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Published: Friday, 5/2/2003

Martyred in pursuit of news

Dead reporters lack the cachet of dead soldiers. Rarely, if ever, is there a parade in their memory, or memorials that bring out the whole town, let alone inspire world reaction.

The death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, 38, in January, 2002, probably qualified as an exception for most Americans. His death in Pakistan at the hands of terrorists was cruel, and, in the end, very public.

But we know little of Tim Lopes of TV Globo (Brazil), a 50-year-old reporter who was tortured and killed last June after he broadcast a report showing an open-air drug bazaar in a Rio slum. He was working on a story about pedophilia at drug-dealer parties when his murderers made him a free press martyr.

And most of us never heard of Edgar Damalerio, managing editor of the weekly Zamboanga Scribe and a commentator on DXKP radio in Pagadian City, on the island of Mindinao in the Philippines. He was fatally shot by a gunman witnesses identified as a local police officer. The man was arrested, then, last February, escaped.

Local journalists believe Mr. Damalerio was killed because he exposed and criticized corruption among local police and politicians.

Nor are most people familiar with people like Igor Gareyev and two other Russian journalists killed on assignment when their helicopter crashed in Siberia; nor David Gerdrum, 48, and Jennifer Hawkins, 22, a photographer and a reporter for KRTV in Great Falls, Mont., who perished in January, 2002, in a 12-vehicle pileup after high winds created a brownout on the roads.

Journalism honors its own, these and 25 others today, when the Freedom Forum and the Newseum it funds in Arlington, Va., rededicate the Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial in Freedom Park there. The event is a precursor to World Press Freedom Day tomorrow.

The memorial, rededicated, will honor 1,475 newspeople who died covering the news from 1812 through last year.

As a profession we celebrate that last year's death toll for our colleagues, at 31, was down 40 percent from the year before, when 51 journalists perished doing their jobs. But already this year, more than a dozen journalists have died in the course of keeping people informed.

Our Founding Fathers so believed in the advantages of a free press, even one that occasionally irked and enraged, that it gave it sweeping constitutional protection. With so many martyred journalists, it is still clear that many other parts of the world don't share the perception our founders displayed so long ago.

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