Journalism: an alternative history: Part - III

October 21, 2019

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.In my previous columns of this series last week, I thought I had discussed all the books by Zamir Niazi, but...

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The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

In my previous columns of this series last week, I thought I had discussed all the books by Zamir Niazi, but thanks to Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed, former director of the Pakistan Study Centre (PSC), the University of Karachi, and currently head of the Institute of Historical and Social Research, I came to know that I had not covered another book by Zamir Niazi.

The bundle of books that Dr Jaffar Ahmed sent me included ‘Fettered Freedom’ that he edited and complied in 2005. But before discussing this book I must respond to of the readers who have enquired about Zamir Niazi; some have even wondered if Zamir Niazi belonged to Mianwali or he had any relations with some other famous and infamous Niazis in Pakistan. No, Zamir Niazi did not belong to Mianwali, nor did he have any relations with the Niazis the readers thought about. His real name was Ibrahim Durwaish, and he was an avid reader of literature and the social sciences.

He drew his inspiration from classical and enlightenment literature to modern and progressive writings of his time. Zamir Niazi began his career in journalism with the daily ‘Inqilab’ in Bombay (now Mumbai). He adopted his new name apparently for two reasons: one, he thought journalism was a vocation of conscientious people so he called himself Zamir (conscience); two, he was inspired by Niaz Fatehpuri, and considered himself Niaz’s follower so he adopted his new name: Zamir Niazi. I hope this satisfies the curiosity of my readers.

Zamir Niazi didn’t migrate from Bombay to Pakistan immediately after Partition. Six years after Independence he decided to move and joined Urdu daily ‘Nai Roshni’ in Karachi in 1953 but worked there just for a year. Joining ‘Dawn’ in 1954, he worked there till 1962. Then ‘Daily News’ and ‘Business Recorder’ benefitted from his services, and he retired in 1992. He also published an anthology of Urdu fiction and poetry under the title: ‘Zameen ka Noha’. And now something about ‘Fettered Freedom’ which is a collection of 18 articles by Zamir Niazi. Dr Jaffar Ahmed compiled these articles from the files arranged by Zamir Niazi himself.

This book also provides a good source of alternative history of journalism in Pakistan. In these articles Zamir Niazi has written extensively on the condition of the Pakistani press and the policies of successive governments towards the press. By reading these articles we get to realize that just like some other noble vocations, journalism should not be treated as merely a profession. With a passion, journalists should be ready to face the difficult circumstances under which the press in Pakistan has to survive; and, when the time comes should be willing to challenge and change those circumstances.

Another direct and first-hand source of alternative history of journalism in Pakistan that Dr Jaffar Ahmed has compiled and edited consists of Hasan Abidi’s experiences and observations. Hasan Abidi was a senior and one of the most experienced journalists in Pakistan. ‘Junoon mien jitni bhi guzri’ (Whatever we endured in passion) is a book that outlines his alternative history of journalism including his observations at daily ‘Afaaq’, weekly ‘Lail-o-Nahar’, and daily ‘Mushriq’, in the 1950s and 1960s. He also gives us rich information about his experiences at ‘Akhbar-e-Khawateen’ and ‘Dawn’.

Hasan Abidi was one of those brave journalists who spent years in jail for their ideals of a democratic and progressive society and free press. Sheema Majeed – a prominent literary researcher who has contributed greatly by compiling and writing dozens of books about outstanding journalists, poets, and writers – brought out her book presenting selected articles, editorials, and interviews of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Published in 2008 by the OUP, the book contains journalistic writings by Faiz published in’ The Pakistan Times’, of which Faiz was editor from 1947 to 1951. These writings reflect his deep insight into the political and social challenges Pakistan faced after independence.

Faiz’s editorials – just like the editorials of Mazhar Ali Khan published in two volumes – not only give us an alternative history of journalism but also teach us how to pen a good editorial. Mehmood Shaam, the former group editor of daily ‘Jang’ deserves a mention here as three of his books provide us substantial material on history and alternative history of journalism and politics in Pakistan. Published by Jang Publishers in 1993, ‘Taqdeer Badalti Taqrirain’ (Speeches that changed destiny) is a compilation of historic speeches of Pakistani leaders from the 1940s to 1990s.

Shaam’s book ‘Rubaru’ (Face-to-face) published in 2001 contains interviews of prominent political leaders conducted from late 1960s to 1970s. Finally, ‘Media Manzar’ (The media scene) by Mehmood Shaam appeared in 2012. It is a comprehensive alternative history of media in Pakistan. The full title of the book is ‘Media Manzar: Pakistan mein zraey iblaagh ka mazi, haal, aur mustaqbil ‘(The Media Scene: The past, present, and future of the media in Pakistan). Shaam has 28 very informative chapters that are useful to understand journalism in Pakistan. A distinctive feature of the book is the inclusion of the full texts of six important documents on mass media in Pakistan.

They include the Press and Registration of Books Act of 1952, when Khwaja Nazimudddin was PM and Ghulam Mohammad was governor-general of Pakistan; West Pakistan Press and Publications Ordinance, 1963 by General Ayub Khan; Newspaper Control Ordinance, 1971 by General Yahya Khan; Ordinance No XV of 1997 by President Farooq Leghari; Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002, as amended in 2007, by General Pervez Musharraf; and Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Notification, 2009, issued by the PPP government which had assumed power in 2008. It is interesting to note that most of the above are ordinances rather than acts of parliament passed by elected representatives.

In 2016, the Freedom Network (FN) and Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (Irada) produced two significant analyses in Pakistan. Adnan Rehmat and Aftab Alam wrote both the analyses (one with Toby Mendel). The first, ‘The State of Digital Rights in Pakistani Cyberspace’ discussed the challenges of freedom of expression, censorship, hate speech, surveillance and privacy rights online in Pakistan. The second, ‘Enabling Environment for Professional Media in Pakistan’, was an analysis of media regulatory framework in Pakistan. It presented a convincing and much-needed agenda for media reforms in the shape of a charter. It not only discusses challenges but also outlines possible solutions.

In terms of publications on media, 2017 was a prolific year as numerous good drafts and reports appeared. For example, through an exhaustive consultative process with key media stakeholders – such as the representative associations of media workers; media managers, owners, and regulators – a Journalists Safety Law for Pakistan was drafted. The FN and Irada prepared this draft in good faith, presenting the best practices to safeguard journalists in Pakistan. Iqbal Khattak wrote a special report, ‘Blackout in Balochistan: Media reporting in Fear, Living under Threat’. Iqbal Khattak is a fearless senior journalist and executive director of the Freedom Network; his brief report highlights the worsening state of impunity against the media in Balochistan.

Iqbal Khattak concludes that in Balochistan the media is sandwiched between the state and insurgents. The media personnel are left on their own and no help comes from the government or state institutions. There is both overt and covert censorship, and there is no end to it in sight. In 2017, another report highlighting crimes against journalists was titled, ‘Zero Tolerance: Journalists Risk Lives and Livelihood in Pakistan’. It was a joint work of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the Freedom Network. The report highlights the fact that even registering an FIR is an uphill task, as the process stumbles at the first stage of justice.

The behaviour of the police is reported to be frustrating as in most cases investigation is poor, and in some not at all. Some journalists are threatened by graffiti on their home walls or doors. In one case, Rana Tanveer was threatened by graffiti and then became the target of an assassination attempt. Sadly, even the media do not do any follow-up in most cases of violence against journalists.

To be continued

Email: mnazir1964yahoo.co.uk


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