Presentation of the Michener Awards for Journalism
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Rideau Hall, Tuesday, June 14, 2011
My predecessor, the Right Honourable Roland Michener, did us all a great service when he established these awards four decades ago. Journalists are usually eager to avoid the spotlight, but each year on this occasion, we make a welcome exception.
Today, you and the news organizations you represent are “the story,” and it is an honour for Sharon and me to welcome you to Rideau Hall to celebrate the best in public service journalism.
You of all people know how much has changed in the news industry since Joseph Howe made his famous libel defence in a Nova Scotia courtroom in 1835. But in remarks that continue to speak to us today, Howe said:
“The only questions I ask myself are, What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?”
Howe’s passionate defence was a landmark moment in the emergence of a free press in this country, and a direct link can be made between his victory and the fine work you are doing today.
Each of you is heir to a proud tradition of public service journalism in Canada. Thanks to your focus on the well-being of ordinary people in your communities, we live in a safer, more just, and more environmentally responsible country.
As governor general, I have been inviting Canadians to imagine our country in 2017, when we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation. I believe that we must strive to build a smarter, more caring nation, where citizens work together to increase knowledge and to help one another.
At its best, journalism is an exercise in learning that creates shared understanding by establishing facts, by providing context and by giving a human face to some of the most pressing issues of our time.
Your work as journalists and news organizations serving the public interest is both smart and caring. You work together to research, produce and publish stories that matter to Canadians.
I want to commend you for your compassion and for your commitment to seeking the truth. It is not an easy job, often demanding great courage and dedication. For evidence, we need only look at the number of journalists who continue to be silenced each year internationally.
Already this year, 24 journalists have been killed in the line of duty, and many more imprisoned, according to Reporters Without Borders.
We remember especially Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald, who was killed along with four soldiers in Afghanistan in December 2009, while embedded with our Canadian troops.
Though you do the bulk of your work here in Canada, where press freedoms exist, this solemn fact reminds us of the importance of what you do.
As my predecessor the Right Honourable Jules Legér once said:
“A dynamic and free press is a vital element for any democratic society. Indeed, without such a press, there can be no democracy.”
Each of you has answered the call to service, and I encourage you to continue looking for ways to create a smarter, more caring Canada in a fairer, more just world.
And on behalf of all Canadians, I congratulate and thank the winner of the 2010 Michener Award for Journalism.
I also extend my congratulations and best wishes to Jane Armstrong, the recipient of the 2011 Michener-Deacon Fellowship.