Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Once again, thanks to you, sir, the Michener Foundation enjoys the privilege of presenting its awards in this unique setting, once the home of Roland Michener, our spiritual founding father. It is a genuine pleasure to be here, not only for the history but because we are being received by a host who knows well what it means to be a journalist.
As former journalist Georges Clemenceau, who left the profession to pursue his career as a statesman once said, “Journalism leads to everything – provided one gets out of it in time.”
This year’s crop of Michener Award entries shows once again that public-service journalism is alive and well in Canada.
Forty-seven entries from dailies, weeklies, magazines, news agencies, TV and radio stations across the country were received and judged by our jury. The quantity of material was sizeable, and the quality of the highest order.
All of which would have given Roland Michener great satisfaction. I think. For he wanted this prize really to be the big one – the premier prize in Canadian journalism – awarded not just for enterprise and insight, but for the public benefit that actually flows from it. Sometimes, of course, this means controversy, but as the unsinkable Nellie McClung once remarked: “Never apologize, never retract, never explain. Just get the job done and let them howl.”
Before we proceed to the actual prize giving, perhaps we could pause for a minute to recognize the contribution of one of our old guard, Fraser MacDougall. Fraser is the man who, in 1982, after some rocky administrative years for the award, established the Michener Awards Foundation and became its first president. This followed a long and distinguished career with the Canadian Press and years as chairman of the Michener judging panel. Establishing the Foundation gave the Awards a stability they had not previously enjoyed, and those of us involved today continue to benefit from his initiative.
Your Excellency, I invite you to present this special certificate of honour to a man who has long symbolized Canadian journalism and disinterested service to the public, Mr. Fraser MacDougall.
And now, the Michener-Deacon Fellowship, which is named after Paul Deacon, another distinguished president of the Foundation. Your Excellency, may I present Christopher Grabowski of Vancouver, our 1999 Fellowship recipient.
Mr. Grabowski is a freelance photojournalist who bas worked with the CBC, the Globe and Mail and other media outlets, and proposes to establish an exhibit of 100 photos of British Columbian fishing communities. These will be used to support features on the threatened coastal fishery. His previous projects have included coverage of Vancouver’s drug-abuse scene.
And now for the grand prize, the Michener Award for public service journalism for the year 1998. We have representatives of all six finalists with us this afternoon. Here are the highlights of their entries. There are fuller reports in your programs.
First, Maclean’s magazine, for Malaise in the Canadian Military, a series covering everything from shoddy equipment to rape, sexual harassment and overall poor quality of life. The result has been fresh funding for salaries and housing, and greater vigilance in dealing with sexual abuse.
The Ottawa Citizen: The newspaper criticized the shortcomings in the Law Society of Upper Canada’s “ability to detect, catch and punish crooked lawyers.” As a result of this series of stories, the Law Society appeared before a legislative committee to request changes that would strengthen its regulatory role.
The Canadian Press: Persistent digging by CP kept the plight of hepatitis C patients, victims of tainted blood, before the public as they fought for compensation. Among other things, CP stories exposed lawyers’ plans to seek up to 30 per cent of any government compensation as contingency payments. Health Minister Allan Rock banned contingency fees after the news reports.
CBC Television’s the fifth estate: An affiliate of RJ. Reynolds Tobacco International has agreed to pay $15-million U.S. in fines for helping smugglers reroute made-in-Canada cigarettes back to Canada via the Akwesasne reserve near Cornwall. This was a spin-off from the fifth estate’s investigation which found that two Canadian corporate giants had embarrassingly close lies to the boom in cigarette smuggling in the early 1990s.
The Toronto Star: Here tonight, as a finalist for a seventh consecutive year, and winner of the1996 Michener Award, for two series of stories about the troubled Ontario health care system. The first, about delays in providing radiation treatment to cancer; the second, for revealing problems in mental health treatment. Each of these series led to a swift response by the Ontario government.
Finally, the Winnipeg Free Press, for a series which exposed the fraud, misuse or overuse of drugs provided by unethical pharmacists and physicians abusing the national drug program for Aboriginals. The Registrar of the Manitoba Pharmaceutical Association called it “a national disgrace.” The series proposed solutions that are being considered.
I would now ask the deputy of the Auditor-General of Canada, Mr. Michael McLaughlin to bring forward the all-important envelope and let all of us know how the judges ranked our contenders.
Michener Awards Foundation
Rideau Hall, Ottawa
April 19, 1999