Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs,
This evening, we honour the best in public service journalism and we celebrate our good fortune of living in a country where investigative reporting is not only tolerated, but positively encouraged.
I must confess that as I prepared my remarks for this 25th Michener Award dinner, I found myself feeling more than a little wistful about what the poet Robert Frost called, “the road not taken”
As I look out at all of you assembled here tonight, I find it difficult to repress a sort of longing for what might have been if I had stayed on as a journalist. And what an assembly of talent, influence and potential this is!
I see role models and contemporaries of mine who stayed the course and are now front-page legends – people like Bill MacPherson and Fraser MacDougall.
I see a few of their contemporaries on the broadcast side: Tom Earle, who helped break down the walls of elitism which had been erected by the print media on Parliament Hill.
I am also delighted to see some brand new faces in the room, journalism students and rookies just starting out on your careers. You are the heirs to the names I have just mentioned and to a long list of other greats as well. You have set your sights on joining a profession with a long and proud tradition. I hope you stay the course, pursue your chosen careers and, one day, return to Rideau Hall as Michener Award finalists.
Back in 1967, when I was Radio-Canada’s Washington correspondent, I got a telephone call from Lester Pearson. I crossed to the other side of the microphone and joined Mr. Pearson as Press Secretary. The rest, as they say in baseball stats, is history and this evening, here I stand.
It was one of my vice-regal predecessors, John Buchanan – Lord Tweedsmuir – who described public life as “the crown of a career and the worthiest ambition”. I have never regretted choosing public life but, on a night like this, I am certainly proud of my years in journalism.
There should be more awards for good journalism, a lot more. It is a tough and, too often, thankless job and we owe those who do it a huge debt.
Freedom to report and freedom to comment are the inalienable rights of journalists. I also believe that as with all freedoms, there are corresponding duties – in this case, to report accurately and to comment responsibly. Some of you may have heard that I also believe in journalists giving good news a chance. There is good news in the world. Real news.
Discoveries. Success stories. Breakthroughs. In science, in education, in health. Think of the reaction of every parent who heard the news of the discovery of the Salk vaccine for polio. That was good news and it got the coverage it deserved. But sometimes there is a mind-set that good news is not as glamorous or as good for a reporter’s career.
Let me remind you that focussing on good news – and I emphasize news – serves the public interest equally well; as focussing on tales of corruption and abuse of public trust. We are a stronger nation for both approaches.
And, because there is more to journalism than front-line reporters, I think that the Michener approach to rewarding excellence by saluting news organizations, is a good one. This award recognizes, as those in the business like to say, the effort and energy behind the news; assignment and line-up desks, producers, editors, sound and camera crews, researchers, librarians, technicians, copy clerks and even the most faceless and nameless of all, the owners and managers who toil away in the far recesses of head office. Good journalism is a team event and the Michener Award goes to the team.
Never before have the teams, the organizations that provide Canadians with news, been more in need of the sort of boost that public recognition inevitably brings. The struggle to survive, let alone prosper, has never been harder. Costs and competition are up, and advertising revenues are down. Everything from globalization to satellite death starts threatens to render even our largest news voices as anachronistic as lead type.
The pressures to cut back and to fill air time or column inches as cheaply as possible, are overwhelming. Yet, as the 51 entries for this year’s Michener Awards demonstrate, Canada’s news organizations are not bending to the pressure. They are standing behind their investigative reporters and making the hard choice to finance their journalistic quests.
The results, as this year’s six finalists amply demonstrate, have been worth the financial risk.
Each and every one of this year’s entries represents a victory; a triumph of substance over trivia, of plain hard work and the stubborn refusal to be put off, to go with the press line, to be seduced by the spin-doctors.
I am aware of the pressures, fiscal and otherwise, on Canada’s news organizations as we enter the last years of this century. But I am confident that you will persevere. You are burdened with an enormous responsibility, and I am pleased to report that you are meeting the challenge magnificently.
Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup.
His Excellency, the Right Honourable Roméo LeBlanc
Governor General of Canada
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
Friday, May 12, 1995.