Your Excellencies. It is appropriate as the Michener Awards program enters its 25th year, that we acknowledge again the support we have received from you both and from your predecessors for what is really a celebration of the principle of public service which guided Roly Michener’s life.
It is appropriate too to recognize and thank you for your personal initiative which led to the invitation to a number of bright young Canadian journalists who are with us today, some of them already award winners in their own right.
And, since this is the only public occasion we have, it is appropriate also to honour the dedication and commitment of one of our number, Mr. Paul Deacon, whose work for the last many years has been instrumental in keeping this organization vibrant and strong. I am delighted to tell you that at its annual meeting this morning the board of the foundation unanimously elected Mr. Deacon as president emeritus.
As you know in addition to the awards themselves, the Michener Foundation supports four month study leave fellowships for mid-career journalists working on projects to advance education in the field of journalism and foster promotion of the public interest through values that benefit the community.
May we present this year’s fellowship winners:
François Brousseau of Montreal has worked for Le Droit here in Ottawa and for Le Journal de Montreal before joining the foreign affairs staff of Le Devoir. Fluent in Italian, he will examine the corruption crisis in Italy with particular emphasis on relations among the media, the senior judiciary and the entire political process.
Robert Hepburn is the Middle East correspondent for the Toronto Star. He will study the movement towards human rights – especially women’s and children’s rights – and democracy in the developing world particularly in southeast Asia, a subject with which you’ve had some recent contact, your Excellency. Mr. Hepburn will focus his studies on the impact of human and civil rights on trade and political relations.
Now for the awards themselves. I use the plural because every organization represented by the six finalists has demonstrated its leadership in the field of public service journalism. The judges tell us this was a vintage year with the six finalists tonight only the best of an outstanding group of 58 entries from radio stations, television stations and networks, community newspapers, periodicals, news services and daily newspapers.
Often when the kinds of stories that win the Michener Award – good old fashioned muck racking – are broadcast or published there isn’t always instant public recognition that the public interest is being served. Often the news organization and the journalists who report these kinds of stories take a considerable amount of heat. Happily the newspapers and broadcasters represented here tonight show no signs of wanting to get out of the kitchen.
The finalists are:
The Edmonton Journal, last year’s winner of the Michener Award, is back with two massive entries which reflect the continuing and growing concern Canadians have about their own health and the health care delivery system. The judges decided to combine these two entries.
One produced more than 200 stories over a period of months on key issues affecting health in men and women from teen years through the sixties. There were bi-weekly public forums which drew turn away crowds. The other series, ranging over eight days, examined the tough choices to be made in health care delivery in the wake of the Alberta government’s 25 per cent cutbacks in funding.
The Ottawa Citizen through columnist Greg Weston provided voters with another major lightning rod for their discontent with the government of Brian Mulroney through exposing the deal for the privatization of Toronto’s Pearson airport.
Weston’s detailed reports in the middle of the election campaign were a significant factor in the investigation and subsequent cancellation of the multi-million dollar deal. The Citizen’s submission put it well: “Rarely in recent political history has a government initiative of such magnitude and public consequence been cloaked in such secrecy, the truth tightly guarded among a small group of mainly self-interested players”.
The CBC’s fifth estate opened the locker room door to one of the darker sides of Canadian sport – the sexual harassment of female athletes by their male coaches.
The program emphasized how many amateur sports organizations shy away from confronting by refusing to acknowledge that it exists. And yet, as the CBC submission said, the program offered convincing proof that “from Woodstock to Calgary, some male coaches of volleyball, rowing and swim teams have taken advantage of their positions of tremendous power and trust by sexually harassing female athletes, some as young as 14 years old.” The program has prompted calls for codes of conduct comparable to those governing the legal and medical professions.
The Toronto Star is another returning finalist this time with a two-part series by health reporter Lisa Priest on the difficulties of getting treatment for Ontario breast cancer patients.
Like a lot of other great investigative stories, this one started with a telephone call from a patient distraught about delays in her radiation treatment. Ms Priest discovered that Toronto area women might have to move to northern Ontario facilities for six weeks for treatment after breast surgery and doctors admitted to her reluctantly that they were being forced into much more radical surgery because they feared delays in the less drastic treatment. The cash-strapped Ontario government moved quickly to add 26 more radiation specialists and started development of a long-term cancer treatment plan.
The Standard of St. Catharines, Ontario, has demonstrated again you don’t have to have the resources of a network or a major metropolitan paper to make a difference, an important consideration for the Michener judges.
About 20 months ago, the Standard, with reporter Carol Alaimo leading the way, began an investigation of the municipal Hydro commission and administration. As a direct result of the stories, there was a special audit of the Hydro books, the $100,000-a-year general manager was fired, both the mayor and the chairman resigned from the Hydro commission, a management study was commissioned, the city council even passed a formal thank you motion to both the Standard and Ms, Alaimo and, to the delight and perhaps surprise of hydro consumers, rates were cut. Now that’s impact.
And, finally, The Globe and Mail. We are not aware that there have been previous finalists who have qualified two years in a row with reporting on the same topic. That’s the position The Globe is in.
It was a finalist for the 1992 award with its expose of the tainted blood saga that was responsible for more than 1,000 aids-related deaths as a result of blood transfusions in the 1980s. And this year’s judges were also impressed by the Globe’s persistence in continuing to poke at and probe the tangled and tragic events behind what many believe will be Canada’s worst public health disaster.
Last September’s four-part series revealed how the provinces conspired to deny compensation to victims of tainted blood and how many of them were dying destitute because federal support had run out. Federal and other reviews followed quickly. Within weeks the provinces had reversed their seven-year-old policy and provided a $159 million compensation package. And the saga continues. Perhaps The Globe will be back again next year on the same topic.
Now if the auditor general will please come forward with the envelope containing the judges’ ranking.
President, Michener Awards Foundation
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
May 9, 1994.