Media, political and legal discourses liberally use the term ‘the public interest’ as a justification for an act or outcome that has an over-riding public good. But what exactly is ‘the public interest’? In New South Wales alone, the term ‘the public interest’ is included in almost 200 Legislative Acts (Wheeler 2006: 22) but, almost without exception, the term is not defined. Pervasive, but poorly understood, and mysterious in its own way, the public interest is described as “one of the most used terms in the lexicon of public administration, [but] it is arguably the least defined and least understood” (Wheeler 2006: 12).

This seminar paper examines the public interest as it relates to public relations and communication, but also, more broadly, as it exists within related discourses surrounding social capital, law and political philosophy. The presentation is illustrated with narratives and case studies that take the audience from West Africa, to Helsinki, to the Australian outback, to the Republic of Ireland, and to the world’s largest online encyclopedia.

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A/Professor Jane Johnston’s book Public Relations and the Public Interest is published by Routledge (2016) and a follow-up journal article Public interest: A new way of thinking for public relations? is in press. Her next book on the topic, co-edited with Magda Pieczka from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, draws together a collection of leading international scholars to continue the exploration of the public interest across a range of social, political and economic systems. Johnston’s interdisciplinary research explores public relations, media, communication, law and justice – often at their various intersections.  She consults to government and the courts on justice communication.

About Research Seminar and Workshop Series

The research seminar and workshop series' occur each semester, each with a different topic and guest speaker from UQ or otherwise.

The seminars occur on a Friday afternoon from 3-4 pm in Room 601 in the Michie Building (#9).

Semester 2, 2017 Seminars & Workshops


Friday, 11 August

Technologies for the Analysis of Communication

Room 601, Michie Building (#9)

Dr Dan Angus

Friday, 18 August

Hotel October: The Deaths and Dates of Jacques Derrida and Walter Benjamin

Room 601, Michie Building (#9)

Prof. John Schad
(Department of English Literature and Creative Writing, Lancaster University)

Friday, 1 September

The Writer on the Road

Room 601, Michie Building (#9)

Dr James Cowan

Friday, 15 September

Birds of a feather? Trump, Chavez and the populist communication style in times of discursive disruption

Room 601, Michie Building (#9)

Dr Elena Block


Friday, 29 September

Making Hollywood Mobile: Labour in Global Film and Television Production

Room 740, Michie Building (#9)

Dr Kevin Sanson
(School of Communication, QUT)
Friday, 13 October

The Datafication of Religious Media:
Pulpit Plagiarism and the Spiritual Commons in American Sermons

Room 601, Michie Building (#9)

Dr Andrew Ventimiglia
(TC Beirne School of Law, UQ)
Friday 27 October

Cirrus: Innovative, Digitally Engaged Assessment for High Level Thinking

Room 601, Michie Building (#9)

Dr Natalie Collie, Dr Jennifer Clement, Kerry Kilner
Friday, 3 November

"The State of Fun": How Singapore's Fun Campaigns Legitimise an Emerging Casino Economy

Room 601, Michie Building (#9)

Dr Juan Zhang

Friday, 10 November

Historical Moods in Film

Room 601, Michie Building (#9)

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink
(Macquarie University)


Room 601, level 6, Michie Building (#9)