To tell the Ashley Smith story, the fifth estate requested access to prison video showing Smith’s last days in federal prison. Access was initially denied but ultimately, the program won the exclusive right to broadcast this video after a two-year legal battle with Corrections Canada. The video was featured in the award-winning documentary – ‘Behind the Wall’.
Distinguished hosts and guests…I can tell you that I have never wanted to ‘tweet’ so much – but I simply don’t know how!
It is a singular honour even to compete in an award like this as it recognizes individuals as well as the programs and institutions they work for.
Two words kept going through my head relating to this award: support and patience. These days the word ‘support’ has acquired a rather soft ‘new-age’ kind of connotation. But as it pertains to investigative journalism its meaning is very real and tangible. The fact is that the absence of real support would mean the end of the stories we do.
I must first acknowledge that the most supportive of all media lawyers in Canada are the ones we work with at the CBC. They are not people just driven by ‘danger mitigation’ but rather by a desire to help us get our stories to air. The (Ashley Smith) story in particular owes so much to them. The incomparable Daniel Henry and Michael Hughes were there all along in the courts to fight for access to exhibits for all journalists – and they were also there, as always, in the edit suite as we argued over the meaning of words and the impact of images.
Support necessarily comes from above as well. We are blessed that the people at the highest level of journalistic accountability at the CBC come from our ranks. Jennifer McGuire, the CBC’s chief journalist is here in the audience as is David Studer, the manager of Current Affairs. It is their determination and passion for serious journalism that allows us to do what we do.
Now ‘patience’…These kinds of stories, well, ‘you know they don’t come easy’, as Ringo Starr wrote one night when he was probably thinking deep thoughts about public service journalism. Stories can take months or even years to reach fruition and we all must have the patience to wait it out when the story warrants. The Ashley Smith story began under my two predecessors: Sally Reardon and David Studer. Patience in this case meant waiting for a nurse who was too afraid for her life – afraid for her life – to feel sufficiently confident to speak. Others required gentle persuasion as well.
In general, these kinds of stories won’t happen if we are in too much of a hurry. The only answer to “Can you call back next week?….maybe next month?” has to be “of course”! And then one day, if you are lucky, a quiet voice calls back and says “yes.” And then the orchestra begins to tune up. Camera crews, led in this case by Paul Seeler, start to think how best to shoot such a story. Editors like Tania White and Liz Rosch start to think about how to convey the look and feel of the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, and the editorial team of Hana Gartner, Marie Caloz and Lynette Fortune begin to weigh what are the incontrovertible facts to support this story.
And then much later the story will go to air amidst great pride and terrible exhaustion.
I thank you for your support and patience.
the fifth estate
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
June 14, 2011