Good evening - I am very honoured to be invited to address you tonight.
I would like to begin by asking all the journalists in this room a question: why did you get into the business in the first place?
Why do I ask this question?
Because it’s become the fashion to be cynical about journalism these days, but I would guess most of you got into it because your idealistic younger selves wanted to do some good, you wanted to keep people informed and tell the stories that shape the world we live in.
Above all things, I suspect you wanted to defend the little guy or girl against the big guy or girl.
But real life too often comes to make an unhappy bedfellow with idealism.
Over time, it’s all too easy, with a mortgage and responsibilities to your families, with the environment in journalism tougher now than it’s ever been, to wake up and finding yourselves not writing or broadcasting what you believe, but what the powerful owners of your organisations believe.
Does every single journalist on the Daily Mail or the Sun or the Telegraph believe, for instance, in Brexit - and really subscribes to the view that anyone who voices concern, or asks legitimate questions is a traitor?
Is everyone at the BBC – particularly on the Today show - confident that they are giving all sides in this debate that is so fundamental to the future of our country – to the future of our children - a fair chance to put across their points of view?
It appears to me an extraordinary thing that freedom of expression – in the one business that should value this right above all others - is all too often stifling it.
It is an extraordinary thing, too, that, far from putting the best interests of the lives of their readers, viewers and listeners first, so many news organisations now appear to be putting the best interests of their owners first.
The decision to abandon the second part of the Leveson inquiry - the part that may well have shed new light on the misinformation that was retailed as news during the EU Referendum - shows terrifyingly that even our Government fears evoking the anger of these media moguls.
What was it Theresa May said on the steps of Downing Street when she first became Prime Minister? Oh yes. "The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours."
But in this brave new Brextremist world of ours, too many journalists - like too many politicians - are taking the line of least resistance.
I’m talking here about the members of the real metropolitan elite and they are failing the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society by allowing Brexit to waste time, energy and public money – our money – and for debate to be reduced to the rhetoric of a hysterical cult.
Not so long ago, I walked through the newsroom of The Sun after meeting with the team to resolve a complaint I had made to IPSO, and, as I looked around at the journalists pounding away on their computers, a song from the musical Bugsy Malone - one of my childhood favourites - played out in my head: We could have been anything that we wanted to be.
I don’t doubt that the people in that newsroom – when they started out perhaps on local papers – did want to make the world a better place, they wanted to be on the side of the little guy or girl against the big strong rich and powerful guy.
They certainly didn’t want to make the world a worse place.
But on so many issues we have faced in recent years – Iraq, Islamophobia, Brexit, and just last night Trump’s inhumane treatment of children – they must know in their hearts that they have already - or are in the process of - making things worse.
I suppose if I speak passionately about this it is because I have always really been at heart a journalist myself.
Ask anyone in the investment and pension industry, or who works in the charity sector, and they will admit, through gritted teeth, that I was among the first to ask the awkward questions about where the money is going – why is profit being put before people, purpose or planet?
Still, tonight we celebrate people who have dedicated their whole lives to great journalism. People say that there aren’t heroes in the business any more, but maybe they just don’t know where to look. Maybe they can’t accept that these days they’re often heroines. Lyse Doucet, the brave BBC foreign correspondent, has rightly been honoured here. The murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is rightly remembered here.
So many of the journalists breaking important stories that we all talk about are women. There is Amelia Gentleman, who brought down a government minister in Amber Rudd with her revelations about Windrush. Madison Marriage who broke the story of the President’s Club for the FT. Carole Cadwalladr – whose impact on the share price of Facebook with her dogged reporting about the misuse of data has been dominating the debate in politics for months. As well as the revelations on dark money and dark forces in her story ‘The Great British Brexit Robbery: How Our Democracy Was Hijacked’
These are the sort of great stories that should be on the front pages and dominating the news items on the airwaves.
What should not be there are shouty headlines telling you what the owners of these newspapers want us all to think. There is a place, of course, for comment in newspapers and on the airwaves, but the facts should come first - always.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it best when he said: 'Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, but not to his/her own facts.”
I believe journalists should keep in mind always what I consider to be the definition of a really great story: it's what someone who is rich and powerful - or maybe a whole group of rich and powerful people - emphatically doesn't want to see on the front page or leading a news bulletin.
That is what Charles Wheeler was about and it is what this award is about. Great journalism almost always requires great courage - and tonight that is what we celebrate and honour every bit as much as journalism.
It is what I urge all journalists to remember.
Sign up to our monthly factsheets