Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen:
I am delighted to welcome you to Rideau Hall on the occasion of the 20th annual Michener Awards for Journalism. It is an especially happy event that celebrates professional journalism, even as it honours the illustrious life and career of the remarkable man for whom the awards are named.
Burke said that “in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat the Fourth Estate more important far than (any other). It is not a figure of speech or a witty saying”, he continued, “it is a literal fact – very momentous to us in these times.” I should point out, incidentally, that the words are not from Burke himself but are what Thomas Carlyle reported Burke said.
Even a cursory glance at the work of the seven organizations we honour tonight will show precisely how “momentous” these members of the Fourth Estate have been to making Canada a safer, more humane, more decent place to live.
As a group they are remarkable, if for no other reason than that they represent the best of the very best. The fact that they were chosen from among 57 entries – compared to 32 last year – is itself a measure of the increased professionalism and importance of Canadian journalism to the whole of society.
But consider each of the seven submissions individually: the story of a woman whose life ended in the despair that had permeated it – but examined in a way that makes us question what could and should have been done. Searing images of a kind of hunger that is beyond our imagination – brought home for us to face.
Two painstaking projects – one on the environment and one on drugs – each devoid of alarmism and, therefore, each of incredible importance to its community. A lengthy and thoughtful look at a dreadful miscarriage of justice steeped in the kinds of prejudice we wanted to believe were outside the Canadian character.
An expose of a situation that, beyond almost anything else, we dread: children, supposedly sheltered and protected, being used and abused in ways that are almost too painful to contemplate. In each case, the journalists and the organizations they represent made a difference: they helped us understand just a bit more, they moved people to act, they righted terrible injustice.
Finally, on a strikingly positive note, the decision by a small, fiercely proud newspaper to tell its readers about a push for self-government by people thousands of kilometres away. And – most remarkably – to ensure that those people, speaking a different language from a different alphabet, were fully informed of events that would affect their lives and the lives of their children.
Each of these entries met the Michener Award criteria, with room to spare: they were disinterested, meritorious and performed a public service. In my view, however, there are more: they are examples of how professional men and women use their intelligence and determination to meet the highest standards of journalism and how, if they are very fortunate, they work for organizations willing to bet on their talents and resourcefulness.
My congratulations to each and every one of you. You have served your communities and your profession with distinction. I do not believe that it overstates the case to say that we live in a better place as a result of your work and, on behalf of all Canadians, I thank you.
His Excellency the Right Honourable Ray Hnatyshyn
Governor General of Canada
June 19th, 1990