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School of Communication, Media & Politics, Strategy & Policy
Professor Robert Hackett receives Warren Gill Award for Community Impact
By: Tessa Perkins Deneault
For the past three decades, communication professor Robert (Bob) Hackett has been tirelessly working on a variety of social and community issues, including human rights, climate justice, media democratization, and labour and peace movements. In recognition of this work, he has received the 2018 Warren Gill Award for Community Impact.
Hackett was “delighted and a little bit surprised” to learn he had been selected for this award, and says it’s a great way to cap his 34-year career at SFU.
The annual Warren Gill Award honours the legacy of professor Warren Gill, vice-president, university relations, who helped envision and create SFU’s downtown Vancouver campuses. The award recognizes a faculty or staff member who has had a significant positive impact on the social, economic, environmental and/or cultural fabric of one or more of the communities SFU serves.
Hackett, a professor emeritus in SFU’s School of Communication, first became interested in advocating for social change during his high school years as he questioned the arbitrary use of authority and began to learn more about the injustices of the world.
Drawn to SFU’s innovative, radical, and participatory reputation in 1969, Hackett completed his undergraduate studies in political science in 1973. He was drawn back to SFU in 1984 for those same reasons, and, as a professor in the School of Communication, always felt a strong shared commitment to social justice among his colleagues.
Hackett’s involvement in social movements has included hundreds of media interviews, dozens of public talks and op-ed articles, workshops, grass-roots events, policy briefs, membership on community group boards, and participation in Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission hearings.
One of his most notable projects is NewsWatch Canada, an SFU-based watchdog he co-founded in 1993 with fellow communication professor Donald Gutstein. It critically analyses news and its political implications.
Other significant projects include Media Democracy Day, an annual event he co-founded in 2001 to bring together independent media and media activist groups to promote a sense of common purpose. In 2007, he and his student Steve Anderson co-founded OpenMedia.ca as a way to help ensure the Internet remains open and accessible.
Most recently, Hackett has become interested in the climate crisis and its links to media, militarization and energy politics. He is also concerned about public apathy when it comes to political involvement.
“Democracy is at risk in a number of ways, and the challenges before us are enormous,” he says. “It seems like it takes a catastrophe before people get out of their comfort zones.”
While not everyone has the same capacity to get involved, Hackett says, “those of us who are relatively privileged have an obligation to spend time and money to make political change and above all speak out. We have no hope other than through collective action.”
As a newly retired faculty member, Hackett plans to continue contributing to public dialogues about social justice and to produce articles relevant to social and political concerns.