Remarks by David W. Burke: David W. Burke Distinguished Journalism Awards Ceremony

I have already observed, the presentations of excellence seen here today cover the gamut of all that is best in electronic journalism: imagination, ingenuity, persistence, daring in the face of real hardship and danger, all with a dedication to substance, cold truth and, above all, getting the story told despite the personal cost or threat.

That is what these people we honor today did and did well. But I know that is what you all do or strive to do each day. Because of that I have always been proud to be in your company and to have had the opportunity to work along side you in the past. But today, in the face of your colleagues’ extraordinary work, I am especially humbled to be with you and the current members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

It is important to remember, especially in these times, that this Board was created in large measure by Senator Joseph Biden (D, Del.) and others in the Congress who understood that for (U.S.) international broadcasting to contribute to the nuturing and growth of democracy and freedom in the world, to be believed and trusted, it had to be free of any taint, any appearance, or any suggestion of subservience to the transient political leadership of the moment. As your Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson has written, it is the mission of this Board “to ensure and safeguard the integrity, quality and effectiveness of our international broadcasters”. In effect, this Board has been created by law as the protector of your professional journalistic role – but you must not simply rely upon them for that — you must hold them to it should any of you sense any undue pressure to conform or alter your efforts to meet someone else’s agenda.

When asked over the years about the unique role of this Board, I have often relied on a simple analogy. One of the finest institutions in American journalism today is The Wall Street Journal. The Journal has an editorial point of view that is constant in its dedication to a well-defined ideological position. Yet its news reporting is without question as journalistically sound as can be. In fact, the Journal is in many ways the gold standard of American political and economic reporting. This is so only because the decision was made that an impenetrable wall would exist between the editorial board and the newsroom. As a result, the Journal has been elevated to the highest possible place in American journalism. Now the Journal has of course one major advantage in carrying out this policy. It’s ownership and management is relatively stable, if not permanent. As you well know, that is not the case here in Washington. Administrations come and go, dutifully bringing with them all sorts of new directions, pressures, policies and points of view. As federally employed broadcasters, all you have to maintain that precious wall – that firewall – between those who make policy for the United States and those who report it, along with all other news, to an increasingly suspicious world. It is the very maintenance of that firewall that is the core of your effectiveness. Without it, your work would be of little value – your words falling increasingly on deaf ears.

So if need be, rely on and use this Board even if you fear it may put you at some risk. Remember the people we honor today – Mr. Han, Mr. Shoresh and Ms. Ryu – put themselves at some risk and American international broadcasting is all the better for it.

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