It is always a pleasure to welcome back to Rideau Hall an illustrious predecessor who so splendidly fulfilled the duties of Governor General. I welcome the chance to greet him and congratulate him once again for his initiative in creating an award to recognize journalistic excellence.
Drawing up a prize list is always a delicate undertaking, it means choosing some, and that inevitably means excluding others. I have every confidence in those who judged the articles and reports. They acted with complete objectivity, and their choice of this evening’s recipient is no reflection on the other finalists and competitors. I thus have the immense pleasure of congratulating the man we are honouring this evening. His contribution and that of his colleagues is testimony to the excellence of Canadian journalism and the magnitude of the role played by the men and women who keep us informed and carry out an eminently educational task.
Their craft becomes more complicated as the means of communication multiply; judged impartially, the written, the spoken and the visual have equal merit because each of these three modes of expression has its own special qualities. We must recognize that the bombardment of sounds and images may constitute a hazard in modern societies. The multiplicity, rapidity and repetitious nature of signals and messages militate against immediate reflection; they do not prevent us from going back and evaluating their content, however.
Everyone knows that radio and television create a consumer good which, no matter what its quality, quickly wears out; but this in no way reduces its importance. The problem lies in our listening habits, choice of broadcasts and capacity to measure their impact.
Radio and television captivate us intellectually and emotionally; they are a form of instant living writing; they grab us and make us part of the experience; that is the source of their power of persuasion and direct influence. Their potential harm lies in over dramatization of the news, interviews and debates. Electronic instruments lend themselves to shock effects because they present material in capsule form. But there is a tendency to exaggerate the risks inherent in using the airwaves.
Broadcasts are intended for consumers capable of assessing and verifying the authenticity of what they absorb. They have terms of reference and points of comparison. The written ward is one of these; however, it is subject to the same constraints; with the exception of specialized publications, reviews devoted to science, the arts, letters or ideas, the written word must operate within the structures of the space and time allotted to it. What is news is always changing, and the journalist who captures it on paper does not have time for prolonged meditation.
The advantage of the written word is that you can digest it more slowly, return to it or leave it aside for awhile; radio and television compensate for the problem of broadcasting’s speed by repeating information. What is more, these different educational and informational tools serve the same clientele, one with certain needs and requirements. One the one hand, it wants rapid, accurate information; on the other hand, it wants the time to sit back and critically analyze that information.
There is not enough time in the day to take in everything on the radio or television or to read everything that is printed. In our society, we must “shop around”, if I may put it that way, for information. And although I believe that reading develops intellectual rigour, l feel that the ferment of sound and images has the same power. It is a question of psychology, personality and techniques of absorption and assimilation. There is no loss to learning and culture; there is thus no need to offer a defence. We must each choose what we feel best suits our development and behaviour.
I see the existence of the print media in Canada as an incalculable advantage. We have a large number of daily and weekly publications. They display a healthy competition, thanks to the loyalty of a clientele that makes a judicious choice from their offerings. This makes radio and television no less valuable. On the contrary, the combined forces of the written, the spoken and the visual help our citizens to exercise their judgment; for their part, these same citizens require those responsible for the press as a whole to abandon old ways of thinking and to let those in charge in the print and other media know what is expected of them.
That is a healthy reaction already evident in consumers who give the thing heard or seen the consideration that it merits and reserve the right to compare by asking the written word to consider both the absolute and the relative, the emotional and the rational in its multitudinous offerings. All the media can offer the best and the worst. It is up to us to be discerning enough to tell the difference and choose the best.
Distinguished journalists, I know first-hand the effort you made to attain the successes and rewards of your craft. The State is officially recognizing your worth today because it has great respect for what you are and appreciation of the role you play. Like all those who search for the truth and make it their mission to shine a light upon it, you accomplish a task that is indispensable to the flourishing of the spirit, the transmission of values and the progress of civilization. You are, in your way and in your sphere of activity, humanists who awaken us and mark out the way ahead for our nation.
Her Excellency Jeanne Sauvé
Governor General of Canada
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
December 8, 1988.