Welcome to Rideau Hall.
The Michener awards honour first-rate reporting which furthers the public interest. Autrement dit, les prix Michener rendent homage à ce journalisme vigoureux, factual et souvent militant don’t une société formée de citoyens autonomes ne saurait se passer.
This year’s finalists have exposed corruption, have shed light on drug prices, hospital closures, and youth unemployment, and have changed public policy.
Examples of such wok are especially important at a time when some feel that journalism has strayed from its fundamental role as a protector of democratic values.
For example, many have questioned the media’s role in the coverage of the White House over recent months, in which thousands of journalists suddenly focussed their attention on a former White House intern.
The investigative impulse of these journalists may be laudatory, but how careful was the process?
A study conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates has looked at the first six days after the story broke in January. It found that instead of scrambling to report the facts, many in the media had rushed to judgement.
The survey reviewed more than fifteen hundred statements and allegations made in major media. It found that four in ten statements were not based on fact but on journalistic analysis, opinion, speculation or judgement.
Forty per cent of all feature stories are based on information from a single anonymous source. Most astonishing was the fact that only one in 100 claims was supported by two or more identifiable sources. Does fact checking matter?
Generally, it seems that U.S media organizations make headlines as often as the stories they carry. But out of that episode, one can also find some good news.
The Princeton review of media coverage was conducted specifically for the “Committee of Concerned Journalists”, a broad-based American group. And on both sides of the border, leading journalists hope that media excesses will provoke a prompt self-examination and that the fundamental role of the media will prevail in mainstream journalism. Just this past weekend, two of Canada’s most prominent journalists, Lloyd Robertson and Peter Mansbridge, commented on this situation, and observed that media credibility was suffering as a result of intense competition among media outlets.
Certainly nominees for the Michener Awards are doing their part to uphold the standards of integrity and excellence. So you’ll excuse me, I hope, for preaching to the converted.
This will be the first time that I have presented these awards. It is a privilege for me to have an opportunity to present these awards to those whose work is particularly admirable – reporters who have chased down a story, got it right, and made a difference to society. Of course, I am keenly aware of media coverage of my Court and, thankfully, much of it is very good.
That doesn’t mean necessarily that I agree with what is said about us, but at least the reporters have tried to understand our judgements and have summarized them with reasonable accuracy. On those occasions when the reporting is inaccurate, it usually represents a failure simply to read a judgement in its entirety or to make the effort to understand the legal concepts in issue. My chambers go to extraordinary lengths to assist journalists, but some of them don’t take advantage of this service.
Even so, I am firmly of the view that the media have an essential role in the functioning of our society. It is a privilege for me to present these awards to those who are true professionals and who have exhibited a commitment of the highest standards of their profession.
I comment not only the winning organization, but each nominee here tonight, and those who have worked withy you. It is an honour for me to pay tribute to your work.
The Right Honourable Antonio Lamer
Chief Justice of Canada
Tuesday, April 28, 1998