Nieman News

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (May 2005) — The 2005 Class of Nieman Fellows has selected Shahla Sherkat, founder and publisher of the Iranian women’s magazine Zanan, to receive the 2005 Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.

The Lyons Award is named in honor of Louis M. Lyons, a member of the first class of Nieman Fellows in 1939 and curator of the Nieman Foundation for 25 years. The award carries a $1,000 honorarium.

Each class of Nieman Fellows decides whether to present an award during the fellowship year. Fellows nominate candidates and a selection committee chooses the winner. The 2005 committee said this year’s decision was unanimous.

Zanan focuses on the concerns of Iranian women and continually tests the political waters with its edgy coverage of everything from reform politics to domestic abuse to sex, the committee said. In contrast to some other Iranian women’s journals, Zanan is an independent voice, the committee noted. The monthly magazine is not tied to the state or to any specific political fraction, and the 20, mainly young, women on staff have no family ties to important public figures.

Sherkat, 47, is a psychologist who worked for a state-funded publication conglomerate as editor of Zan-e-ruz from 1980 until 1990, when she was dismissed because of differences with the publishers about how to address gender-specific topics. She founded Zanan, which means “women” in Iranian, because she believed that women like herself could create a new movement in Iranian society.

First published in February 1991, Zanan addresses women’s issues exclusively because, Sherkat has said, so many problems are specific to women that no space remains for other topics. Yet a recent survey revealed that the magazine is read by a significant number of men.

Sherkat has had to appear in court on several occasions when Zanan’s content was considered to be pushing boundaries too far. In 2001 she was sentenced to four months in prison for attending a conference in Berlin at which the future of politics in Iran was discussed following the success of reformist candidates in a parlimentary election. She appealed the sentence. Several other journalists were sentenced to jail terms ranging from four months to nine years.

Twenty-five individuals, groups and organizations have received the Lyons Award since it was established by the 1964 Class of Nieman Fellows.

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