Rideau Hall, Friday, June 10, 2009.
My husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, and I are delighted to welcome you to Rideau Hall for the presentation of the Michener Award for Journalism, which was named after my predecessor, whose motto was “Truth in the Service of Freedom.” This could also very well be the motto for journalism.
The journalist I was and the Governor General I am know that journalism plays a vital role in asserting the civic responsibility of a community, a country and the world. I know because I grew up in a country where journalists who dared to challenge censorship and tyranny were assassinated.
I know because when I was a journalist, I kept in mind and at heart the example set by those journalists who pursued the truth, often risking their lives to do so.
I know because during the State and official visits I have made as Governor General of Canada to Africa, Afghanistan, South America and Europe, and during my trips all across this country, I have seen that the pens, microphones and cameras wielded by journalists can also act as instruments of social transformation.
As I said at the 2006 Canadian Press Dinner in Halifax, journalism does not consist merely of reporting the news to the public; it is also a means of holding a magnifying glass up to world rather than a funhouse mirror. The world in which we live today is sometimes an enigma, a maze without landmarks, or opportunities for reflection or analysis.
We are voraciously, continuously bombarded with information; this often leaves us stunned, if not dumbfounded, and we have no way of stepping back to consider it all.
Faced with a world that always seems to be in crisis, robbed of its dignity, stripped of its beauty, divided in its fragility, warming at its poles, and assaulted by the fluctuations of its economies, we must also be given the power to reflect, raise our awareness and seek clarification.
I think that that is the most important – and noble – aspect of your profession. I strongly and unfailingly believe in a journalism that insists on the art of reflection, the art of nuance.
It is an art that listens to the life that is being lived, as the writer Nicole Brossard once put it, an art that helps us learn key lessons for the future.
It is an art that the six finalists we are honouring tonight have mastered admirably: their quest for the truth and – dare I say – stubbornness have had a very real and decisive influence on society as a whole.
Whether through an investigation of the use of tasers, the governance of a post-secondary educational institution, the efficiency of an emergency 911 call system, measures to stop the spread of infection in hospitals, the high levels of lead in the toys sold in this country or improving First Nations child support services in Canada, information in the service of truth won over inaction every time.
Each of the finalists deserves our thanks and congratulations.
Congratulations too to Ed Struzik, a senior writer with the Edmonton Journal, and this year’s recipient of the Michener-Deacon Fellowship.
I was particularly touched by his project, which will help Canadians better understand the Arctic sovereignty issue.
As you know, I have just returned from a trip to the Canadian Arctic to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Nunavut government. I met with the people there and, as I am every time I cross the 60th parallel, I was struck by the generosity and ingenuity of the women, men and youth who have, for thousands of years, inhabited the land that makes up 20 percent of Canada’s landmass.
Also striking, and unfortunate, is our misunderstanding of the realities, traditions, achievements and wealth of the Arctic, although I am certain that Mr. Struzik will help remedy this with insight and awareness.
Finally, I would like to offer my heartfelt and sincerest thanks to all those present tonight for their constant professional vigilance and tireless efforts to help us better understand the world.
You are our guiding light, and because of you, the world is a little less confusing and we feel a little less lost.
Thank you very much.
Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean
Governor General of Canada
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
June 10, 2009