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July 5, 2020

Journalism and textbooks - Part III


July 5, 2020

In the first two parts of this series (June 28 and 29) we started discussing how journalism textbooks in Urdu are overwhelmingly anti-democracy and try to promote authoritarian and sectarian attitudes in society.

A book by Ahsan Akhtar Naz, titled ‘Sahafati Zimmedariyan’ (Journalistic responsibilities) published in 1990 by the National Language Authority is a case in point. The writer tries to shield General Ziaul Haq and his military dictatorship by sugarcoating the events of the darkest period for the press in Pakistan. Rather than highlighting the curbs imposed on the press the writer has the following to say: “From 1979 to 1980, the CPNE and the government representatives discussed and approved a code of conduct that was part of a signed agreement. They had agreed to the formation of a bench to review the cases of violation of the code and punish the violators.” (Page 72)

There is no mention of the martial law government’s onslaught against the freedom of expression in the country, no discussion on how General Ziaul Haq was repeatedly breaching his own promises to hold elections. The general’s promised 90 days expanded into thousands of days, but our journalism teacher is not bothered about it. He seems to be in favour of the religious and sectarian agenda that General Zia was inflicting on this country. An entire chapter is titled ‘Islamic code of conduct for journalism’. On page 111, the writer advises journalists not to be curious and especially not to reveal errors or mistakes committed by fellow Muslims.

On page 115, the writer declares that journalists should not only follow all injunctions in their personal lives but also promote religion in their profession. “A Muslim journalist should always behave as a preacher and invite other people to his religion. The primary concern of a journalist should be salvation in the hereafter.” Finally, on page 118 he does one better by saying that beauty and sex related news or pictures should be avoided in journalism because all pleasurable activities and promoting pleasure is absolutely un-Islamic.” He goes on to chastise policymakers and wants them to make all broadcasting and telecasting decisions based strictly on religion and without art, dance, drama, music, singing, and any performing arts.

If journalism is not about being curious, what is it about? The foundation of journalism revolves around being curious, getting to know what is going on in society and sharing the results of that curiosity with your audiences and readers. Errors and mistakes, especially made by those higher up in the food chain, need to be revealed so that they can be held accountable – and if journalists don’t do it they should not be in journalism. As they say, if journalism does not challenge authority, it becomes public relations. Of course, sometimes journalists do highlight good things in society, but mostly it is about what is not working that needs the attention of journalists.

If you want your journalism students to become preachers, you should send them to seminaries, and we have had plenty of them since the time of General Ziaul Haq. Perhaps, it was the change of nomenclature from journalism to mass communication that made the difference in public-sector universities. As most journalism departments became mass communication departments, as if by design the focus shifted from critical thinking and investigative journalism to just communication which ended up becoming overwhelmingly preachy and public relations. When journalists’ primary concern becomes salvation, more than the hereafter they first try to get ample rewards in this world by not being curious and not revealing others’ errors.

Talking about the history of Urdu journalism in the Subcontinent, we may also mention a book by Maulvi Mahboob Alam published in 1903. The book is a compilation of a list of nearly all Urdu newspapers in India. The book titled ‘Urdu sahafat ki aik naadir tareekh’ (A rare history of Urdu journalism) was republished with an introduction and notes by Dr Tahir Masood. Surprisingly, on the title page just the name of Tahir Masood is given and original compiler Mahboob Alam’s name appears only on the inner title. Thankfully, all non-Muslim journalists are also included in the list.

In 1998, the department of mass communication at the University of Karachi compiled a book titled ‘Nazaryat-e-Iblaagh’ (Theories of communication) for MA students. Prof Mateen ur Rahman Murtaza compiled this 370-page book containing 21 chapters that were mostly translations. Just three chapters are original writings by professors Inam Bari, Mateen ur Rahman and Zakriya Sajid. Disappointingly, this detailed book also does not include any original or translated chapter about the curbs on freedom of expression, or about bans and censorships that military dictatorships imposed in Pakistan.

Despite a long and courageous history of journalists’ struggle for freedom of expression in the country, the compilers did not find it worthy of any mention in this recommended book for the students of mass communication. Journalists and intellectuals such as Dr Mehdi Hasan and Zamir Niazi had already written articles, books and essays on this topic but none of them were included in the book, neither were they mentioned anywhere in over 20 chapters. Of the three original chapters, the one by Prof Inam Bari is about behaviour-change communication, whereas Prof Zakaria Sajid’s chapter is titled ‘Nazarya-e-iblaagh, Pakistani tanazur main’ (Communication theory in a Pakistani perspective).

He promotes patriotic and religious responsibilities of journalists by saying that “In Pakistan it is a national requirement that we present programmes on religious teachings and highlight contributions by the stalwarts and heroes of Islamic history” (page 301). Then he goes on to suggest that “the emergence of Pakistan as an Islamic state on the world map is a proof that in terms of civilization, communication, and culture, Pakistan is part of the Middle East rather than South Asia; and this aspect will become even more prominent with time.” (Page 302).

Luckily, he did not try to prove that the largest Muslim majority country Indonesia is also in the Middle East, or over 200 million Muslims of India are part of South Asia or the Middle East. Iran, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are all part of the Middle East so why are they not on good terms with each other? He goes on to suggest that the interpretation of Islam that Allama Iqbal and other modern Muslim thinkers have presented can be used to formulate our national mass communication on modern lines and we can show it to the world as an example of an ideal mass communication system (Page 304).

Similarly, Prof Mateen ur Rahman Murtaza in his article titled ‘Qaumi iblaaghi hikmat-e-amli ki zaroorat’ (The need for a national communication strategy) writes, “Our national point of view, aims and objectives, ideals, norms, values, and most importantly our dear national ideology, all appear to be biting the dust now. Whatever we had dear to us till yesterday, today looks wrapped in blurred vision, or rather disappearing from the scene pretty fast. Our ideological borders are defenceless and in the range of foreign aggression…as an ideological state it is our right to defend our cultural, ideological, and national identities and formulate a state policy of communication.

“In our country, radio, TV, and only some newspapers are under the state control. In Fact, rather than keeping them under state control we have handed them over to governments that use them for their own motives.” (Page 335).

The learned professor wants that all mass communication be under state control so that governments cannot influence, meaning if any political party comes to power it cannot be trusted; whereas he reposes complete confidence in state institutions.

If a country has professors of journalism with this level of political awareness and social consciousness, what kind of journalists do you expect to graduate from Pakistan universities, especially from the public sector ones? You tell me!

To be continued

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

Email: [email protected]