By Aisha Sharipzhan
It’s July 16, 2004. Askhat Sharipzhan is walking outside.
He’s probably thinking about the groundbreaking article he’s going to write.
He’s also probably thinking about who might be watching him.
He comes to the crosswalk and probably looked both ways before safely stepping on to the road.
He definitely didn’t know a speeding car was going to fracture his skull at that moment.
Four days later, Askhat Sharipzhan died in the hospital.
I was eight-years-old when we found out my father’s younger brother was killed for his work as a journalist in Kazakhstan. We were told his interview tapes and notes were missing, and before his death, he had been interviewing a political opposition leader in a country where opposition isn’t supposed to exist.
Today, my uncle is honored at the Newseum’s Journalists Memorial in Washington, D.C.
For my father, and for many who grew up in the Soviet Union, the United States has been a symbol of hope and freedom.
In some sense, his brother had made it to America after all.
The Journalists Memorial exhibit has over 2,000 names from all over the world. These journalists were killed by their governments or fellow citizens for being brave enough to report the truth.
Now the Newseum may be closing due to financial troubles.
The Newseum’s CEO Jeffrey Herbst recently stepped down and there is now a possibility that the building may be sold. While the Newseum attracted over 800,000 visitors last year, tourists are more compelled to visit the free Smithsonian museums instead. The revenue from the Newseum’s admission fees cannot catch up with the costs to maintain it.
The Newseum must fight to remain open. It is here to remind us of the privilege we have that so many in the world do not.
It is a reminder for us to protect and exercise our First Amendment rights, and to recognize the role of journalism as a cornerstone for our democracy.
We need this reminder now more than ever as the current relationship between the press and government is a hostile one. The role of journalism is to hold the government accountable and to keep the public educated and informed.
Not only do the exhibits in the Newseum show us what journalism has done and continues to do for America, it also demonstrates what could happen if we lived without freedom of press, something that I feel many Americans take for granted.
Imagine an America where stories of oppression are never told, government officials are in control of what gets published, independent news sites are blocked, newsrooms are set on fire, journalists are killed on their way to work.
This is a reality for many around the world.
While it makes me angry to have my family name on that wall, I am also filled with pride. My uncle and the thousands of other journalists on that wall must be remembered for their bravery and commitment to the truth.
The Newseum sits in our nation’s capital with the First Amendment etched into its facade, just as it should be etched into society.
We need to make sure the value of those words never fades away.
Featured Photo Credit: Outside The Newseum (Lisa Woolfson/Bloc Photographer).
Aisha Sharipzhan is a senior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.