Robert MacNeil

Robert MacNeil was born in Montreal, Quebec, in 1931, and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After graduating from Carleton University in Ottawa in 1955, he moved to London, England, where he worked first for Reuters News Agency and then for the National Broadcasting Corporation. From 1963 to 1967, he was a correspondent for NBC in Washington and New York City. From 1967 to 1971, he covered American and European politics for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

After he returned to Washington, MacNeil co-anchored (with Jim Lehrer) coverage by the Public Broadcasting Service of the Senate Watergate Hearings, for which he won the first of several Emmy awards. In October 1975, he and Lehrer launched a half-hour nightly news program, “The Robert MacNeil Report with Jim Lehrer” (later “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report”), which dealt with a single issue each night. Eight years later, this innovative approach was expanded to “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour”, the first hour-long evening news program in the United States. “NewsHour” continues to earn major broadcasting awards a decade later.

Robert MacNeil has written several books, including The People Machine: The Influence of Television on American Politics, The Story of English (with Robert McCrum and William Cran) and two memoirs, The Right Place at the Right Time and Wordstruck. His first novel, Burden of Desire, is set in Nova Scotia during the First World War. He is currently completing a second novel.

The 1993 O.D. Skelton Memorial Lecture was held on November 27, in Halifax. Robert MacNeil, a distinguished writer and broadcaster, spoke about the media and international affairs. With various examples and effective quotations, MacNeil emphasizes the particular power of television as a medium.

However, he hopes that television is not driving foreign policy, contrary to the impression that some may have. In his view, television has made a positive contribution by enabling people to make up their own minds about what is in the national interest. However inconvenient that may be for policy-makers, it is a wonderfully democratic influence. In other words, television alters international affairs – or the handling of foreign policy questions – by informing people and thus involving the public in issues that were previously beyond their grasp.

MacNeil explains the power of television, who is affected by it and who controls it. He believes that information technology as such is very important because it helps unite people, influences public opinion, politics and governments, and, indirectly, affects foreign policy. MacNeil demonstrates that knowledge is power and that television consequently has an important role and influence.