Your Excellencies, parliamentarians, Madam Fraser, members of our board of directors, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the Michener Awards Foundation, I begin by thanking Your Excellency for those words of support and encouragement.
I join in your welcome to our guests this evening for the presentation of the 37th annual Michener Award – and the 21st annual Michener and Michener-Deacon Fellowship. The late Right Honourable Roland Michener realized journalism was not among the endeavours to which honour was paid annually here at Rideau Hall.
The Governor General commissioned John Matthews to design a trophy that would symbolize the new award. Mr. Matthews produced a handsome bronze rectangle on a marble base with stylized type-font letters on one side and broadcasting antenna on the other. Thirty-seven years later, that trophy is the most coveted national prize for journalism – journalism making a difference for the public good. Soon we will introduce the trophy for the 38th presentation. But first:
One of the objectives of the foundation is advancing journalism education. To that end an annual fellowship was established in 1987. The Michener Deacon Fellowship is intended to allow one, or perhaps two, mature journalists a four-month study leave to complete a project that both serves the public interest and strengthens their professional experience.
This year’s winner is Denise Davy of the Hamilton Spectator.
Ms Davy will use the Fellowship to investigate and report on “the crisis in children’s mental health and shine a light on this most urgent and neglected issue.” In her application, she said that more and more children are being diagnosed with mental health disorders. But the majority are not getting the treatment they so desperately need. Instead, some are over-medicated – with unforeseen long-term effects.
In unanimously supporting her project, the judges found that her presentation made a strong case for the relevance and viability of the topic. They said the writing samples she submitted – “gave a clear sense that she knew how to communicate a story of this type”. As well – a prerequisite for a Michener-Deacon Fellowship – the judges said that her career record – “gave confidence that the project will come to fruition”.
There were 50 entries for the 2007 Michener Award. Seven were from French-language organizations. Twelve were from western Canada. Four came from the Atlantic provinces. There were eight entries from broadcasters. Others came from a small magazine and a weekly newspaper. And for the first time an online daily magazine joined the Michener competition.
All this underlines a key point and about the Michener Award. As one of my colleagues aptly put it, we are truly national – across media, across language and across country. Our board of directors consider it a top priority to build on this major strength.
Now, it’s my pleasure to introduce this year’s finalists for the Michener Award.
A joint entry by The Globe and Mail and the CBC News program, the fifth estate.
Stories published in the Globe and Mail and broadcast on the fifth estate revealed new details of the financial relationship between former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber.
The two organizations allowed journalists to work together while they maintained editorial control over their own stories. Their work continued for more than a decade. During that time the organizations reported numerous attempts to intimidate the reporters.
As a result of the stories, the government promised a public inquiry and the House of Commons ethics committee held hearings.
Le Devoir – Two journalists overcame strong resistance to expose irregularities and revealed a serious financial crisis at the Université du Quebec à Montreal. The crisis was created largely by huge cost overruns on real estate projects, including one involving a student residence and an inter-city bus terminal.
Following publication of more than a dozen stories, the Auditor General of Quebec conducted a special audit of the situation and the Quebec government adopted new rules requiring universities to seek approval for real estate projects.
The judges combined separate entries on the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan by The Globe and Mail and La Presse. Stories published by The Globe and Mail in March and April 2007 led to an inquiry and a new agreement that allowed Canadian investigators access to detainees. Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor was shuffled out of his position following criticism of his handling of the issue.
Stories published by La Presse in October and November indicated that abuse was continuing. In January 2008 the Canadian government revealed that the transfer of prisoners to Afghan authorities had been suspended. Journalists for both newspapers reported on the ground in Afghanistan at considerable personal risk.
I digress to congratulate the management of La Presse and reporters Joel-Denis Bellavance and Gilles Toupin. They recently won a World Press Freedom award for refusing to comply with a court order to reveal the source for a story about a Montrealer accused of terror links. Protection of the confidentiality of sources is fundamental to the kind of journalism we celebrate today.
The Michener Awards Foundation supports and salutes you.
The London Free Press published more than 40 articles about elevated levels of lead in the city’s drinking water. The paper overcame resistance at city hall to prove the city had been tolerating high levels of lead for at least 12 years.
Following an investigation, the Environment Minister immediately implemented new regulations. As a result, all cities, schools and day care centres in the province are now required to test and flush their water systems daily, rather than weekly. Requirements for water testing by municipalities were also strengthened.
When a study showed that dikes protecting 20 Fraser Valley communities were inadequate the Province decided to investigate. The series exposed the threat of floods on the Fraser River in great detail.
Following the series, the British Columbia government announced that it would spend $33 million to upgrade dikes on the river and a total of $100 million over the next 10 years on flood mitigation measures in the province.
The Toronto Star.
A series on the lack of transparency around patient safety called “Medical Secrets” exposed a number of problems in Ontario hospitals. Following the series, the Ontario government announced that:
– the public will be able to access patient safety information by hospital online;
– hospitals will be required to post data on adverse events on their websites;
– and that the public will be able to find out whether any health care professional has been found guilty of malpractice, has a criminal conviction or has a limit on a licence to practice.
Your Excellency, last year you reminded us that our job requires us to keep asking the tough questions – questions to which there may be several answers – to avoid oversimplification and misinformation.
You have heard from eight news organizations today that did just that. All persevered in asking questions. All persevered against some adversity. All are worthy finalists – and we are proud of them.
Now comes the moment we’ve been waiting for.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the 2007 Michener Award is The Globe and Mail and La Presse for their work on the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan.
Michener Awards Foundation
June 13, 2008