Mohamed Olad Hassan, a Somali journalist who has covered the people of his nation amid dangerous insurgency over the last decade, was awarded the Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism at the Walter Lippmann House in Cambridge last night.
Hassan, a senior correspondent and writer for BBC World Service and The Associated Press, has been called the “voice of the voiceless.”
While many media professionals have been killed on the job in Somalia and many others have fled, Hassan has remained despite efforts by the government and insurgent groups to silence the media.
“Being a reporter in Somalia is a matter of death and life. There’s always danger. Self-censorship is an important part. You don’t know who your enemy is,” said Hassan who wore a light blue suit inspired by the Somali flag.
The Lyons award is presented to an individual, group or institution involved in communication that displays conscience and integrity.
Each year, the class of journalists selected for fellowships by Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism chooses whether to present the award. The Nieman Fellow class of 2011 had several meetings throughout September and October discussing candidates, who came from seven countries.
They narrowed the selection to three finalists, including Claudia J. Duque, a journalist covering human rights issues in Colombia, Ahman Zeidabadi, an Iranian journalist who has faced multiple arrests, and Hassan. Hassan won in a runoff vote.
“We see many journalists as ‘Indiana Joneses,’ who travel to foreign nations to report. This award recognizes Mohamed as a reporter who has worked domestically and is a true hero,” said Gwen Thompkins, a member of the Nieman Fellows class of 2011 who nominated Hassan.
Hassan said he wanted to be a journalist since his childhood. He started his career writing for the Xog-Ogaal newspaper in Mogadishu in 2001 and became Somali Television Network’s chief Mogadishu correspondent in 2002. The next year, he began reporting for the BBC and The Associated Press.
“Journalists in Somalia must be courageous. It’s not a business, but a dangerous job,” Hassan said.
James M. Fallows ’70, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a former president of The Crimson, was the keynote speaker.
“I knew of [Hassan’s] reporting and have seen many journalists take physical hardships. It’s important for the Western world to recognize them.”