Rideau Hall, Friday, June 8, 2007.
My husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, and I are delighted to welcome you to Rideau Hall this evening to celebrate journalistic excellence in Canada.
I once shared your profession, and, like you, I practiced it with conviction and passion. So I hope you will indulge me and allow me to begin these remarks with a question that I constantly asked myself when I was a journalist and that I continue to ask myself today.
It is a question that you answer by your own work ethic, which we are honouring tonight, and which we debated earlier today as part of Art Matters, a forum for discussion that we hold here and on the road to address important current issues.
What does it mean to inform? This is perhaps your greatest responsibility. It is your responsibility to report the information, but you must also place that information in a wider context, showing people the big picture. This means asking questions to which there may be a number of possible answers. It is not cut and dry.
You must consider a multitude of voices, facts, and sources. Yours is a serious job that requires patience and precision. But it also requires you to be daring and on your toes. You must always know what is happening in the world around you. It is accepting that you will always ask questions. Otherwise, there is a danger of oversimplification. And oversimplification fuels prejudices. It misinforms.
The more we foster nuances, the more we broaden people’s horizons. That is my firmest belief and that is what the journalism we are honouring tonight brings to mind. It is about encouraging people to think about all the challenges our society is facing. It is about constantly questioning what is being overlooked. It is about opening our eyes and hearts to realities that require action.
I am very well aware of the weight of your responsibilities and the task that you face. But the relationship of trust between you and the people of this country, as well as the very foundation of our democracy, depend on them.
You, the Michener Award finalists for 2006 – people who rely on precision, nuance and reflection – know this better than anyone. You have taken full responsibility and not given in to sensationalism, extravagance, or rashness, and for that we congratulate you.
Tonight, your sense of ethics reflects on the entire profession. You eloquently remind us that in a world in which there is a massive amount of information circulating non-stop -so much so that it sometimes makes us dizzy – you are the ones who bring sense to it all.
The Michener Award honours news organizations that try to make sense of the world around us. Journalistic excellence – of which you are irrefutable proof – depends on independence of thought, freedom of speech and the public interest.
Whether it be an investigation of the sale of lottery tickets, the conditions faced by those receiving cancer treatment in Canada, aviation incidents, the impact of climate change on the Canadian Arctic, alcohol pricing in Quebec, or safety in the logging industry, this year’s finalists have helped change our society for the better.
I would also like to congratulate Chris Cobb, a reporter with the Ottawa Citizen, who was awarded the 2007 Michener-Deacon Fellowship. Mr. Cobb will report on the International Landmines Treaty to mark the 10th anniversary of its signing in Ottawa.
When they “inform reliably and comment diligently” – to quote the philosopher Habermas – journalists become a means of social transformation.
I would like to express my thanks and heartfelt gratitude to news organizations and all those who hold a pen or a microphone. My congratulations too – and perhaps most of all – for knowing when not to oversimplify this complicated world in the name of truth and freedom.
Thank you for not giving in and insisting on scratching below the surface.
Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean
Governor General of Canada
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
June 8, 2007