Ottawa, June 14, 2011. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s investigative program the fifth estate has won the 2010 Michener Award for its reporting on the incarceration and death of Ashley Smith, a seriously troubled teenager who spent the last four years of her life behind bars for a minor offence, Russell Mills, President of the Michener Awards Foundation, announced today.
In a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, presented the coveted Michener Award trophy to Jim Williamson, Executive Producer of CBC’s the fifth estate. In accepting the Award, Mr. Williamson said ‘”it is a singular honour to compete in an award like this as it recognizes individuals as well as the programs and institutions they work for”. (the full text of his remarks)
The broadcaster was among six news organizations honoured at the ceremony. The Michener Award is presented annually for journalism that makes a significant impact on the public good.
The CBC’s the fifth estate, the 2010 Michener Award winner, persisted against bureaucratic stonewalling and waged a successful court battle to obtain shocking video of Smith’s final hours recorded by the Correctional Service of Canada. While in solitary confinement Smith ended up strangling herself to death in her cell after many previous suicide attempts. Guards had been given orders not to enter the cell as long as she was still breathing. Following the fifth estate broadcasts “Out of Control” and “Behind the Wall” the scope of the inquest into Smith’s death was widened. As well, court exhibits are more public, resulting in a more open and transparent judicial system. Journalists and the public now have another tool to hold public officials accountable for their actions. The fifth estate’s reporter/host Hana Gartner said the program helped expose serious failings in the federal prison system including its treatment of the mentally ill and its lack of transparency and accountability. (the full text)
In his opening address to assembled journalists and guests Governor General Johnston said that..”at its best, journalism is an exercise in learning that builds shared understanding by establishing facts, by providing context and by giving a human face to some of the most pressing issues of our time….I want to commend you for your compassion and for your commitment to seeking the truth. (The full text)
2011 Michener-Deacon Fellowship:
The Governor General also presented the 2011 Michener-Deacon Fellowship to Jane Armstrong, a Toronto freelance writer who will examine the impact of Canada’s aid programs in Afghanistan over the past decade and explore the future of those projects when Canada’s military role winds down this summer. Ms Armstrong’s career includes 20 years as a national and international reporter with the The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. (The Full Story)
Russell Mills, president of the Michener Awards Foundation thanked the Governor General for his support of the award program and the annual Rideau Hall ceremony. He said that all six finalists for the Michener Award (selected from 41 entries), provided excellent examples of public benefit that resulted from the publication of their stories. (The full text)
Citations of Merit were presented to:
The Calgary Herald, for the series ‘Worked to Death‘ which exposed the human costs of Alberta’s economic boom – sloppy on-site safety practices and lax enforcement leading to a disturbing number of annual workplace deaths. When the provincial government refused FOI requests for company safety records, reporters scoured public fatality reports of worksite deaths and created a database to track employer safety violations. The findings were shocking: Alberta is the least likely province to penalize workplace offenders; only one-third of cases involving safety violations go to court; and companies owe more than $1.7 million in uncollected safety related fines.
After this in-depth series was published the Alberta government took more aggressive measures including the creation of an online database listing safety violations, more work-site safety blitzes and a promise to hire more safety inspectors. It is also pursuing companies that don’t pay their fines. The series was the result of a year’s work by a team of Herald journalists — including editor Chris Varcoe, writers Renata D’Aliesio and Kelly Cryderman, and photographer Stuart Gradon. Chris Varcoe describes the making of the series.
The Eastern Door, for sustained reporting of the decision of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake to send eviction letters to non-Natives living on the reserve put names and faces to the evictions and sparked a public discussion in this close-knit community into what The Eastern Door called a “human rights story”. The council sent letters to 35 people last year telling them they had to leave the reserve because they didn’t conform to Kahnawake’s membership law of having at least four Mohawk great-grandparents.
The courageous involvement of the community paper has contributed to a change in direction of the execution of a decision of the Mohawk Council to evict non-Native residents living on the reserve. Steve Bonspiel, co-publisher of The Eastern Door, on the issues surrounding this award-winning story.
The Hamilton Spectator, for its ‘Code Red‘ series by reporter Steve Buist which combined journalistic and academic expertise to examine, diagnose and propose remedies for poverty in Hamilton. Its innovative data analysis and detailed neighbourhood mapping combined with human stories painted a thoughtful, and comprehensive picture of how poverty affects the city’s economic, social and physical health. The Spectator engaged readers and citizens through public forums and interactive online feedback.
‘Code Red’ provided hard data for government and agencies to address problems of poverty and health, mobilized other agencies to help people in need and became a key issue in the municipal election. The series has received international attention and has been integrated into the curriculum of a number of university courses. Reporter Steve Buist talks about the story behind the making of Code Red.
La Société Radio-Canada, for its news coverage and its television program Découverte which explored the pitfalls of rushing into shale gas exploration and exploitation and the effects on the everyday life of the people in the Saint Lawrence Valley of Quebec. The reportage included comprehensive well-researched stories that involved analysis of many reports and interviews with technical, industry and government experts in Canada and the United States.
Also provided were graphic images showing how shale gas is extracted and potential effects on the environment and communities. The thorough coverage put the spotlight on an important public issue and helped to promote a wide-scale public debate that lead to a government inquiry and the Quebec government tightening its control on the industry and adopting stricter conditions for new drilling. Reporter Jean-Pierre Rogel provides the background of SRC’s award winning coverage. (French only)
The Vancouver Sun, for Broken Wings, a six-part series by reporter Larry Pynn examining inadequate safety standards following a series of fatal float-plane accidents in British Columbia. The stories detailed inexpensive safety improvements that could save lives. Reaction from the federal government was immediate and significant with the introduction of new safety measures including strengthening investigation and enforcement actions against operators who are found not to be following existing regulations and standards. and the formation of a new industry association to address safety and other issues. Reporter Larry Pynn explains the background to this series.
The Michener Award, founded in 1970 by the late Roland Michener, then Governor-General, goes to a news organizations of all sizes for articles, features and reports that make a significant impact on the public good and achieve identifiable results.
Michener Award Night Photo Gallery
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Judges for the 2010 Michener Award:
Kim Kierans (chair), Professor School of Journalism and Vice President University of King’s College in Halifax and former CBC news reporter and editor; Kevin Crowley, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University and former business editor with the Waterloo Region Record; Allan Mayer, former editor-in-chief of the Edmonton Journal and former reporter with the Edmonton Sun and London Free Press; Claude Papineau, former Vice President for French Services of The Canadian Press and former Parliamentary Correspondent; Christopher Waddell, Director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University and former National Editor of The Globe and Mail and Parliamentary Bureau Chief for CBC Television News.
Judges for the 2011 Michener-Deacon Fellowship:
Lindsay Crysler (chair), former managing editor of The Gazette, Montreal, former director, journalism department, Concordia University, Montreal; Clinton Archibald, associate professor, professor of public ethics, St. Paul University, Ottawa; Michael Goldbloom, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Bishops University, Sherbrooke, Quebec, and former publisher of The Gazette and the Toronto Star; Lynne Van Luven, associate professor of journalism and creative non-fiction, University of Victoria; Erin Steuter, chair of the sociology department, Mount Allison University, Sackville, NB.
The Michener Awards Foundation
(613) 727-4723, Ext. 5179
Rideau Hall Press Office