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March 29, 2020

What Mir Shakil stands for


March 29, 2020

My association with the Jang Group goes back to the 1980s. From 1988 to 1993, I wrote weekly columns for Jang’s op-ed pages. Then due to my other engagements in teaching at IBA Karachi, my writings became irregular but off and on I kept contributing. After nearly 20 years I started writing again regularly in 2013 for both Jang and The News.

In my long association with the Jang Group and with my observations of other media groups I can vouch for certain features that I would like to share with my readers. Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman is not a person but an institution, just as his illustrious father Mir Khalil-ur-Rehman was. This institution has guided and influenced generations of readers in Pakistan. It has become the largest media house not because somebody showered favour, but thanks to honesty, humility and high-class journalism that adhered to all its defining principles. So, now what does Mir Shakil stand for?

As we know, journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. The discovery of the truth and then its dissemination helps people in good decision-making. Mir Shakil and his group have stood for the truth all along. There was a time when in Karachi telling the truth amounted to sacrificing your business and even endangering your life. Most of the journalists working in Karachi were faced with a choice, either to keep quiet or be sorted out. That was the time when the Jang Group stood its ground. It was banned in certain areas and copies of Jang and The News were burned in thousands and for months.

But Mir Khalil and then Mir Shakil stood for the truth even at the cost of huge financial losses. Then in the 1990s, most governments were not happy at the truth the Jang Group was unearthing and disseminating. Come 2000s, and we have another dictator General Pervez Musharraf who despite his ostensible liberalism did not like the way Geo and Jang confronted his power. Time went by and it was proved that Mir Shakil and his group had fulfilled their responsibilities with utmost courage. Then the times change and we have a new political force on the horizon.

Many in the country were hopeful that a new dawn was across the corner. But when the dawn emerged, it brought more testing and trying times for the media in Pakistan. The electronic and print media came under threat, again copies confiscated or even burned, channels barred from access in certain areas, cable operators forced to abide by the diktat, and all that resulted again in huge losses for Mir Shakil and his group. But he stood for the truth. Then came NAB in the garb of accountability; it was led by someone who didn’t like the truth revealed.

Pressures mounted but Geo/Jang anchors, editors, producers, reporters, and writers, led by Mir Shakil did not deviate from their obligation to the truth. They presented accurate and reliable facts that exposed the corruption of those who had come in the bandwagon of the so-called ‘anti-corruption’. Mir Shakil stood for protecting his workers at the cost of putting his business at stake. He stood by his anchors and reporters and encouraged them to follow the truth, no matter what. When the truth is presented in a meaningful context, it hurts those who benefit from lies and untruths.

After his arrest on dubious charges, most politicians worth their name protested and termed it a vendetta by a dispensation that is devoid of all scruples. Journalists’ associations, press clubs, trade unions, workers’ federations all came out in unison and staged demonstrations against NAB and its chairman who evidently disliked the truth being revealed about himself and his disregard for law and lawful procedures.

Agreed that the ‘truth’ is not an absolute term in a scientific or philosophical sense, but we do need to stand somewhere – a functional and practical form of truth by which we can operate on a day-to-day basis. For Mir Shakil and his group, the truth is a belief in professionalism – assembling and verifying facts, and presenting them to the readers and viewers. When you convey a fair and reliable account of facts, it hurts those who fear the truth and don’t want to be accountable themselves, while hoisting a flag of accountability themselves.

Mir Shakil stands for transparency so that readers and audiences can make their own assessment of the information presented to them. Not that the group has always got it right. There may have been times when some inadvertent errors of judgement were made, but in the final analysis history makes its decision about how you behaved in the times of crisis. Your latter or final stand in life counts more than the mistakes you made earlier. Z A Bhutto is remembered for his last courage and the stand he took against the injustices committed against him and his people.

Nawaz Sharif will be remembered on the basis of how he carried himself lately. The same applies to PM Imran Khan and Justice Javed Iqbal. Whatever they accomplished in the past becomes less significant in comparison with what they did lately or what they will do in the days and months to come. Mir Shakil still urges his workers to get it right, on which everything else is built. Appropriate analysis and commentary are the soul of good journalism, both electronic and print; and Mir Shakil stands for appropriateness of analysis and commentary, because they are the bedrocks of his group.

Analyzing Mir Shakil and his group’s trajectory over the past many decades you realise that in different contexts, the level of criticism varied but never compromised on the truth. It is debate and interpretation that his group has always encouraged, and that is the reason you find almost all schools of thought represented in the group. Overall Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and his group has stood for a centrist approach but offered space to both leftist and right-wing commentators, as long as they were within the boundaries of decency and decorum.

But that does not mean being impartial or neutral. Because good journalism – both electronic and print – is based on certain decision-making, Mir Shakil has taken sides. And in most cases that is the side of decency, democracy, freedom of expression, and human rights. Here no sensible person can be impartial or neutral, so Mir Shakil has stood for these without being intimidated by his adversary. To do this, one needs to follow a transparent approach to evidence, no matter whatever your government or state tries to foist upon you and your people.

Mir Shakil also stands for loyalty to citizens. Had he stood for loyalty to advertisers he wouldn’t have lost a major chunk of his advertisement from the government. He would have changed his beliefs and priorities to suit the government or those in power, but he preferred to stick to his allegiance to citizens. That means he stands for public interest above his own self-interest. He believes in a business model that is above any fears or favours but adheres to a commitment to citizens. And by citizens we mean here a representative picture of constituent groups in society.

He also appears to stand for enfranchising all people and fights against disenfranchising certain sections of society. His group’s credibility is built on a broad and loyal audience and readership that has made it an economic success, without pandering to certain quarters in society. It is the trust that Mir Shakil and his group have earned that will endure, irrespective of what NAB tries to proclaim and project. Finally, it is the spirit of verification that Mir Shakil stands for and not assumptions or conjecture.

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

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @NaazirMahmood