The 2013 Prestonian Lecture sets out to examine the way in which Freemasonry was portrayed in the national press in England and Wales during the twentieth-century. It considers how and why the public image (as distinct from the internal image) of Freemasonry changed from that of a highly-respected élite organisation, at the centre of public life in 1900, to a position on the fringes in the 1990s, regarded by many people with suspicion and disapproval.
The lecture describes how the press conveyed positive news about the organisation during the first 40 years of the twentieth-century, and concludes that the change in public regard for Freemasonry which occurred during the twentieth-century was due, mainly - but not solely - to Masonic withdrawal from the public sphere. In England and Wales, Freemasonry's reluctance to engage with the media after 1936 powerfully assisted its critics, who grew in strength significantly as a result of developments within the media and the churches. It is also important to note that throughout this period, "Conspiracy culture" remained strong, rendering the privacy/secrecy of Freemasonry a major handicap to public understanding.