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News

Governor General Insists on the Importance of Media

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April 16, 2010

The Governor General Insists on the Importance of Media in Democratic Societies 

OTTAWA—During her second day in Senegal, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, vigorously defended the role of the media in the emergence of a new Africa in remarks delivered at University Cheikh Anta Diop, in Dakar.

“Journalism cultivates clear-sightedness, nourishes vigilance and denounces practices that attempt to stop people from reaching their full potential or to destroy the confidence of our fellow citizens,” said the Governor General, a former journalist herself. “I believe it is fundamental that we recognize the courage—and even recklessness—journalists and news organizations need to do their jobs in regions rampant with misery, conflicts and horror.”

During her State visit to Senegal, the Governor General also visited the Island of Gorée, a landmark of the slave trade and a UNESCO world heritage site. While in Gorée, she talked with Senegalese women engaged in their communities.

The Governor General’s State visit to Senegal is taking place from April 14 to 17. She is being accompanied by a delegation of Canadians working in a variety of fields, including governance, women’s rights, journalism, the cultural community, civic engagement and youth. 

The visit to Senegal will end on Saturday when the Governor General will meet with representatives of Senegalese society firsthand. She will talk with women and men who have successfully developed their own small businesses through micro credit, contributing to Senegal's prosperity. An Art Matters forum will also be held on the role of the arts as a tool for intervention and social change, attended by Canadian delegates, experts and artists of the country.

The public can follow the State visits to Senegal through the speeches and photos available at www.gg.ca. Blogs written by Her Excellency and the delegates will be posted on www.citizenvoices.gg.ca. 

Remarks delivered by the Governor General art University Cheikh Anta Diop:

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As Governor General of Canada and a former journalist, I am delighted to participate in this discussion on the role and impact of the media in a world that must be both understood in all its complexity, and protected from the narrow-mindedness and abuses of one-track thinking.

And I am even happier that this discussion is being held in a place that has been dedicated to knowledge and its propagation to all of Africa’s youth since the opening, over fifty years ago, of Cheikh Anta Diop University, also know as the University of Dakar.

Like so many others, I am still convinced that education is the most effective means of ensuring freedom and progress.

This conviction comes to me from the poorest country in the Americas, Haiti, where I was born and taught from a young age by my parents, who were teachers, that education was the surest path to escape misery, to aspire to a better life and to contribute to the development of your community. 

I returned to Haiti last month, and I was touched to hear children, standing amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince, tell me how much they missed their classes and how anxious they were to get back to school. This thirst for knowledge is a powerful expression of hope that allows us to imagine a more prosperous future for Haiti.

In the same way, in the Canadian High Arctic, young Inuit dream of acquiring, at home, all the knowledge they need to take responsibility for their own development in the years to come, but without having to leave their ancestral lands. They spoke of this with great passion.

There is no doubt, as Léopold Sédar Senghor said, that, “education, cultural and vocational training are part of the human investment,” which, he added, is “the most productive investment.”

In fact Senghor was responsible for the opening of the first Francophone journalism school in Africa, the Centre d’études des sciences et techniques de l’information, CESTI, created in 1965 with UNESCO’s help and supported by Canadian aid.

Senghor believed it was essential to train journalists, as he saw them as guardians of democracy looking out for civil liberties.

The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, which Senghor also helped found, emphasized the need to advance democratic culture and the development of a state of law.

But, we must remember, human rights are only respected as far as they are known. This is not the least of a journalist’s role.

Education and information go hand-in-hand in this never-ending quest for freedom and well being.

Because, acquiring knowledge about our immediate surroundings and the wider world, mastering techniques to improve our daily lives, reinventing the past in terms of the present: all this means nothing unless we give everyone the freedom to access the human adventure and to fully contribute to it unimpeded.

Journalism cultivates clear-sightedness, nourishes vigilance and denounces practices that attempt to stop people from reaching their full potential or to destroy the confidence of our fellow citizens.

I believe that is the true spirit of journalism; it requires a strict ethic of civic responsibility.

It is a profession I practiced with conviction, as I believe it includes a need to understand and a duty to remember and to fight indifference, feelings of powerlessness, and ignorance.

I would like to share with you my first lesson in journalism, one I learned from Haitian journalists during a documentary the National Film Board of Canada was making on the first free elections in Haiti, and in which I was taking part as a researcher.

One of our objectives was to follow the work of journalists from Radio Haiti Inter, who had very little means compared with us, and whose offices in Port-au-Prince were riddled with bullets.

Bullets that are the only reminders of repeated attacks on those working inside.

I saw the founder of Radio Haiti Inter, Jean-Dominique at work. He was assassinated by executioners of free speech but no one has ever answered for this crime.

I saw journalists at work, journalists whose powerful conviction demanded your admiration.

I saw them walk several kilometres to reach completely isolated segments of the population. Though they often felt the pangs of hunger, they were filled with an unwavering determination.

And a passion I will never forget, a passion that serves as my guide, in the way they covered the events, reporting with such colour and zeal, using language—both French and Creole—rich and full of imagery, at long last breaking with decades of propaganda.

Watching them, I understood the power of the microphone, of letting others speak and be heard, in a climate where terror reigned.

When the mic was turned on, I saw women and men stand up to fear and speak out, risking their lives. Speaking out in rebellion, openly, out loud.

In Haiti, my native country, speaking out is like a release; to the Haitian people, having suffered under the painful and humiliating yoke of slavery and successive dictatorships, it was a victory.

The lessons I learned from that experience stayed with me the full eighteen years I worked as a journalist.

I believe it is fundamental that we recognize the courage—and even recklessness—journalists and news organizations need to do their jobs in regions rampant with misery, conflicts and horror.

In regions where freedom of expression is, if I may say, hard-won and is an integral part of the often difficult, if not perilous, process of democratization.

We live in a world in which the speed of communication allows every moment to be captured live. Information of all kind is continually transmitted all around the world and comes back to us as fleeting and immediate images.

It is up to us to use information as an instrument in the service of democracy and to ensure that our sense of identity is not lost.

It is up to us to use information as a forum to express a diversity of points of view and ideas.

Senghor said that ideas are like food; we have to chew on them ourselves in order to understand them.

The more information that freely circulates, the more people will have access to it, and the more they will be given the opportunity to take part in a society’s democratic life; that is, to claim rights for the greater good.

At least, that is my wish before we begin our discussion on the challenges journalism is currently facing here, and on the role of the media in the emergence of a new Africa whose courageous and remarkable progress clearly contradicts the Afro-pessimism to which some people still try to confine your continent, the continent of my ancestors.

Now it is your turn. I cannot wait to hear what you have to say!

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Media whishing to obtain photos and video footage of this State visit should contact Julie Rocheleau.

Media Information:
Julie Rocheleau
Rideau Hall Press Office
613-998-7280
jrocheleau@gg.ca