It is what I could call a triple pleasure to welcome again to Government House representatives of the Canadian media on what has become, indeed, an auspicious annual occasion. I say it is a triple pleasure despite the well known affinity of members of the media to another numeral. Those of us familiar with the historical per capita consumption of the media, in the sprit of whatever occasion, might sometimes wonder why the profession did not become known as the “fifth” estate. I am not sure, however, but that the legendary Bob Edwards, looking down.., or up… at this distinguished gathering, might consider his 1982 colleagues as a pretty sober lot.
Seriously, my wife and I were looking forward to this evening. First, of course, we had the pleasure of welcoming our distinguished predecessors, the Right Honourable Roland Michener and Mrs. Michener. We are honoured that they would join us here for the presentation of the Michener Awards for journalism.
I want to take this opportunity, as well, to congratulate Mr. Michener on the Everest accomplishment by the team of Canadians for whom he was patron.
Secondly, it is a distinct pleasure to welcome and also congratulate the journalists with us tonight who were considered as recipients of the 1981 Michener Awards and, of course, special congratulations to the chosen winners.
Many believe – certainly this is true of most, if not all, those to whom we refer as the “working press” – that freedom of the press is the very bedrock foundation of our freedoms. Of the four basic freedoms enunciated by Roosevelt during the second world war, freedom of the press, that is to say, freedom of expression, is seen by many as the bellwether. It may not be necessarily so, but it is generally evident that where one finds the press untrammelled by whatever authority – except, of course for those laws involving libel, character defamation, racial discrimination etc – that generally wherever one finds a free press one also finds the other basic freedoms honoured and protected. I would hope that all agree that such is the case in Canada. This is indeed a wonderfully free country.
It would follow therefore, I would think, that freedom of the press must proceed in tandem with what I consider a basic and necessary right in a democracy such as we enjoy and, I daresay, treasure, and that is the right of the people to be informed. As we know, democracy involves the freedom of the citizenry in choosing who will govern, which, by definition, means the free availability of alternatives. Among the alternatives available to the voting citizenry in a democracy is included, of course, the incumbent.
There are times when an individual and/or political party is chosen by the electorate because that individual and/or party seems clearly the best choice, but I believe that generally, and I would think there is general agreement on this, especially so in a pluralistic society such as ours, that voters cast their ballots on the basis of what they see as the best available alternative.
In either event, therefore, the inalienable right of the citizen to full and free information is paramount. The voter must have access to information in regard to the available alternatives, entities and individuals – both between and during elections.
The media is the carrier of that information; those who write, edit, and broadcast the news pretty well decide what information gets out to the people. They decide prioritization, and therefore, as well, informational balance.
It is a heavy responsibility. The assumption of the responsibility of ensuring that the right of the people to be informed is honoured in the best interests of the people and democracy is one that must be exercised with the greatest sense of freedom and fairness. One is also prompted to add – “and with a sense of self-discipline”. Is there not an adage to the effect that “freedom is the luxury of self discipline?” That would mean, by implication, that freedom is not unfettered license, to do what one wishes without conscious concern for the rights of others.
Churchill said that democracy while imperfect, is the best system of government yet devised by man. What is implied is that our system and the freedom that underpins our democratic system needs constant attention, particularly by those in whom are entrusted the stewardship of basic freedoms and rights, such as freedom of the press and the right of the people to be informed.
We wish to congratulate all members of the news media for services rendered in the cause of democracy. We must strive relentlessly to correct the imperfections alluded to by Winston Churchill. There is no better way to say “thank you” for the freedom enjoyed by the press in our Canadian democracy.
Thank you – Merci.
His Excellency Edward Schreyer
Governor General of Canada
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
November 6, 1982.