Your Excellencies, honoured guests, Michener Fellowship and Award finalists, ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of the directors of the Michener Awards Foundation, may I express our thanks to your Excellency for presiding at this 23rd presentation ceremony here at Rideau Hall.
It gives us great pleasure to pay tribute to the contributions journalistic organizations across Canada have made to improving the lives of all Canadians during the past year. The Michener Award is one of the most coveted awards for Canadian journalism. In the past twenty-three years the award winners have been representative of the profession from all parts of the country – news organizations which include broadcasters, editors of newspapers and magazines in both English and French.
But what makes the “Michener” different, as you sir have clearly pointed out, is that it’s not a prize for great writing, or terrific pictures, or the perfect sound bite. It’s not really even for journalists.
What the Michener recognizes is a team effort. It’s the commitment of everyone within a news organization who helps create the climate and provides support for a journalist to do his or her job.
And just “doing the job” isn’t enough to win you a Michener. We need proof that your work has had the kind of impact that moves peoples’ hearts and their minds, that stirs their sense of justice, and changes the rules and the laws, to make our society a better place. That’s what we term “meritorious and disinterested public service in the field of journalism” and that’s the standard against which we measure the dozens of applications our judges consider each year.
We will meet the finalists in just a few minutes, but before we do that, I will present to your Excellency the two journalists who have been chosen to be Michener Fellows, for 1993. While the Foundation recognizes excellence in journalism in the service of the public, it also seeks to advance education in this field.
Our objective is to encourage journalism that promotes the public interest and demonstrates the benefits of defining social values to the community as a whole. In a sense, we strengthen the team by providing two Fellowships, each with a value of $20,000 to experienced reporters, which in co-operation with their organization, support a four-month study leave with the aim of advancing their skills in areas from which we can all benefit.
We put Senator Keith Davey in charge of that selection process figuring there were few Canadians as steeped in the intricacies of the mass media as he. There were eight entries, and my understanding is that the Senator and his colleagues had a tough job. There were two winners this year. Christian Rioux of L’Actualité magazine and David Evans of the Ottawa Citizen are each to be awarded tonight, with fellowships.
Now we put another branch of the government to work, the one we were pretty sure we could trust to keep a secret. That’s the Auditor General’s office. It’s been keeping the decision of the judges final for us – and even from me – in the traditional sealed envelope, since Arch Mackenzie, and his panel made up their minds. There were 50 entries to consider this year – altogether a weighty process. Twenty-four were from daily newspapers, 13 from television, five from radio, four from community newspapers, two from news services, and another two from periodicals.
What the judges were looking for was the degree of public benefit generated by each applicant. As I said before, to write well or provide terrific pictures, it is not enough. The panel of judges also takes into account the resources available to news organizations so that they can do their job.
This levels the playing field between the largest organization and the smallest community weekly. The finalists this year are all daily newspapers. The Edmonton Journal – for its series called ‘Psychiatry on Trial’, by reporter Tom Barrett, which explored serious flaws in the judicial system’s reliance on psychiatric testimony.
The Globe and Mail – for its two part series “Tainted Blood” by Reporters Rod Mickleburgh (in Toronto) and Andre Picard (in Montreal) examining the medical infection of about 1,000 Canadians with the HIV virus. Their job was to find out why it happened, and what might be done now, ten years later. Their work moved the government to establish a parliamentary committee to investigate further.
The Toronto Star sent Kevin Donovan off on a four-month investigation of Ontario’s government run air ambulance system. The result was published evidence of medical and aviation problems, favouritism and mismanagement – an inquest into one death, an internal government inquiry and the firing of a senior employee for conflict of interest.
And the Winnipeg Free Press. Yet another stunning project by Michener regular Ruth Teichroeb. As the Governor General mentioned Ruth was a finalist last year and has also been a winner of the Michener Fellowship. She found that few criminal charges had been laid in abuse related slayings of young children in Manitoba – many of them native children. As a result, federal, provincial and native officials agreed to set up a task force examining the native child welfare system.
Your Excellency, those are our four finalists.
President, Michener Awards Foundation
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
May 4, 1993.