A national memorial to honor journalists killed for their reporting could be erected in Washington, D.C., after Congress passed a bipartisan bill Thursday.
The Senate unanimously passed the Fallen Journalists Memorial Act, which now will go to the U.S. president for approval.
The act called for a memorial to be built on federal land in recognition of the U.S. commitment to press freedom.
David Dreier, who chairs the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation — an organization that works under the nonprofit National Press Club Journalism Institute — said the idea came in the wake of a June 2018 attack that killed five members of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland.
A man named Jarrod Ramos, who had written letters to the paper and filed lawsuits claiming defamation after the outlet reported on a harassment case, has pleaded guilty to the shooting and pleaded not criminally responsible in a trial that is ongoing.
Recognition of First Amendment
Dreier, a former Republican representative from California, said he was inspired to honor the Capital Gazette staff and other journalists who have died in the line of duty, adding that journalism has played an integral role in every milestone of U.S. history.
“I realized that there is no memorial in Washington, D.C., that recognizes the integral role that journalists and journalism has played in our nation's history from the very founding,” Dreier told VOA. “The First Amendment is amendment number one, and I think there needs to be recognition of that.”
In the past decade, over 580 journalists have been killed in relation to their work, including at least 12 from the U.S., according to the press freedom organization the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, where the Capital Gazette is based, said in a joint statement, “Those who personify the First Amendment rights granted to every citizen have made our nation stronger. Too many, including five innocent souls lost in the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, gave everything they had in defense of democracy.”
He added, “This new memorial will honor the lives of those who died reporting the news and supporting the media on behalf of the American people. It will be a steadfast symbol of their sacrifice and the fragility of our democracy.”
Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio and co-sponsor of the bill with Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, also applauded the Senate for passing the bill and said a free press “is essential to our democracy.”
“This memorial will serve as a fitting tribute to the men and women in journalism, including those from the Capital Gazette, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the First Amendment,” said Portman in the joint statement.
Symbol for world
After the president signs off on the legislation, the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation will begin the process of designing the memorial.
The foundation estimates it will take seven years to raise funds to design, develop, construct and maintain the memorial in compliance with the National Capital Memorials and Commemorative Works Act of 1986.
A location has not been selected, but Dreier said the foundation is considering a site in front of the VOA headquarters in Washington. The foundation still must meet with a half-dozen commissions, Dreier said, before making that decision.
Dreier said the memorial will not include names of journalists because the idea is to recognize journalism.
“I envisage this as being ultimately a symbol, not just for the people in the United States of America, but for people all around the world,” Dreier said. “When they come to the capital of the United States of America, and they see this memorial, they will be able to think about journalists they know of in their home country, who paid the ultimate price in pursuit of the truth.”