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July 6, 2020

Journalism and textbooks: Part - IV


July 6, 2020

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

In most public-sector colleges and universities of Pakistan, reading Urdu textbooks of journalism is more like regurgitating Pakistan Studies textbooks again and again. Let’s have a look at yet another book titled ‘Sahafat Pakistan mein’ (Journalism in Pakistan) by Humayun Adeeb published in 1984 by Azeez Publishers, Lahore.

This book appeared when Pakistani journalism had already suffered under the yokes of multiple military dictatorships; and General Ziaul Haq had also completed eight years of his brutal rule. But the writer totally ignores all bans and censorship on the press since 1947. More than half of the book is about journalism in the pre-Partition days and that too highly prejudiced against non-Muslim Urdu journalists. The writer calls all newspapers in Urdu by non-Mulsim editors as ‘Hindu newspapers’. As if we don’t identify a newspaper by its language but by the religion of its editor.

On page 84 under the title of ‘Some other Hindu newspapers’, you read the following: “Partaab was a staunch supporter of the Indian National Congress, and so was ‘Milaap’, and then there was another Hindu newspaper ‘Veer Bharat’ which was also equally prejudiced and pro-Congress.” The writer does not call the Muslim-League supporting newspapers as staunch or anti-Hindu, despite the fact that many Urdu newspapers owned by Muslims were anti-Congress and did not spare even Muslim leaders such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

This book is prejudiced not only against non-Muslims but also has the following to say about Sindh: “While discussing journalism in Sindh we must keep in mind that the Muslim population here was very backward and even being in majority they could not assume any active political role due to their economic and educational backwardness. Most Sindhis were peasants or labourers living under the dark shadows of Hindu culture and traditions.” (Page 86) This is about a province that was the first one to pass a resolution for the creation of Pakistan.

Almost the same attitude we displayed by maligning Bengali Muslims and accusing them of being under the influence of Hindu civilization. A similar prejudice is propagated against the people of the erstwhile NWFP (now KP). On page 88 of his book, you read:

“Before the partition of the Subcontinent, most newspapers in the NWFP supported Congress. Barring just some newspapers, most were owned by Hindus or were under the influence of the Frontier Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan. When Khudai Khidmatgar and the Red Shirts failed in the referendum, and their Congressional dream of Akhand Bharat (united India) could not materialize, they were unable to keep their magazines and newspapers running, and after the creation of Pakistan, all newspapers of the Congress closed down.”

This paragraph makes it clear that the Congress did have a presence in the (erstwhile) NWFP, but the writer does not talk about how an elected provincial government of the Congress was dismissed within a week after Pakistan came into being and that too without a vote of no-confidence that should have been the constitutional and legal method of removing a government. Both the Red Shirts and Khudai Khidmatgar organizations were banned, and as a result their newspapers also closed down. The writer wants us to believe that all this took place on an autopilot and the central government of the Muslim League had nothing to do with it.

All anti-democratic steps by the Muslim League government are glossed over and neither is there any mention of journalism in Balochistan and East Bengal. In the sixth chapter titled, ‘After the independence’, the writer gives some interesting information: “During the anti-Qadiyani movement there were riots and the investigation report revealed that from July 1951 to June 1952 some pro-government newspapers such as ‘Afaaq’, ‘Ehsaan’, ‘Maghribi Pakistan’, and ‘Zamindar’, received two hundred thousand rupees that the chief minister of Punjab had approved and diverted from the Adult Literacy Fund.” Page 119

“When martial law was imposed in Punjab, censorship also came in force and the government stopped releasing its advertisements to newspapers such as ‘Dawn’, ‘Evening Star’, ‘Pakistan Economist’, ‘Mirror’, and ‘Variety’. Government offices stopped purchasing these newspapers and magazines and they could not attend official functions. All these newspapers and magazines were Karachi based.” (page119). It becomes clear from the above excerpts how our federal and provincial governments used newspapers to propagate intolerance in society and fan religious and sectarian prejudices. In the past 70 years, this toxicity has permeated both journalism and the social fabric in Pakistan.

This book also discusses military dictatorships only in passing. General Ayub Khan’s imposition of curbs on freedom of expression and censorship gets just one page, whereas there is an entire chapter against Z A Bhutto. The writer calls Bhutto’s period as the darkest era while sparing Generals Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq. Just look at the following:

“If you compare the Peoples Party government’s suppression of the press with the previous governments’ you see that the Bhutto government’s suppression was much worse than the entire 150-year history of journalism even during the British imperialism. We can see a glimpse of this in the White Paper published by the Zia government.” The way Z A Bhutto and his party is targeted and General Zia is supported has influenced an entire generation of journalists in Pakistan. When our students of journalism graduate after internalizing the following, the final product is not hard to imagine:

“On July 5, 1977 after the dismissal of the Bhutto government, a new martial law government assumed power, people heaved a sigh of relief.” That’s how General Zia is praised and there is no mention of his military dictatorship built on suppression of democracy. It is just one of the many textbooks of journalism in Urdu that has no mention of the struggle of journalists for freedom of expression, and names such as Ahfazur Rahman, Iqbal Jafri, Khawar Naeem Hashmi, Nasir Zaid, Nisar Usmani, Minhaj Burna etc are all missing.

We may conclude this discussion by highlighting that in the past 40 years or so, our journalism textbooks in Urdu have fed and nurtured a new crop of journalists on the assumption that there has been no struggle for democracy, no sacrifices made by journalists to secure freedom of expression in the country, and no campaigns launched for defending fundamental and human rights. Hardly anyone explains to the younger lot how under various military dictatorships our state institutions have promoted one-sided narratives and prepared journalists who lack critical skills and are unaware of our real history.

This is not to say that there is only one school of thought and only one set of journalism books available to observers, practitioners, and students of journalism in Pakistan. While journalism textbooks in Urdu are overwhelmingly guided by the right-wing school of journalism led by Dr A S Khurshid and Maskeen Ali Hijazi, there is substantial material in the shape of articles, books, editorials, essays, papers, and research studies that we may include in what I call A-to-Z school of thought in journalism: A for Ahfazur Rahman to Z for Zamir Niazi.

In between we have intellectuals and journalists such as Dr Mehdi Hassan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Hussain Naqi, I A Rahman, Mazhar Ali Khan, Minhaj Burna, Nasir Zaidi, Nisar Usmani, Razia Bhatti, Sibte Hasan, Waris Mir, Zamir Niazi and many others. They taught us to be curious and make efforts to hear muffled voices, but not to dig up dirt on democracy. They formed a struggling clutch of journalists whose followers are still around, but not thriving; as some astute state-backed journalists have prospered and have always been in the pink. They thrive thanks to their symbiotic relationship with the parasites of this society and by singing paeans to mediocrity.

In the next series, we will discuss some non-textbook materials that are available to observers and students of journalism in Pakistan so that they can get the other side of the story.


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