There is in Washington a 12-meter tall memorial honoring those journalists who have been killed in the line of duty. The memorial is located at the newly-opened Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue -- just a short walk across the grassy mall from VOA headquarters. It bears the names of 1,843 journalists from around the world who died between 1837 and 2007.
None of them are from VOA. But if you visit the website for the memorial, you will see one is under consideration for addition to the memorial. He is Alisher Saipov, an Uzbek journalist who worked in Kyrgyzstan and reported extensively for the Voice of America. He was shot and killed in October 2007 in Osh, the city where he was based. Although he was only 26, VOA said he had reported on “a variety of sensitive political issues critical to the audience throughout Central Asia.” His colleagues referred to him as “a fearless journalist.” He left a wife and a three-month-old daughter.
I didn’t know Saipov. But I did work with two of the reporters whose names are on the wall. I visited the memorial just ahead of the Newseum's formal opening this week to remember them and pay my respects.
One is Dan Eldon, a young British-American photographer who was working for the Reuters news service in Somalia when I met him. He was killed on July 12th, 1993 in Mogadishu by an enraged mob as he tried to cover a US attack on supporters of a Somali warlord.
The second name etched on the glass wall of the memorial that I want to honor is Hitoshi Numasawa of Japan’s Kyodo new service. He was Kyodo’s bureau chief in Nairobi. He was killed on Dec. 6, 1994 when a small plane he was flying in struck a television transmitting tower in bad weather shortly after takeoff from Nairobi's Wilson Airport. He was en route to Goma in what was then called Zaire, where Japanese troops had been deployed in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. One of his sons and one of mine were best buddies.
The Newseum Executive Director, Joe Urschel, says of all those whose names are on the Journalists Memorial: “They live on as an inspiration to the highest ideals of journalism.”
Indeed they do.
Most of the reporters whose names are inscribed on the Memorial, like Dan and Toshi, were involved in what is called war reporting. No doubt, they had no desire to themselves become part of the stories they were covering. But war reporting is inherently dangerous.
It might not seem so to a reader for whom “scattered exchanges of small arms and mortar fire” are just words. But for a reporter in a combat zone, getting in position to witness events can be a matter of life and death. The unexpected can always happen, no matter how many precautions you take, no matter how safe you think you are.
When I returned to VOA after visiting the Newseum, I was privileged to attend the annual Burke Awards ceremonies. The award is named for a former Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, David Burke, who was also a former top executive of both CBS and ABC News. The award recognizes courage, integrity, and originality in reporting by journalists within the BBG broadcast organizations (which include VOA along with Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio/TV Marti, Radio Sawa and Alhurra TV.)
This year’s VOA winners include a reporter living in Zimbabwe whose identity must be withheld for security reasons. That reporter and honoree John Miller, another freelancer, provided us with video material on the tumultuous situation in Zimbabwe.
Another VOA winner is Adrian Criscaut, a videojournalist honored for providing exceptional news coverage from Venezuela this past year.
We congratulate them and all the other recipients of the award and acknowledge the sacrifices they have made to serve the interests of their audiences.