The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University announced May 28, 1985 that Allister Sparks, correspondent for the London Observer and The Washington Post, won the 1985 Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism for his courageous reporting from South Africa. Sparks, a South African journalist, was chosen for the award by a vote of the 19 members of the Nieman Fellow Class of 1985.
Sparks has reported on apartheid and other conditions in South Africa since 1951, and filed reports in 1984 from Sebokeng Township Bethanie and Sharpeville that described riot-torn towns and mounting racial tensions. He has risked legal sanction from the South African government for writing about and quoting “banned” persons, and in 1983 his home was searched by security police who went through his books, papers and files. Later, his wife, Sue Sparks, was detained for fingerprinting and interrogation.
Sparks was editor of the now-defunct Rand Daily Mail, but was dismissed in 1981 following a decision by the company’s board of directors to make the paper appeal more to affluent whites and less to poor blacks.
“It takes courage and integrity to report on South Africa today and requires a journalist to resist the
pressures of official repression while mainntaining a balarnced perspective, said Lucinda Fleeson, chair of the 1985 Award Carmmittee.
“We chose Sparks because his fierce dedication may have put him in danger from both sides, but he faced down intimidation from both white government officials and black rioters. He ignored rcadblocks to travel to rural towns, where he reported the stories of the people who bear the bruntnt of the official policies the world has come to know as apartheid. He has paid the price for being a dissenter in a closed society. He has demonstrated the professionalism, integrity and meritorious journalism that Louis Lyons personified and taught, ” said Fleeson.
Sparks was born in Cathcart, a farming village in eastern Cape Province, South Africa. He was a Nieman Fellcw, class of 1963. This year, the Lyons Award committee established new criteria for the award and contacted more than 1,000 news organizations arourd the world to invite noinations for the annual award.