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October 15, 2019

Journalism: an alternative history: Part - II

Opinion

October 15, 2019

Another good book on the alternative history of the media in the 1980s is ‘Mun Gharhat Aurat’ (Concocted woman) published in 1997. The Simorgh Collective of Lahore reviewed the presentation of women in the media during General Zia’s regime. Neelam Hussain, Nasreen Shah, Fareeda Sher, and others did the research that was translated into Urdu by Rubina Saigol.

The Simorgh Collective had started this study in 1985 by observing the role of the media in projecting women during the years of General Zia’s Islamization programme which aimed at imposing obsolete ideas on society by legislative and media manipulation.

In 2005, Zafar Iqbal Mirza (ZIM) brought out his book, ‘Last Man In’, which is a collection of his articles published from 1984 to 2005. Its chapters three and four are about politics and media. His columns Imroze, ‘the Newspaper that was’; ‘Here’s PTV’, about Zamir Niazi; ‘The death of a newspaper’ about the Civil and Military Gazette, and ‘The Hindu Urdu Press before partition’, are all informative and worth reading. Reading ZIM has always been a pleasure to me as he embodied that rare breed of journalists whose horizon was vast and varied.

Saleem Asmi is an editor and writer par excellence, and this columnist has been fortunate to work under his guidance and editorship. In 2012, S M Shahid compiled Asmi’s articles, interviews, and reviews in a book titled ‘Saleem Asmi’. Dedicated to ABS Jafri and Razia Bhatti – two of the bravest and most competent editors of Pakistan – this book is a gem to read. Though it is not exactly an alternative history of journalism in Pakistan, it does have pieces penned by Asmi about columnists and editors such as Faiz, Khushwant Singh, Josh, Zamir Niazi and others. ‘A newspaper is born’ is about The Muslim and how it came into being.

Dr Noor Fatima’s book ‘Press and Politics’ – published in 2013 – is about the role of the print media during the Pakistan National Alliance Movement against Z A Bhutto in 1977. She has analyzed newspaper content during the events of that movement. Her research lays bare the complexities of the relationship between the press and politics, and how the media shapes public opinion with far-reaching implications on social and political changes in society. Though Dr Mehdi Hasan wrote the foreword for this book, he does not mention his own pioneering research about the role of media and the separation of East Pakistan discussed in the first part of this series yesterday.

In 2014, three important books were published by Adnan Rehmat, Amir Rana, and Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan. ‘Reporting under Threat’ by Adnan Rehmat presents testimonies of courage from Pakistani journalists. While Zamir Niazi could record 19 deaths of journalists and press workers by violence from 1965 to 1991, here Adnan Rehmat informs us that over 100 journalists have been killed and more than 2,000 injured in just 14 years from 2000 to 2014. The book presents 57 first-hand stories of journalists who have faced or observed lethal and life-threatening violence from close quarters. These are chilling accounts of the circumstances in which Pakistani journalists work in the 21st century.

The second book published in 2014 was Amir Rana’s ‘Media Safety in Pakistan: A study of threats to journalists in Pakistan’. This research study analyses the nature and variety of threats for journalists in reporting on conflict. It presents ten case studies with the help of reliable data. If you want to understand what factors contribute to journalists’ vulnerability and how threats can be avoided or minimized, these case studies will help you greatly. For this book, the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies led by Amir Rana developed comprehensive case histories of 10 journalists – eight of whom were killed and others given threats.

Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan’s ‘Azadi-e-Sahafat ki jadojihad mein akhbari tanzeemon ka kirdar’ (The role of newspaper associations in the struggle for freedom of the press) is his PhD thesis published in book form by Badalti Dunya Publications. He starts with an overview of the evolution of newspapers in the Subcontinent and describes how the dissemination of information was controlled and curbed by the rulers of India. He has analyzed and documented the role of associations formed by newspaper owners, editors and journalists in Pakistan, especially with reference to freedom of the press.

There are details of media laws in Pakistan and how various tactics have been used such as press advice, advertisements and newsprint quotas so as to arm twist journalists and newspaper owners. Dr Tauseef A Khan has dedicated chapters on the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), and the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC). In the second edition of the book published in 2018, Dr Tauseef A Khan has also added details of the PFUJ’s struggles in 1970 and 1978, years that saw massive onslaughts against the press.

Akmal Shahzad Ghumman’s Urdu book, ‘Media Mandi’ (The media marketplace), published in 2016 is a good addition to the existing literature providing an alternative history of journalism in Pakistan. He analyses not only the major English and Urdu newspapers but also presents a historical overview of some other papers. His particular focus is on how big media groups have evolved and how the people there have altered their editorial preferences with the changing times. Ghumman also discusses some legal battles fought among various groups and personalities. Interviews with some newspaper owners and columnists provide alternative narratives.

In 2017 senior journalist and activist, Ahfaz ur Rehman published the English translation of his Urdu book ‘Sab se barhi jang’, as ‘Freedom of the Press: the war on words (1977 – 1978)’. These years were momentous in the history of journalism in Pakistan as journalists and press workers fought for the rights of journalists and others working in media throughout the country. Rehman was an active leader of this movement against the draconian curbs and devastating steps taken by the Zia regime. The book is a detailed account of how journalists waged that relentless struggle.

‘Modernizing Media Law in Pakistan’, published by the Institute of Research, Advocacy and Development (Irada) in 2017, is a marvellous review of legal framework governing media. Authored by Toby Mendel, Adnan Rehmat, Aftab Alam and Khalid Ishaq, this research is the result of detailed analyses of media laws in Pakistan. The book not only presents international standards and best practices but also discusses the right to information which is so important for any civilized and dynamic society. Journalists’ rights are a neglected area in most histories of journalism in Pakistan, but this book pays due attention to this aspect.

‘Modernizing Media Law in Pakistan’ must be required reading for all practitioners and students of journalism and media in Pakistan. To conclude the second part of this series, I must mention a comparative analysis of practices in seven countries published in 2017 by International Media Support (IMS). The full title of the study is ‘Defending Journalism: How national mechanisms can protect journalists and address the issue of impunity’. The study covers Afghanistan, Columbia, Indonesia, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Philippines. The chapter on Pakistan is written by senior journalist and media trainer Adnan Rehmat.

Rehmat outlines threats and challenges the media is facing in Pakistan and how media and civil society actors are trying to develop joint responses to these challenges. In the third part of this series next week, we will continue with the alternative history of journalism in Pakistan. I must clarify that this review does not claim to be exhaustive as it is entirely based on the books and reports that I have in my personal collection.

To be continued

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

Email: [email protected]

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