The publisher of a new book about the
Howard decade has admitted she had reservations about it, that it could
be seen as a “tract” and that she was concerned News Limited risked
being seen “as an arm of the government’s propaganda machine.”

The Australian has devoted a lot of space over the last week to promoting the The Howard Factor : A Decade That Changed the Nation – which it is co-publishing with Melbourne University Press.

But MUP chief executive Louise Adler has told Crikey that her concerns about lack of balance in the book were not heeded.

Adler was responding to comments by the book’s editor Nick Cater in this morning’s Australian. Cater
accused Adler of pushing for more left wing voices in the book. He
suggested that this was part of a tendency in the publishing industry
to refuse to acknowledge Howard’s legitimacy. Cater said that the book
was not intended to be a polemic but a “serious, sober and intelligent
assessment” of Howard, who had been “perversely ignored by the
publishing industry for far too long.”

But Adler told Crikey she
had been concerned that the book was not balanced and that some of the
“wide variety” of commentators from The Australian were “conspicuously absent.” Her aim had been to ensure that there were a range of different opinions in the book.

“It
is a normal responsibility of a publisher to raise with authors issues
about how the book may be perceived. People can get too close to their
material. I raised a risk that the book would be seen as a tract, and
News Limited as an arm of the government’s propaganda machine.”

But, Adler says, The Australian was happy with the book as it was, so that is how it went to press. “My concerns were not heeded.”

Adler
nominates among the commentators “conspicuous by their absence” the
columnist Michael Costello. Meanwhile Cater makes it clear that he
regrets that Philip Adams was not included because he was overseas when
the book was being compiled.

The book was a “fast turnaround,”
having been commissioned in November for launching in February. Adler
says: “My concern was to ensure we had a balance in the analysis of
John Howard’s success. It is not a question of left wingers versus
right wingers, it is a question of obtaining a broad range of views for
an important book.”

Declaration: Margaret Simons has a publishing contract with Melbourne University Press.

Peter Fray

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