Viewed by many as the conscience of broadcasting, Friendly received a special tribute at CPJ's 1997 International Press Freedom Awards on October 23. He was honored for his distinguished career, spanning 60 years at CBS and later as the driving force behind the creation of public broadcasting.
Friendly had suffered a series of strokes in recent years, and was unable to attend the CPJ awards ceremony. His wife, Ruth, who accepted the tribute on his behalf, said at the time: "Fred would be reminding us that we have the freest press in the world...and would exhort you to protect that precious press freedom, not to abuse it, but to use it responsibly. And we know he would close by saying, 'In reporting stories that involve tough choices, our job as journalists is not to make up anybody's mind, but to open minds, and to make the agony of decision-making--for the reader, for the viewer--so intense that they can escape only by thinking.'"
Said CBS commentator Andy Rooney in presenting the award: "Fred Friendly has been the single most important force for good who ever worked in broadcasting."