Tuesday May 21, 2024

Freedom of the press: the legacy lives on

By Zaib Azkaar Hussain
January 25, 2021

Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman, lovingly called as Mir Sahib by his colleagues and friends, has left a legacy which is carried forward by his followers, in terms of upholding the norms of freedom of expression in this country. Mostly governed by dictators or by the governments which were though democratic but couldn’t establish democracy in its true sense, Pakistan has a chequered political history, where free media was silenced by the sitting governments to stop free flow of information.

Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman as the pioneer of journalism in this country also faced many such restrictions in his lifetime, and later his sons, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and Mir Javed Rahman (late), who were carrying forward his legacy, faced same type of restrictions.

The recent detention of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Editor-in-Chief of Jang and Geo, was seen with distaste by people who want a free press in the country.

While writing this article on the death anniversary of Mir Kahlil-ur-Rahman (MSR), this scribe also took views from people from various walks of life about the case of MSR’s detention. . While paying glowing tribute to a great journalist and a true champion of freedom of expression and free press in Pakistan and pioneer of Jang Group late Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman (MKR), they condemned the 8-month unjustified detention of his son, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman (MSR). As expected an 8-month movement to release MSR, was led by journalists across the length and breadth of Pakistan and national and international journalists’ bodies showed their solidarity with this movement.

Sparing a few, almost all the political parties, labour unions, trade unions, civil society organizations, national and international media bodies, including International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, local unions of journalists, press clubs in various cities of Pakistan, bar associations from various cities, especially Supreme Court Bar Association, Sindh High Court Bar Association, Karachi Bar Association, members from national and provincial assemblies, labour leaders, political leaders, NGOs, and civil society organizations, joined hands to show their solidarity with the group and its editor-in-chief. Journalists, civil society members, office bearers of media unions and trade unions held protests and sit-ins against the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, the Editor-in-Chief of country’s largest media group, Jang Group and Geo TV. News and editorials were written on this detention and it seemed that almost the entire media was unanimous on one point that such acts tantamount to suppressing the voice of truth.

Daily Dawn in its editorial, on the completion of 100-day detention of MSR wrote, in its editorial, “It is an ordeal designed to test the patience and break the will of the individual at its centre. But as everyone in the media knows, this is about far more. It is about sending a message to ‘troublesome’ journalists and media houses who dare to question the modus operandi of powerful organisations like NAB, that such ‘investigative instincts’ could cost them dearly, where both revenue streams and peace of mind are concerned. Our dysfunctional judicial system further exacerbates the travails of the targeted individuals. All manner of outrageous accusations, including treason, have been levelled at journalists for doing their duty, simply because their work has threatened to expose the officially sanctioned narrative for being a sham. The state seems determined to grind down the media into a supine uniformity, all reading from the same script and peddling the same fictions. It should know there still remain journalists in this country determined to hold their ground in protecting their hard-won freedoms.”

Writers, journalists and political activists maintained that ironically MSR was implicated in a fake case of property which was purchased around 34 years back from a government entity, that had no merit to be heard by an Accountability Court but the power that may be, didn’t pay any heed to these arguments, and MSR had to face a long detention.

But this detention, besides being a physical and psychological disturbance, also brought great personal loss to MSR, which will be remembered as a huge sacrifice for upholding the norms of free press. During his detention his elder brother Mir Javed Rahman who was printer and publisher of Jang Group passed away after a brief illness. Just three months after his death, the sister of MSR also passed away who was under medical treatment at a London hospital for cancer. This was a great loss for the scion of a family whose entire history is replete with the service of this country.

A prominent writer and novelist Shakir Anwar sharing his memories abut MKR said that in the 80s, when he was visiting a senior journalist Muhammad Muslim in India, he met late Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman who also had paid a visit to Muhammad Muslim. Anwar told that MKR Sahib looked so simple and lively and gave high respect to his host and everyone else present over there at the residence of Muhammad Muslim. It was this simplicity in his personality that he won many admirers during that visit. Anwar further said that Mir Sahib appeared to be a man of manners and commitment to journalism. Besides he behaved like a true professional of his field. Anwar concluded that being a founder of a big media group, MKR fulfilled his obligations by fighting tooth and nail against any attacks on the freedom of expression in Pakistan.

He said Mir Shakil’s sacrifice is just the reflection of what he learned from his great father Mir Khalil.

Another writer and columnist Anjum Javed said: “In the late eighties he used to visit Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman, who encouraged him in writing articles and columns in Daily Jang.”

Javed stated that a man like MKR never kept me waiting outside his office. Instead, whenever he noticed his (Javed’s) arrival, he immediately called him in his office. Javed pointed out that he even showed his poetry (ghazals and poems) to Mir Sahib who encouraged him to get them published in magazines published by Jang Group. Javed further told that Mir Sahab advised him to do masters in journalism and on his motivation he managed to pursue his Masters in journalism.

A senior poet and critic Ibne Azeem Fatimi said Mir Sahib would never give up his principles on freedom of expression in Pakistan. He was a true patriot and Pakistani. He also played a pivotal role in the development of Urdu language in Pakistan by publishing Urdu books from his publication house. “He was too particular about the correct use of words, phrases and idioms of Urdu language in the newspapers and magazines printed by Jang group,” Fatimi informed.

A senior journalist and writer Qadeer Tanoli who worked with the Jang group (The News International) for years, said the Jang Group founded by MKR has been a blessing for journalists in Pakistan in terms of employment, wages and facilities in comparison to other newspaper establishments. He said the Group never put any pressures on working journalists and instead provided a very good atmosphere to newspaper employees especially journalists who freely filed exclusive and investigative stories without being biased towards anyone. Qadeer Tanoli further said that certainly the son of MKR, MSR had to pay the price of his stance on free press in Pakistan by facing an unjust detention for around eight months and finally was granted bail by a three-member bench of Supreme Court of Pakistan.

A senior lawyer and writer Shakeel Ahmed Satti observed that it was ironic that the government had turned a deaf ear to the issue of the so-called old property case against MSR whose father never got illegal benefits from any governments and set an example for the group which was fully followed by his followers. He said the Jang Group was the only institution that faced strong opposition and rather victimization by the rulers of all regimes due to its stance on freedom of press.