Chris Masters is an investigative journalist and author.
His name is practically synonymous with the craft of investigative journalism, as his face was regularly beamed into living rooms across Australia when he worked on the ABC television program Four Corners between 1983 and 2010. One of his programs had a huge effect on my home state of Queensland: in 1987, Chris’s report, The Moonlight State, led to the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption, which resulted in the deposition of the premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, as well as the jailing of three former ministers and the state’s police commissioner, Terry Lewis.
Chris has produced many remarkable stories across his career, but I make special mention of The Moonlight State as this interview was recorded in late September while he was visiting Brisbane to launch All Fall Down, the third book in a trilogy about Queensland police corruption by Matthew Condon, a previous Penmanship guest. Condon said at the launch that his three books would not exist without the work of Chris Masters, which goes to show just how deeply his investigative journalism has affected so many people.
I first met Chris at a Brisbane launch for his 2012 book, Uncommon Soldier: Brave, Compassionate and Tough, the Making of Australia's Modern Diggers. When I got a chance to speak to Chris afterwards, I told him that he’d been highly influential in my decision to pursue journalism, as when I graduated from the University of Queensland in 2009, Chris received a Doctor of Letters and gave a short speech which I found immensely inspiring. When I later contacted Chris after that first meeting in 2012, he kindly sent me the text of his speech, which was even more affecting for me to read after having invested a few years in the business myself.
Our conversation at Chris’s hotel room overlooking the Brisbane River touches on the work ethic of his journalist mother, Olga Masters, and how that influenced his own work; how an experience with death as a young man led to him becoming involved with a charity named Redkite; how he goes about winning the trust of sources who are initially unwilling to speak to him; the thirteen years of litigation which followed the broadcast of The Moonlight State; why he believes that domestic investigative journalism is tougher than warzone reporting, and what sustains him after over 40 years in this business.
Chris Masters worked at Australia’s longest running public affairs television program, Four Corners between 1983 and 2010. He made over 100 reports for the national broadcaster’s flagship program, many of them well remembered and some of them nation shaping. Chris has written four books, the most recent Uncommon Soldier (2012). The first was Inside Story (1991) followed by Not For Publication (2002) and Jonestown (2006), the latter winning three awards, including ‘Biography of the Year’. Chris is from a well-known media family, his mother Olga (1919-1986), a lifelong journalist and successful author. In 1999 Chris was awarded a Public Service Medal for his anti-corruption work. In 2005 he received an honorary doctorate in Communication from RMIT University. A further honorary doctorate was awarded in 2009 by The University of Queensland, where Chris is an Adjunct Professor.
Show notes and links to Chris's writing discussed in this episode: http://penmanshippodcast.com/episode-12-chris-masters/
Chris Masters's website: chrismasters.com.au
Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU