Journalism: an alternative history: Part - IV

October 22, 2019

In this last part of the series we discuss three reports published in 2018, and one book by Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan, ‘Pakistan mein sahafat ki mutabadil tareekh’ published in 2019.The lead...

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In this last part of the series we discuss three reports published in 2018, and one book by Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan, ‘Pakistan mein sahafat ki mutabadil tareekh’ published in 2019.

The lead author of the first report is Zahid Abdullah, an international expert on right-to-information issues. He is an activist and chronicler of RTI-related activism in Pakistan.

The full title of the report is: ‘Right to Information Legislation in Pakistan: Challenges and Success Stories’. Zahid Abdullah documents a concise history of the right to information (RTI) legislation and regime in Pakistan. Then he lists success stories, challenges, and lessons learnt from the cumulative efforts undertaken by all key stakeholders. Such stakeholders include civil society, federal and provincial legislatures, political parties, and rights activists.

The report also presents technical evaluation of the various RTI laws, both past and present, of Pakistan and lists their strengths and shortcomings. The report is highly educative and informative, not only for journalists but also for policymakers.

Pakistan Press Freedom Report of 2018 chronicles the changing threat patterns and demographics of Pakistan media landscape. The Freedom Network found that 35 percent of the total violence against journalists in Pakistan is perpetrated in Islamabad alone. The second is Punjab with 17 percent cases and the third and fourth are Sindh and Balochistan with 16 and 14 percent respectively. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata witnessed 10 and 8 percent of the violence committed in Pakistan. With just one percent of the population of Pakistan living in the federal capital, 35 percent violence is alarming and staggering. Proportionately, Punjab fares the best.

From May 2017 to April 2018, the report recorded at least 157 cases of attacks and violence in the four provinces, Islamabad, and erstwhile Fata — on an average 15 cases of violence a month, or one every second day. It included the killing of journalists, abductions, kidnappings, physical attacks and injuries, arrests, threats, and cases of harassment. Islamabad emerged as the most dangerous place to practise journalism as the report documented 55 out of 157 cases in the federal capital. TV emerged as the worst victim with 85 cases of violence against its practitioners compared to print, radio, and the internet.

The latest report is from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) independent fact-finding mission of 2018. The title is: ‘Curbs on Freedom of Expression in Pakistan’. The report is the result of interactions with an overwhelming number of journalists — reporters, editors, and TV anchors. All reiterated the extent of interference in freedom of expression among the print and broadcast media in Pakistan. Even the people involved in the sale and distribution of certain papers complained of unlawful interference in the newspaper distribution. The extent of fear can be gauged from the requests by most respondents to remain anonymous.

The HRCP report about the curbs on freedom of expression concludes that journalists now feel compelled to practise self-censorship. Some complained that even their families have not been spared harassment. The media finds itself working under extreme duress, running the risk of allegations of maligning institutions and the country — a consequence at times entailed by mere reporting of facts.

And now, something about Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan’s latest book that prompted to me to write this series. ‘Pakistan mein sahafat ki mutabadil tareekh (Alternative history of journalism in Pakistan) was first published by Mazhar Arif of Society for Alternative Media and Research (Samar) and now it has been republished by Badalti Dunya Publications of Ayub Malik in Islamabad. The idea is the brainchild of Badar Alam, editor of now defunct monthly ‘Herald’, and Mazhar Arif who requested Dr Tauseef A Khan to undertake this research, and he did it with aplomb.

While conducting this research Dr Tauseef A Khan took full advantage of senior journalists such as I A Rehman, Hussain Naqi, Masood Ashar, Ziauddin, Fareeda Hafeez, Abid Ali Syed, Nasir Zaidi, Jabbar Khattak, Riaz Shaikh, Tahir Najmi, Badar Alam, and Arshad Rizvi. In this alternative history of journalism, the writer has chronicled how various newspapers and weeklies were targeted by state and non-state actors and how these publications responded with courage and valour, even risking huge financial losses and personal threats. Sometimes, newspapers were targeted by their own fellow publications.

For example, when in 1949, one of the oldest newspapers of the Subcontinent, ‘Civil and Military Gazette’ printed a controversial news item about Kashmir, All Pakistan Newspapers Editors Conference turned against it. ‘Civil and Military Gazette’s’ correspondent from New Delhi had reported that both India and Pakistan had agreed to accept each other’s occupation of their respective territories of Kashmir. The government of Pakistan refuted this story which was printed on the front page. Other editors responded by writing a common editorial asking for punitive action against ‘Civil and Military Gazette’.

Even Faiz Ahmed Faiz, editor of ‘Pakistan Times’, ran this editorial in his paper. Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, editor of ‘Imroze’, refused to carry it the first day, but the very next day it was carried anyway. The owner of these newspapers, Mian Iftikharuddin — who never interfered in the work of his editors — reportedly observed that one day such an editorial could also be used against them. A leader of Punjab Union of Journalists, Murtaza Shafi was the only journalist in ‘Pakistan Times’ who protested against this editorial, and he was suspended.

After some time he was restored, and later Faiz Ahmed Faiz admitted that it was his mistake to print this editorial. Dr Tauseef A Khan’s book is full of such gems from the alternative history of journalism in Pakistan. Regarding daily ‘Imroze’, the writer informs us that when General Ayub Khan started his onslaught against the newspapers of Mian Iftikharuddin, the editor of ‘Imroze’, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, resigned against this misappropriation. Masood Ashar, the editor of ‘Imroze’ in Multan was removed by the General Zia regime when the paper carried the news stories about police firing on the workers of Colony Textile Mills.

‘Lail-o-Nahar’ weekly started in 1957 and Syed Sibte Hasan became its editor, with Faiz as chief editor. In 1959, Sibte Hasan was dismissed by the Ayub regime, and Zaheer Babar became its editor for a while. Then after a couple of more editors, the circulation reached so low that the weekly was closed down. In 1970 it was relaunched by Anis Hashmi as printer and publisher. During the Yahya regime, ‘Lail-o-Nahar’ was critical of the military action in East Pakistan, but with the imposition of strict censorship, it could not survive; just after 15 month closed for good.

The book also covers newspapers and magazines such as daily ‘Musawat’, weekly ‘Alftah’, daily ‘Amn’, weeklies ‘Mayar’, ‘Viewpoint’, and ‘Outlook’; all of whom closed down sooner or later. Dr Tauseef A Khan has done a great service by writing this informative and well-researched book that gives us glimpses of the alternative history of journalism in Pakistan.

This is the history that you won’t find in the run-of-the-mill textbooks of journalism nor will you see it in government archives or records. This alternative history is stored in the hearts and minds of senior journalists who have fought for freedom of expression in Pakistan.

I would like to conclude this series by requesting our other senior colleagues to write their memoirs for posterity. Journalists such as I A Rehman, Hussain Naqi, Nasir Zaidi, Khawar Naeem Hashmi, Ziauddin, and many others have vast memories to share with us. Please do it before it is too late.

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

Islamabad.

Email: mnazir1964yahoo.co.uk

Concluded


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