Agitated Media

9 April, 2013

"Truthfulness has never been counted among the political virtues, and lies have always been regarded as justifiable tools in political dealings"— Hannah Arendt, Lying in Politics, from Crises of the Republic, 1972. 

The commonly held view that voters have lost faith in politicians and trust in the media — in approximately equal measure — will underpin political discourse in the coming months, as the nation readies for a Federal election. It will be the bad, lingering smell at the end of many campaign days. This narrative is no way unique to Australia. Protected by compulsory voting, we have in fact caught the contagion late — or at least not soon enough to prompt co-ordinated, collective and practical action to fix the malady. In Europe and parts of the Middle East, voter disenchantment with political institutions has spawned a variety of attempts to use digital age tools either to supplant or boost the existing political accountability role of the media. In the US, the 2012 presidential campaign was the most fact-checked in history; truth or its absence was embraced in parts of the media as a long lost friend. And, the Truth Index as run by Pulitzer Prize winning fact-checkers, PolitiFact, recorded an outbreak in truth's favour late in the year — once the election was out of the way.

Truthfulness is certainly a controversial topic; perhaps it has never really been seen as a political virtue. In which case does truth really matter? Is wooing voters, winning arguments, the debate, the election all that counts? Or, have Australians reached an inflexion point, where active, engaged audiences are ready to assist in making politics more accountable, the media more open, and the truth more central to the outcome of any election? 

If so, what roles are available for the academy, for journalists, for "ordinary" voters. It's time to find out. 

The Institute for Democracy and Human Rights and the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney explore these issues with fellow thinkers and industry representatives in a workshop on April 9, 2013. The event, hosted by IDHR's Adjunct Professor Peter Fray, will be the first step towards the establishment of a proposed political accountability network.

This is an invitation-only event. Please contact us by 25 March 2013 if you are interested to attend.

Contact:Zoe Morrison